Gone are the days where a smart suit, puppy-dog eyes and a nice smile during check-in could send you champagne sipping in business. While getting a free flight upgrade is rare, there are certain things you can do to help increase your odds.
Working at Kiwi Collection, where we collectively fly hundreds of thousands of miles a year, I’ve definitely picked up a few helpful tips. Will it work for everyone? Probably not. But, I’m happy to report that every so often, it’s worked for me.
1. Airline Loyalty Program – Join ‘em
Keep your eye on the prize: elite status. Airlines will give priority for upgrades to top-tier members.
2. Don’t Cheat
Pick an airline and stick to it. A few points at multiple airlines will amount to nothing, while a lot of points at one airline can bump up your status, resulting in increased chances for upgrades. Sometimes it’s worth paying a few extra bucks to stay loyal to one carrier so you can rack up the points.
3. Those Three Letters
As a regular customer you’re more likely to get those coveted letters…SFU. It stands for ‘Suitable For Upgrade’ and can be the letters next to your name on the passenger list that makes the difference between free coca cola in Coach and free champagne in business.
4. Choose Your Carrier Carefully
Points systems are not born equal. For example, if booking on Qantas, you can buy an upgradeable economy ticket and request for an upgrade to premium economy or business. British Airways on the other hand, makes it nearly impossible for those who fly economy, short-haul flights to ever earn enough points to make it to the next level.
5. Feed Your Frequent Flyer
Sync all your credit cards with programs that feed into your frequent flyer account. Some will give you 1.5 or 2 points per $1 spent.
6. Travel Alone
This might not be possible, however, keep in mind that if you are travelling as part of a small group, an airline may not be able to upgrade everyone, and thus, will upgrade no one at all.
7. Check in late
The economy seats will likely have been filled, meaning you may get booked directly to business class. This might be risky, as you chance not being able to get a good seat in economy via checking in online early, or getting split up from your traveling partner.
9. Be Plane Picky
Try to pick a flight that will be using a plane with a large first class cabin. Knowing the configuration of the plane before you pick the flight can help your odds, but also help you determine the best seats in economy if your upgrade scheme fails. Try a site like Seat Guru to find out this information.
10. Avoid Upgrade Competition
When you fly out of your carrier’s main hub that happens to be a large airport, you end up competing against other frequent flyers all vying for the same upgrade. For example, your chances of getting an upgrade with British Airways when flying out of London Heathrow will be challenging as you are competing against a relatively large amount of top-tier ‘Gold’ and ‘Premier’ flyers.
11. Volunteer to Give Up Your Seat
Sometimes an airline will oversell the flight and ask for volunteers to give up their seat. Often the reimbursement will be for a flight voucher, but sometimes they’ll kick in a free upgrade certificate. This happened for me on a Cathay Pacific flight – I ended up staying a day later in New York, but had my hotel paid for, financial compensation and a voucher for a class upgrade on any Cathay Flight. You can always be proactive and let the check-in staff know that you’re a willing volunteer.
12. Pay Full Fare
If you purchased a full fare ticket and travel on an oversold flight, then you also have more potential for a courtesy upgrade.
13. Wear Business Attire
This won’t be the reason why you get an upgrade, but not being dressed suitably could be the why don’t. My friend who works as a flight attendant tells me that when a customer is negotiating for an upgrade, presentation and confident and articulate speech is important. Also, don’t negotiate when the counter is busy.
14. Charm Your Way
No, it’s not an urban myth. It may be rare, but simply being nice, personable and articulate has worked for me and a few of my friends before. When experiencing an airline issue, if you ask to speak to management and you articulate yourself in a professional, calm yet confident manner, you can find that you can get a free upgrade (if not this flight, perhaps another for another time) or other perks like free lounge access.
15. Marry a Flight Attendant
If all else fails, this is a surefire way of getting an upgrade. Knowing someone working for the airline really helps. Even if you can’t get an upgrade for free, as family, you can purchase discounted business class tickets.
We’re sure there are plenty of other ways to get an upgrade too, let us know what’s worked for you.