If you travel even a little, then you already know about the benefits of flying first class (or business class). Likewise, you know all about the adjoining costs. And for the handful of folks out there who for some reason aren’t aware of the obvious, allow us to state it plainly: flying first class or business class can be outrageously expensive. But it doesn’t always have to be, assuming you play your cards right. Enter the free upgrade, a veritable travel hack that bumps you from coach to first class or business class at no extra cost. Pulling it off requires a combination of style, timing, luck, and finesse. Plus, what have you got to lose by trying? Here are 10 ways to get a flight upgrade.
This article is part of our Great Escape series.
Getting a free upgrade is usually a numbers game, and the odds of one person being bumped to first class are far greater than the odds of a couple being bumped. Hence, if you want to score a flight upgrade, work the math in your favour, and fly solo.
Earn Frequent Flyer Points
An airline is far more likely to reward a loyal customer than it is anyone else. To that end, the more frequent flyer points you have, the likelier you are to receive some extra special attention when asking for an upgrade. Of course, that’s just one among the many perks you get with frequent flyer points. Along similar lines, the more you spend with the airline in general (on baggage fees or services for example), the more likely they are to notice you.
Arrive Early for Your Flight
Guess what? You’re not the only person looking for ways to get a flight upgrade. To increase your chances, show up early for your flight. And when we say early we mean early, as in ten hours before take-off. This one’s a gamble, to say the least, but it’s worth it when it works. Just be sure to bring along a substantial amount of entertainment because you’re going to be at the airport for a while.
Arrive Late for Your Flight
If you’re the last one to check in to your flight, then it could theoretically work out in your favour. That’s because the airline might not know if it will have a seat open in first class or business class until the very last minute, making you an easy candidate for the bump. Of course, you don’t want to show up too late for your flight, because then you might miss it entirely.
Dress the Part
It might sound superficial, but when you ask for a flight upgrade, you’re being judged. After all, the airline doesn’t necessarily want to throw some dude in sweatpants and a raggedy t-shirt into first class or business class, thereby diluting the atmosphere. For that reason, you should dress to impress when seeking an upgrade. We’re not talking suit and tie, but an outfit that lets others know you’re a man of taste and style. In other words, if you want to sit in first class, be sure to let them know you deserve it.
Check Your Email
Airlines are like any other corporate entity in that they’ll occasionally offer promotions in order to keep their customer base happy. When those promotional emails come in, actually read them, since you never know what you might find.
Choose the Right Time to Travel
When seeking an upgrade, it’s arguably wiser to fly during peak times than it is down times. This is because airlines are less likely to bump passengers to first class when the flight is half-empty. Meanwhile, if the flight is full but for one first class seat, it might very well be your lucky day. Of course, you also run a greater risk of getting stuck in coach between a loud person and a smelly person, but you know what they say about fortune favouring the bold.
Draw Attention to Yourself or Your Situation
There are a hundred different ways to distinguish yourself from the other passengers. For instance, striking up a friendly conversation with the gate agent certainly couldn’t hurt. Furthermore, if you’re celebrating a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc), don’t be afraid to let the agent know about it. On the flip side of that coin, if there’s something wrong with your seat, or if the screaming baby next to you is making you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to complain about it. Such a tactic might sound petty, but it could ultimately mean the difference between coach and first class. Last but not least: don’t forget to just plain ask the gate agent or flight attendant if there’s any way to get upgraded. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Volunteer Your Seat…On One Condition
When a flight is overbooked, the gate agent will ask if anyone is willing to give up his or her seat. This is the perfect time to put your negotiating skills to the test. Offer to give up your seat, but only on the condition that you get upgraded on the next flight. If they refuse, then you still have a seat on your original flight. If they oblige, you’re riding first class all the way, baby.
Bid on a Better Seat
Nowadays, a number of airlines (including Virgin Australia and Qantas) use a bidding system like PlusGrade or Seatfrog, which allows you to make an offer on available seats in first class or business class. Should you bid at the right time, you might find yourself with a generous discount on your hands. Is it a “free” upgrade? It is not, but it’s still better than nothing. Just don’t go overboard, unless you want to end up paying more than you would have if you’d booked the ticket directly.
This article is part of our Great Escape series.