There are not that many people who would turn down the coveted free bump up to a business or first class seat, which is precisely why they’re so hard to get. Nowadays, the majority of upgrades are done via an airline’s computer system, which will typically generate a list of who should be offered an upgrade based on a combination of data (rewards program membership, affiliated credit cards, etc.)
However, there are some tips and tricks that can help increase the likelihood of you being offered an upgrade, whether it’s to economy plus, business class, or even the much sought-after first class. Read our 14 best tips below, get packing, and get ready to turn left as you board.
Join a frequent flyer program
Start with the obvious: earn your upgrade. If you know you’ll be flying a lot, join a loyalty program. Try to stick to one airline or group of affiliated airlines to collect the most points and in no time you’ll be able to grab some great deals. It could very well just be a little bump from economy to economy plus, but anything helps! The other perk is that if an airline has overbooked and is looking to bump up a passenger, their loyal customers are going to be first in line.
Buy an upgrade
Once those miles and points start piling up, you can use them towards bumping yourself up towards that first class flight. Consider trading in your points for an inexpensive economy ticket for example and then purchasing an additional upgrade (upgrade options and prices can vary per airline). You might be surprised at how cheap some options are.
Choose flight times wisely
It can pay off to choose a flight on a day and time that is slightly inconvenient to you, but still manageable. Try not to fly when business travellers do – avoid Monday mornings as well as Thursdays and Fridays between 17:00 – 20:00. Flying at these peak times and on peak days mean flights full to the brim with business men and women, all of whom belong to the airline’s frequent flyer club.
Choose off peak times, days, and even routes, and your chance of a bump-up will be significantly higher. Flying middle of the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are your best bet.
Read more: check out our Annual Flight Study to find out when it’s best – and worst! – to book a flight.
Pay more for your flight
Economy class tickets are the least likely to be upgraded as they are considered the cheapest ticket. So if you splurge even just a little bit, on a premium economy ticket for example, you’ll raise your chances of getting an even bigger upgrade because you will already be one ticket class ahead of the others (sorry economy!)
Set up email and text alerts
Every once in a while, airlines will have special deals or sales going on that they want to let the whole world know about. If you can risk having a few more emails in your inbox every month, it’s worth signing up for your favorite airline’s newsletters and alerts. You’ll be the first one to know when there are cannot-miss deals, which could potentially include very cheap flights around the world in business or even first class.
Many airlines establish an upgrade wait list based on check-in times, with priority given to those who checked in first. The option to check-in online is usually available at least 24 hours before departure for most airlines, so the earlier you can get yourself checked in, the better.
It’s also a good idea to arrive at the airport early if you cannot check-in online. If the check-in staff know that the flight is going to be completely full, they might choose to bump up someone who is quick to check-in to make sure there’s room in economy for the others.
Volunteer to give up your seat
Flexibility can be your ticket to a business class flight. If the flight is overbooked, airlines will always ask for volunteers before moving someone to another, likely later, flight. If you’re OK with getting to your destination a bit later than planned, let the check-in staff know that you’re willing to be moved. As a thank you for being so flexible and cooperative, your move to a later flight might well include a bump up a class.
Read more: want more details about compensation and flights? Check out our infographic covering delays, cancellations and overbooking.
Don’t hesitate to speak up
Assigned a chair that doesn’t recline, or stuck with an entertainment system that doesn’t work? You just might get upgraded! If you have a legitimate complaint on board about your seating assignment, particularly on long haul flights, you can ask to be relocated to another seat. If the odds are in your favor, the only spaces available will be in business or first class.
Dress for the occasion
If you’re in for a long haul flight, you want to dress comfortably – but just don’t dress too comfortably. If you want to bag yourself one of those business class seats, mix comfort with style. When push comes to shove, who’s going to get the upgrade? The guy in his onesie, or the woman in a smart but casual skirt and shirt?
This tip is a bit hard unless you always planned to travel alone, but you’re far more likely to get a bump up if you’re flying solo. Families of four, or even couples are harder to seat, but if it’s just you, then they can fit you anywhere. Of course, you might end up in the middle seat if bumped up to premium economy – but there’s no middle seat on a business or first class flight …
Don’t order a special meal
Whether it be vegetarian, kosher or gluten free – a passenger with a special meal request won’t even be considered for an upgrade. The airline has to cater to specific dietary supplements when requested, which cannot be upgraded with you unfortunately, since meal numbers on board are very tightly controlled. It’s unlikely an airline would serve an economy special meal in business class for example. Bummer.
Kindness is key
Last but by no means least, the most common tip from airline staff and those lucky people who have been upgraded in the past is simply to be nice. Every airline rep you meet at the airport – from the check-in staff to the gate staff – have the power to help you. Most people treat them like machines, so make yourself stand out; ask questions, mind your please and thank yous, smile, and be friendly and you might just get a special thank you back.
Give them a go – there’s no harm in trying. You never know, you just might be sitting with the VIPs and sipping on complimentary champagne the next time you board a flight.