How to get a free flight upgrade
Jetting off on holiday and fancy being bumped up to first class? Here's how to do it...
In just a couple of weeks I’ll be jetting off for my honeymoon to Costa Rica – whoopee! (That’s providing I don’t get caught out by British Airways strikes or volcanic ash of course.) But I can’t help thinking how nice it would be if I could get an upgrade on my flight and have all the comfort of business or first class.
Of course, I’m sure I’m not the only person to have thought about this before boarding a flight. So here are some top tips to show you how to do it!
Perhaps the simplest way to get an upgrade is to ensure you look the part and look respectable. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear a suit, but turning up in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt isn’t likely to do you any favours.
If you’re travelling on your own, you’re more likely to get an upgrade simply because there are fewer of you to upgrade! If you’re travelling in a large group, you can pretty much kiss that upgrade goodbye!
Use special occasions to your advantage
I may have to test this one out myself in a couple of weeks. You need to do this fairly subtly, but if you’re just married and on your honeymoon, casually drop it into the conversation at the check-in desk. Similarly, if it’s a special birthday, or other event, it’s worth mentioning. Even if you don’t get an upgrade, you may still get a glass of champagne!
Of course, the downside to this is that if you’re checking-in online, there are fewer opportunities to play the special occasion card!
Take advantage of your friends
If you’re lucky enough to know someone who works for the airline, it’s worth finding out whether he/she might be able get you some special treatment and ideally, an upgrade!
Use your title
When making your booking, if you have an impressive title – whether it’s Professor, Judge or Councillor – use it! Apparently, by doing so, you’re more likely to get an upgrade. Whether this actually works or not, I'm not sure... let us know if you have any experience of this!
If you join a frequent flyer scheme and regularly collect points or airmiles, you’ll be highlighting your loyalty to the airline and as a result, you may be more likely to get an upgrade. And if you can get to the top level of membership, even better!
Of course, you’re more likely to gain points if you regularly travel with just one airline. But there’s no reason why you can’t join other airlines’ frequent flyer schemes as well to boost your chances of an upgrade!
What’s more, don’t forget that those points and miles you earn can also turn into free or discounted flights anyway!
Don’t order special meals
Unfortunately, if you order special meals for the flight – such as vegetarian, vegan, halal or kosher – you’re less likely to get upgraded. The reason for this is because flights generally don’t have spares, so first class may not be able to accommodate your needs at the last minute. As a result, the upgrade opportunity is likely to go to someone without special dietary requirements.
Fly full fare
If you’ve got a discount on your fare, you’re less likely to get an upgrade. Airlines are much more likely to upgrade you if you’ve paid the full amount, purely because it reflects badly on them if someone who has been upgraded tells everyone how little they paid for their ticket!
Check-in at the right time
These days, many of us check-in online. But if you’re checking-in at the airport, leaving it as late as possible might be the key to an upgrade. That’s because if you’re on a busy flight, there may be no economy seats left and you may be upgraded. Alternatively, you may be asked to wait for a later flight and you’ll then be upgraded as compensation.
That said, this strategy can backfire. If you’re travelling in a group you may find you get split up and given the leftover economy seats.
Avoid business hours
If you can avoid travelling during business hours, do so. That’s because the first class and business cabins are likely to be fuller during business hours and you’re unlikely to be bumped up. However, travelling at the weekends or outside peak hours should boost your chances of an upgrade.
Websites such as SeatGuru and SeatExpert will show you the seating plan of your flight so it's worth checking out to find out how full your flight is likely to be and whether there's much chance of an upgrade!
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A little bit of charm can go a long way. Be friendly, smile, and make sure you’re polite when checking-in. You’re far more likely to get an upgrade if the check-in staff like you! That said, don’t be so friendly you come across as scary or a little weird!
Mention any medical issues but don't whinge
If, for example, you have a weak bladder or are on medication and need to be near a toilet, it's worth mentioning this. They may take pity on you and upgrade you if there are no available economy seats.
However, don't moan about it. If you do, they may decide to upgrade the person next to you instead!
If, once you’re on the flight, you’re asked to move so that a family can sit together, for example, do so. There is a chance that you’ll be upgraded on the back of this!
Finally, you could of course simply ask for an upgrade. But if you’re going to do this make sure you’re not demanding and don’t shout it out so that everyone else can hear. Airline staff do get fed up with being constantly asked about upgrades, so don’t assume that just because you’ve asked, you’ll get what you want.