5 Ways to Score an Upgrade on Your Next Flight

The ritzy, roomy seats in first class are appealing to any traveler. With them also usually come meals and drinks (high-end champagne, anyone?) that will get you to your destination well-nourished and in a good mood.

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However, paying the price for first, or even business class is not an option for most travelers. But if you act the part, there are ways to get an upgrade. Here’s how:

#1: Score Some Deals Online

Checking out websites such as LetsFlyCheaper.com can come in handy here. This website, for example, can offer up to 70% off on business flights (which in some cases can be the same as an economy ticket). Do a little bit of research and see what playing around with dates can do to help.

#2: Put Your Frequent Flyer Miles Into Action

Depending on the company in question, frequent flyer miles can help you get an upgrade. Inquire with the specific airline and see how they can help.

Tradition has it that airlines will reserve a certain number of seats for customers who pay full price for flying business or first class (after all, the airlines want to make money, too). Using miles for an upgrade can thus only be done if there are still seats available for you to do so.

The key is to use the right miles and at the right time (think of the Machiavellian opportunity …). Note that short flights are usually not worth upgrading for.

Airplane © eisenbahner

#3: Arrive Early at Check-in

Scoring an upgrade at the check-in counter will require some kind of elite status on the airline in question (e.g. being a frequent flyer or having some kind of “Gold” or “Business” card as some airlines call it). If there’s only one upgrade available, and two such cardholders ask for it, it will usually be “first come, first serve.” Thus the key is to arrive early.

Take a look at CheckinSooner.com. They have a rather useful FAQ section for five U.S. airlines, including Southwest, American, United, Delta and Continental.

#4: Dress for Success

Looking like a business executive can make or break an upgrade deal. That is: no jeans, sneakers and certainly no sweat pants or pajamas, which have become increasingly common on economy class flights. An airline employee will be much more likely to upgrade you if you look like you fit in with those who actually paid full price.

Airplane View © gumption

#5: Flirt with the Steward(ess)

You might think that once you are on board, the battle to get an upgrade has been lost. However, if you are skilled, you might be able to get an upgrade in the last minute.

First, you should find out whether there are still seats available (usually, you can tell when boarding the plane from the front). Then, pick a target – that is, either a steward or stewardess. Flirt with all you’ve got, but don’t go too far. Once the plane has taken off, stop. You don’t want to become annoying, or worse, get thrown out completely!

Good luck!

  1. #4 and #5 won’t work. By the time that there are free seats open, passengers’ elite status comes into play. They’re always going to upgrade me wearing tshirt/jeans over someone in a suit with no status.

  2. Love these tips. I’ve always been too timid to try getting an upgrade, but I’ve heard plenty of stories of people pulling it off. Never thought about dressing well either, that’s a good one.

  3. Great information. Definitely book as far in advance as person. Similar to car rentals and hotels, booking your flights online in advance can save you a lot of money. #5 can either work in your favor and backfire horribly haha

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