Tired of walking by all those people in first class looking comfortable as you head to your economy seat? Seats in economy are getting smaller and smaller while it seems like first-class keeps getting better. Free drinks, lots of legroom, and you are first off the plane. What's not to love? First and business class seats come at a premium price, but you don't always have to pay extra to get one of the coveted seats. Airlines aren't handing out as many upgrades as they used to, but there are a few tricks you can try on your next flight to see if you snag an upgrade.
What Are the Chances?
Before you try your hand at getting an upgrade, it's good to know what your chances are of success.
Your chances go down if...
- Flights are especially full. The more packed the flight, the less chance there is a spare seat in business or first class. That means if you tend to travel during peak seasons, don't expect your upgrade tricks to pay off.
- You are flying on a budget ticket. If you paid bargain basement prices for your ticket, your chances of scoring the upgrade are practically none. Airlines are more willing to upgrade those who spent more on their tickets.
- You complain about never getting an upgrade. Gate agents have heard it all and seen it all. The last thing they want is a customer complaining that they never get a freebie. So while it might be tempting, keep the complaints to yourself.
Your chances go up if...
- You are traveling alone. The chance of there being one upgraded seat is a lot better than there being multiple seats sitting empty in first or business. So don't expect your entire entourage to get upgrades, but if you are going alone there's a chance.
- You've experienced issues on a connecting flight. Gate agents are often willing to go the extra mile for passengers who experienced issues on earlier flights. Don't lie or be overly dramatic, though. Gate agents are experts at knowing when someone experienced genuine hassle and who is trying to scam a free upgrade.
- You are traveling for a special occasion. If it's your honeymoon, make it obvious. Smile at the gate agents and let them know you are here for a special reason. They may try to make your trip extra special by bumping you into first class.
Dress to Impress
A lot of people dress for comfort when they travel. It's a reasonable choice. After all, if you are spending nine hours in the economy section, yoga pants are probably the most comfortable way to do it. But upgrading your style can help you upgrade your seat. Ditch the sweatpants for business casual or something you'd wear to a fancy Sunday brunch. If you look like you belong in first class, you might find yourself there. Gate agents will scan the crowd when they need to move someone up, and if you look the part you are more likely to get picked.
Be Polite and Direct
It's okay to ask! The key to asking for an upgrade is to be polite and direct with the gate agent. Don't approach them at busy times, though. Gate agents are busiest the last 30 minutes before a flight leaves, so approaching them in that window of time for an upgrade won't work. Instead, pick a quiet time and put on your friendliest smile. Just ask at the gate if there are any upgrades available, and if there are, could they please consider you. The worst that can happen is they say no.
Offer to Give up Your Seat
If you are on an overbooked flight and you aren't on a strict schedule, offer to give up your seat for a passenger. This helps out the gate agents, who can then look like a hero to the desperate passenger. In return, the agent may pay you back with an upgrade. If approached to give up your seat, it doesn't hurt to tell them you'd be happy to do so if you could have an upgrade on the next flight.
Show up Early
Most people show up at the airport about two hours before their flight, maybe a little more for an international destination. You may need to be even earlier if you are flying out of one of the busiest airports in the United States. By the time you arrive, though, the airline already assigned the seats to the passengers. Any available upgrades are probably already allocated. So get there early.
If you have the time (and don't mind a few hours browsing the airport shops), show up really early for your flight. The desk agent will have access to the current seating chart. They may be able to tip you off to a free (or potentially very cheap) upgrade into first or business class.
Join the Loyalty Programs
If you've been brushing off airline loyalty programs, it's time to take advantage. Most programs are free to join and can pay off in the long run for passengers. That's especially true if you are loyal to one or two airlines and can rack up points. Even passengers at the lowest loyalty levels are more likely enjoy an upgrade than those who aren't part of the program. Make sure you use your loyalty program number when you book your tickets so you get the points and the airline can also see that you are a member of their club. Forbes offers this list of the best airline loyalty programs to join. Choose your favorite airlines and see if your brand loyalty can pay off in an upgrade.