The summertime is over but the period of the year for the true jet setters has arrived. If you can pack your bags and travel around the world in first class, you will feel like Frank Abagnale.
Not that long ago, it wasn’t a surprise when during a check-in or at the gate, a flight agent slipped you a new boarding pass with a very low row number. But times have changed. The ‘Catch me if you can’ period is no longer the scene and there are big challenges present to get a free upgrade.
Below you will find some industry insider tricks that you can use to greatly improve your chances of getting a free upgrade to the first cabin.
1. Get a miles card
Loyalty, a.k.a., spending lots of money and time flying with one airline. Try to always fly with a specific airline and join the frequent flyer club. When flights are oversold, airlines will first turn to their most frequent travelers. Same goes for complimentary upgrades. Even if it’s the lowest level, you still get rewarded first.
2. Know someone in an airline
It doesn’t matter if you’re best friends with the pilot or know the gate agent responsible for check-in. If you know someone who works high enough for the airline, chances are that he or she can get you a free upgrade.
3. Travel when no one else does
If business class is already sold out, it’s practically impossible to receive an upgrade. Travel when there is a low volume of business class passengers, and you greatly increase your chances. Commuters tend to be frequent flyers and receive priority. Try to travel during mid-day, mid-week or weekends rather than early mornings or late afternoons.
4. Dress well
Dress to impress. No airline wants a chump sitting in business class. Airlines want first and business class people to look a league above, so make sure that you do, too. You don’t need to look like a Wall Street banker or Hollywood actress, but dress well.
5. Be nice
Compliment the flight assistant at check-in with a big smile. Be complimentary, but don’t overdo it. Be patient and make a quick connection. Then, politely ask for a complimentary upgrade.
When making your request, use the word “because”, and then insert a legit reason (such as an early meeting when you land or a recent unfortunate event).
6. Be late or early
If airlines need to move passengers between cabins they will generally know within several hours before the flight. So, being an early bird will pay off. Likewise, last minute passengers might have the same luck if more passengers show up than expected.
Never show up the same time as everyone else if you want to opt for a free upgrade.
7. Fly solo
Flying on your own will greatly increase your chance of receiving a complimentary upgrade. In fact, I’ve never received an upgrade when flying accompanied – only when traveling alone. It is much easier to upgrade a single person and your mobility can be used for the airline to make room for other passengers.
8. The honeymoon or anniversary trick
Traveling with your loved one? Mention that you are on your honeymoon trip or traveling to celebrate an anniversary. This works great at hotels and sometimes airlines will also bump you up to the next cabin if it is (or you pretend it is) your special day…
9. The peanuts trick
Take a bag of peanuts and crush them underneath your seat. Press the flight attendant button and let them know you are heavily allergic to peanuts and that you’ve got penaut residue all over your seat. Then, ask for a re-accomodation. Within two seconds you might have a new seat and an apology. (Credit to Justin Ross Lee for this little trick.)
10. Check for breakages
It may not be typical, but if everything else has failed and you’ve got to get out of that uncomfortable economy seat, check for all the possible breakages that can take place. Perhaps the seat, seat belt or the entertainment system is broken. Also, check if your seat can fully recline. If not, log a complaint.
On packed flights, there might be no where else to put you than in the front cabin.