Top 10 Ways to Get Upgraded to Business Class

Airlines and Aviation

Have you ever been upgraded to business class or – better yet! – to first class?

Many years ago, I had a friend that made it a point to arrive at the airport at the last possible minute. He said this increased his chances of two things happening.

Either economy class would be full and he would be upgraded to business or first class. Or he would get bumped, which would result in some sort of compensation.

Several months back, I got mixed up about what time I was supposed to arrive at the airport. As a result, I got at the check in counter a bit late.

All I got was a warning that if I had been any later I would have been denied boarding. Then I was escorted through security (I was taken to the front of the line) and taken to the gate by way of a few short cuts not usually accessible to passengers.

Amy Chan is the Director of Marketing at the Kiwi Collection, the world’s largest luxury hotel reviewer.

She says there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting an upgrade when flying. They run from joining airline loyalty programmes to paying full fair to choosing an airline with a large first class cabin.

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting an Upgrade  

Gone are the days when a smart suit, puppy dog eyes, and a nice smile during check-in could send you champagne sipping in business. Yes, free flight upgrades are rare and sometimes just a matter of pure luck. However, here’s a list of things you can do to increase your odds.

1. Airline Loyalty Programmes – Join ’em

Keep your eye on the prize: elite status. Airlines will give priority for upgrades to top-tier members. Pick an airline and stick to it.

If you are a regular customer you are more likely to get those three coveted letters: SFU (Suitable for Upgrade) next to your name on the passenger list. Also, there are often rewards for accumulating miles quickly (usually over one calendar year) and different “perks” are awarded each time you hit a certain mileage tier.

2. Choose Your Carrier Carefully

Points systems are not born equal. For example, with Air Canada, you can only use points for complete bookings in economy or business and cannot use points to upgrade from an economy ticket.

If booking on Qantas, you can buy an upgradeable economy ticket and request for an upgrade to premium economy or business. British Airways, on the other hand, makes it nearly impossible for those who fly economy, short-haul flights to ever earn enough points to make it to the next level.

3. Travel Alone

This might not be possible. However, keep in mind that if you are traveling as part of a small group, an airline may not be able to upgrade everyone, and thus, will upgrade no one at all.

4. Check in Late

The economy seats will likely have been filled, meaning you may get booked directly to business class. This is a very risky strategy, however, as you run the risk of not being able to get a good seat in economy, or getting split up from your travel partner.

5. Be Plane Picky

Pick a flight that will be using an airplane with a large first class cabin. You can find out this information from sites like Seat Guru.

6. Volunteer to Give Up Your Seat

Have time to spare? Every so often an airline will oversell the flight and will need volunteers to give up their seat. If you don’t mind the delay, you can score a flight voucher and/or a free upgrade certificate. They have done this before on Cathay Pacific.

7. Pay Full Fare

If you purchased a full fare ticket and travel on an oversold flight, then you also have more potential for a courtesy upgrade.

8. Wear Business Attire

This won’t be the reason why you get an upgrade, but not being dressed suitably could be the why don’t. Flying like you just rolled out of bed is likely just a bad call all together.

9. Charm Your Way

Once upon a time, being nice could result in someone at the check-in counter upgrading your seat. Nowadays, stories like that seem more like an urban myth. It may be rare, but it’s worked for me and a few of my friends before.

When experiencing an airline issue, if you ask to speak to management and you articulate yourself in a professional, calm yet confident manner, you can find that you can get a free upgrade (if not this flight, perhaps another for another time) or other perks like free lounge access.

10. Marry a Flight Attendant

Practicality aside, if all else fails, this is a surefire way of increasing your upgrade odds. Knowing someone working for the airline definitely helps. Even if you can’t get an upgrade for free, as family, you can purchase discounted business class tickets.

Comment: I would have to say that the last strategy is the most likely to succeed. The only time I ever got upgraded, it wasn’t to business class – it was to first class!

 I was flying from Hong Kong to San Francisco, and my best friend’s brother in law’s wife was manning the check in counter of the airline I was flying on.

She upgraded me to First Class as far as Manila. Unfortunately, I had to complete the last two legs of the trip in Cattle Class.


One Reply to “Top 10 Ways to Get Upgraded to Business Class”

  1. After years of flying in economy and countless times asking for an upgrade and all mentioned tricks I found out the number 1 way to get an upgrade, which is “BEING WHITE”.
    Seriously, Once I asked for an upgrade from an airline and got denied and then the hippie after me got an upgrade. I was surprised, Matter of fact the hippie was surprised more than me that he got an upgrade.

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