We’ve all been there. You’re at a dinner table and the seasoned travelers of the group start reminiscing about getting upgraded on their recent holiday. Their recollections of caviar, lie-flat beds and champagne-on-tap at 35,000 feet turns you green with envy – although you’re quite the champagne connoisseur on the ground, you are somewhat reluctant to part with a small fortune to have the same privilege in the air.

The reality is that, with increasing fuel prices and constant cost-cutting, upgrades are very much a thing of the past, and airlines will generally only ‘bump you up’ if it is advantageous from an operational perspective. Having said that, I’ve compiled a list of tips I have accumulated over time to give you the best possible of chances of bagging that all-important upgrade:

Look the part – to blend in with Premium Economy/Business Class passengers, considering flying in formal attire, perhaps in a full suit; airlines are more likely to upgrade flyers who will fit in with their passengers.

Be loyal – even if you only fly infrequently, stick with the same airline (or at least the same alliance). Not only will you accumulate air-miles, but you could earn status. Airlines prefer to upgrade loyal customers, even if they only have the lowest tier membership, and in fact, some have policies in place to only ‘op-up’ (operational upgrade) flyers with status.

Pretend to be loyal – consider signing up for their frequent flyer scheme before your flight even if you don’t intend on using the air-miles, or don’t think you’ll accumulate enough in the foreseeable future for it to be worth your while, as a low tier membership will still put you in a more favourable position if there are any upgrades to be handed out.

Time is of the essence – knowing when to book is essential in maximising your upgrade chances. Try to book at busy periods, because airlines will often overbook flights to compensate for ‘no-show’ passengers. If it transpires that the airline has overbooked Economy Class, they may have to upgrade passengers to the next class. Also, Business and First cabins tend to be full during ‘term-time’, but come holidays, they’re pretty much empty, while coach is full.

Be flexible – at check-in or boarding, the ground staff may ask if anyone is available to take a later flight. For your inconvenience, you will likely be offered an upgrade on your rescheduled flight.

Check your e-mails – an increasing number of airlines are running schemes whereby you can ‘bid’ for an upgrade, or purchase a last minute cabin upgrade at a reduced rate. Notifications will normally come through on your emails in the time leading up to your departure, and the fares can be very attractive. Here’s one that popped up in my inbox a few days ago from Emirates:

Emirates upgrade email

Fussy eaters never prosper – requesting special meals on your booking virtually eliminates your chances of upgrades, as the operational efforts this requires is too significant for ground staff.

Ride Solo  Flying alone obviously increases those all-important upgrade opportunities.

Be vocal – if your seat is not up to scratch (dirty/broken in-flight entertainment screen/doesn’t recline), let the cabin crew know. They will undoubtedly offer to relocate you and, if the rest of Economy is full, you may be lead past the sacred curtain to the realms of luxury!

Embrace your identity – if you have a title (e.g. Doctor, Professor, Colonel etc.), use it in your reservation. Airlines like pampering VIPs (Very Important Passengers) to turn them into repeat customers.

Embrace the occasion – if you’re travelling on an anniversary/honeymoon etc., tell the check-in staff and cabin crew. At the very least, you’ll be given a complimentary glass of Champagne. In fact, who’s to know it’s not your honeymoon every time you fly? 😉

There’s no harm in asking – very unlikely, but charming the check-in attendant is worth a shot, even though they rarely have the authority to upgrade you themselves.


Final Thoughts

By no means expect for this to be a foolproof method, but this should definitely increase your chances.

Do you have any upgrade stories or tips?

Let us know down below!