Tips for Getting Flight Upgrades

Today I want to share my tips for getting flight upgrades with readers.

Once upon a time I would “reasonably” frequently get bumped up to business class. I knew the joy of stretching out with a comfy pillow. There would be a feeling pampered anticipation as I reached for the hot towel prior to take off.  I enjoyed being greeted with a glass of champagne and all the other niceties that came along with the flight upgrades.

Now most of our travel is with children, and the days of being able to use these tips are temporarily behind, so I’m sharing them with you.

Consider Upgrading Your Airline Seat

Why Do Airlines Give Flight Upgrades

Please remember, airlines won’t upgrade unless they have no other choice. This need can arise for a number of airline operational reasons;

  • economy class is overbooked
  • a previous flight may have been cancelled and passengers have overflowed to the subsequent flight
  • a last minute plane change could result in a different cabin configuration.

Which Airlines are More likely to Give Flight Upgrades

I think this is the most important consideration when you’re trying to secure an upgrade. So what is each airlines policy on upgrading passengers? Each airline has a very different approach to upgrades. Some airlines allocate upgrades in the back office, some at check in. Some allocate only to frequent flier customers others have some discretion. Quite a lot of airlines keep this information strictly confidential.

Qantas – No information available

Emirates – Upgrades go to Skyward members starting with the Gold member and working down to the Blue tier

Virgin – Based on their Loyalty Tier level

Air New Zealand & Singapore – No “Check In” discretion – Back office generates upgrades based on an algorithm

Cathay Pacific – upgrades are based on tier status with Marco Polo Club and Qantas Oneworld frequent flyer programmes

United Airlines – upgrades are based on the tiers of the airline loyalty program

Top Travel Tips for Flights
Top Travel Tips for Flights

Tips for Getting Free Flight Upgrades

Solo Travel or Couple Travel

Like it or not there is very little chance a family will get bumped up to business class. It’s just not in an airlines best interest to upgrade kids that may disturb the other paying passengers. Also finding 4 or 5 seats together in a cabin is far more unlikely than finding multiple single seats.

Join the Airline Frequent Flier Programs

Airlines are far more likely to reward their frequent fliers with upgrades when they’re available. Some airline give upgrades exclusively to only the higher tiered frequent fliers within their loyalty programs. It pays to be loyal to your favourite one or two airlines and join their loyalty program.

Fly Regularly with a Single Carrier

Accumulating airline points for flights and reaching another tier of membership puts you in a good position for an upgrade if it becomes available. If you spread yourself amongst too many airlines you won’t accumulate a very impressive points score with any, one carrier.

Dress as though you are travelling business class

I once dated a travel journalist. Each time we travelled by plane we dressed as though we were booked into first class. My partner explained that an airline won’t bump an economy passenger up to business class if they don’t look and act suitably.  Really you can’t expect an upgrade if you look like something the cat dragged in.

Pack for a cruise holiday

Mention the Reason for Your Travel

If you’re on a honeymoon, travelling due to a wedding anniversary, taking a “babymoon” or any other reason that tugs on the heartstrings make sure you let check in know! It won’t guarantee an upgrade but it may tip the scales in your favour if the circumstances are right.

Ask if an upgrade is available.

I know it may seem silly to say that it’s as simple as asking for an upgrade, but you never know if you don’t ask. Be polite and friendly, smile and just enquire if there is any chance of an upgrade.  If check in staff are looking for a passenger to bump and you fit the rest of the criteria (outlined above) you just might get bumped up.

Volunteer to give up your seats if the flight is overbooked

This is probably the only way a family has a chance to secure an upgrade. When flights are overbook the airline will need to bump people from the flight. If you volunteer to be bumped you’re in a good position to negotiate an upgrade. This may be a great option if you’re on a long haul flight but you have the time available to stay an extra night prior to travel. Image being put up for the night by the airline, and then sleeping in an inflight bed. It would certainly make a huge difference to anyone’s comfort levels.

Photograph Essential Travel Documents (not credit cards)
Travel Tips

What to do if these Tips Don’t Secure any Flight Upgrades?

Have you considered guaranteeing your next upgrade?

Sometimes the thought of struggling through another economy flight is just too much. When that day comes you may considering taking these steps.

Pimp Your Ride


Flight Upgrades
Flight Upgrades

Go on to the airlines website and see if there are upgrade options available for purchase. Airlines such as Scoot allows an upgrade to premium seats with more legroom simply by selecting this option during your online checkin. It does cost a little more but sometime comfort wins over cost.

Points & Pay Flight Upgrade

If you’ve been following my tips of flying with just a few airlines and being part of the airline loyalty program you will accumulate points. These points can often be used as part of a points and payment combination. Once you establish what the economy fare would be for your travel you then look at what the business fare is with a combination of points and pay. The difference is often negligible.

Use Credit Cards which are attached to Airline Frequent Flier Programs

Quite a few banks have deals which allow the transfer of points to selected frequent flier programs. By switching to these credit cards, and using the cards for everyday purchases you can accumulate points more quickly. Then you can use the above “points & pay” suggestions. Just beware, you need to pay the balance each month or you will be paying too much interest.

Consider Requesting a Last Minute Paid Upgrade

Last minute upgrades at check-in are heavily subsidised by the airline.  If you really don’t want to be in economy make sure you ask if there’s the option to pay for an upgrade.

Airline Upgrades

In conclusion

So I think it’s fair to say that free upgrades are extremely difficult to get! It does pays to stack the chances in your favour by being loyal to one or two airlines, holding membership to their frequent flier program, looking tidy and presentable and being kind and courteous to staff.

Let’s continue the conversation, have you ever been upgrade? I’d love to know the circumstances surrounding you flight upgrades. Perhaps you work for an airline and can shine some light the enigma that is “the free upgrade”

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