How to get a flight upgrade: 15 ways to get bumped up to business
Throwing tantrums, chatting up check-in staff and putting on weight: we've got some industry insider tips from Skyscanner staff on how to bag an upgrade on your next flight. See you in first class!
Have you got a good flight upgrade tip or story? Simply post it in the comments box at the bottom of this page.
1. Travel at quiet times
Lynn Unick, a growth manager at Skyscanner, reckons you've got a better chance of upgrading to business class by ‘booking a flight on bank holidays and at other times of the year when business users are less likely to fly, as the seats tend not to be taken up. Read more about the best and cheapest times to book a flight with our handy guide.
2. Spend lots of money
Sometimes you have to invest to get a return. Another Skyscanner frequent flyer says: “My wife and I got upgraded when we moved here from the US on BA. Not sure why, but we think spending $1600 on baggage fees helped.”
3. Be loyal to your airline
Another flight upgrade secret: simply join the airline's loyalty program. Even if it’s at the lowest level, you'll get rewarded first. Make sure you get a card for each partnership accordingly.
4. Be early for your flight
Your flight may only have one or two upgrade places available, so maximise your chances of bagging them by rocking up at check-in ten hours before the scheduled departure. If it backfires, you’ll have to kill a murderous amount of time in Starbucks, but it worked for Product Manager David Low: “My wife and I were flying to the Dominican Republic. We’d got to Glasgow Airport far too early but at least there was no queue. The check-in lady told us that they had two spare seats in first class, and since we were first to arrive, we could have them for free. So we happily accepted.”
5. Be late for your flight
Be late without reserving your seat: if you're lucky and if the flight is overbooked, you might just be able to bag a premium class ticket. However, Joe Sarre, Senior Product Manager in APAC says it "works well at busy times, but it's a dangerous game! If you're too late you might miss the check-in time, or they might have already sorted their overbooking problems by giving upgrades to the passengers ahead.” Love flying by the seat of your pants? Check out our top tips for bagging a last-minute holiday.
6. Check your emails
Joe also recounts that Air France emailed him a couple of times on the day of departure offering a cheap (not free) upgrade. “I’ve twice missed this because I didn’t check my emails close enough to departure. One of these times I had even called the airline to ask if they had any deals and they said no! So keep checking your emails even up to a couple of hours before you fly.”
7. Get mad
Senior Marketing Manager Douglas Cook left it to his mum to get mad. He explains: “My dad had been working in Australia for a month and my mum, my brother and I were flying out to meet him. Qantas overbooked our first flight, made us wait for another, and then at our change disclosed they had done exactly the same thing on our connecting flight. My mum lost her rag, as we were now going to be days late meeting my dad. In the end they put us on a Singapore Airlines flight in first class, which as you might imagine was lovely, and as it left earlier and made good time meant we weren’t that late after all!"
8. Get sad
If you get desperate, resort to emotional blackmail. Tika Larasati, Influencer Marketing Manager, advises: “Tears of a drama queen can work, either out of sympathy or to get you away from the other passengers. I guess when your hamster dies, it won’t work.”
9. Get a diplomatic passport
Tika also says that diplomatic passports have 'magical powers'. She advises: “If you are not a diplomat, marry one."
10. Supersize yourself
Another unusual tip from Tika. Apparently her ex-husband was ‘somewhat oversize’. She tells us: “He always got upgraded, while I stayed in economy. So stop your diet, get fat, and get upgraded.” We’d love to know if this has happened to anyone else...
11. Be nice
Kindness pays, so pay it forward with interest and you could be in first class in the blink of a smile. Andrew Phillips, Senior Technical Manager, recounts his lucky American flight upgrade: “Flying to the US a few years ago, I boarded the plane late (as usual) and there was an old chap sitting down in my seat. The stewardess (who I’d chatted to on the way in) was nearby and heard the guy saying he just wanted to sit next to his wife. I told her I didn’t mind sitting in his seat (it was the row behind I think) and off she went, only to return five minutes later. She asked me to follow her...all the way up to business class!”
12. Dress up
And no, we don’t mean turning up at Stansted as the Blues Brothers. Leave the tracksuit at home and dress as if you’ve just been browsing the FT in the exec lounge - either full-on formal or business casual (pink herringbone shirt, beige chinos, tan brogues) does the job. Having gained a business class upgrade with her boyfriend to South Africa, Talent Acquisition Coordinator Fiona Nimmo advises "looking good, wearing your Sunday best and smiling". For more holiday fashion tips, follow our guide on what to pack for every kind of trip.
13. Use your charms
Sleeping with the pilot should work, but bagging an upgrade could be as simple as a show of clean teeth and a few well-placed words complimenting the check-in staff on their nail extensions. A charming Growth Manager recommends this tactic for girls travelling alone but not in peak periods, while it worked for Charlie Pank, Principal Engineer. Charlie recalls: “My brother and I didn’t get upgraded but, after he chatted up the air hostess during take-off (we had the exit seats facing her), she gave us a massive carrier bag of all the spare booze miniatures and we got to sit in the observers’ seats in the cockpit for the landing at Frankfurt.”
14. Have friends in high places
It’s not what you know, but who you know, so no matter what flight upgrade tips we give you, if your husband is the pilot, you might have the odd door opened for you. Thanks to a ‘contact’ at Heathrow, Talent Acquisition Consultant Lorraine Rew got upgraded to business class for a flight to Miami. “It was lush!” she says. “As part of the upgrade I got to use the first class lounge – not bad at all for a wee 18 year-old on her first US trip!” Ah, bless.
15. Work in the Skyscanner PR team
Sam Poullain, European Social Media Manager enjoyed the perfect upgrade: “On a recent flight from London to Edinburgh I found to my delight that I had been upgraded to Seat 6A, which some of our keener readers may know, is officially The Perfect Airline Seat, as voted for by thousands of British travellers as their ultimate airline seat. Now, I don't know if the British Airways staff knew of my involvement with the 6A project or if they simply upgraded me as I’d just walked off a 13-hour flight from Singapore, but either way, kicking back in my king-size lounge chair with extra legroom (I’m six foot two) was the perfect way to end a long journey. Unfortunately I was furnished with croissants rather than champagne as it was 7am, but you can’t win ‘em all.” If you're a head above the rest like Sam, we've also looked at which airlines give you the most legroom.
And finally… should you ever come out and ask for an upgrade?
There's plenty of disagreement on this one. Andrew Phillips insists: “They will always say no!" It certainly didn’t work for Bryony Smith, Senior Marketing Manager. She tells us: “On our honeymoon to Mexico with Continental Airlines, we were seated in economy. Ten minutes before departure we noticed that the flight was half-empty, including business class. We told the stewardess that we were on our honeymoon and could they upgrade us. She went away to check, came back and said no, but congratulations here’s a glass of bubbly! Really, the flight was half empty!”
About the author
Cat McGloin // @catmcgloin
Travel Editor and Content Manager for Skyscanner UK. Usually found by the coffee machine, at her desk researching travel tips, buried in a pile of post-it notes, on the yoga mat, or, if it's 5 o'clock on a Friday, down the pub.
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