How to get flight upgrades - over 50s Travel Tips

If money were no object, you’d choose the posh cabin with the big comfy flat-bed seats, free champagne and speedy exit over economy every time, wouldn’t you? But those luxury seats come with a hefty price tag that few can afford or justify unless we know the secrets of how to get flight upgrades!

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How to get flight upgrades

After all, a first-class ticket can be four times the price of an economy ticket, so most of us are stuck with the grim reality of a crappy economy experience.

Ever sat in cattle class, green with envy, watching someone else get an upgrade and wondered why it wasn’t you? These tips on how to get flight upgrades have worked for me, all without me paying an extra penny.

SEE ALSO: 8 Long-Haul Flight Tips | Hacks for Surviving a Long Flight

How to Get Flight Upgrades to Business or First Class

In a MoneySavingExpert.com poll, 14% of the respondents said they had received an upgrade, so it’s well worth a bit of effort to try to snag one. I’ve used these tips for years and enjoyed free flight upgrades, both on short trips and long-haul flights.

It is getting increasingly difficult to bag a free upgrade and we have to wait and see what the post-COVID world will look like for travel.

Airlines already charge for everything, and seat allocation is mainly computerised. Extra legroom seats and seats at the front of the economy cabin all come with a premium price tag, so your chances of a 100% free upgrade are shrinking almost as fast as legroom space in economy cabins.

How to Get Flight Upgrades: What to do Before You Book

Here’s what you can do to improve your chances of getting an upgrade before you even show up at the airport:

Pay with an Air Miles Credit Card

Credit cards are THE game-changer and the way the travel pros manage to muscle into the front of the queue for flight upgrades. Air Miles credit cards help you rack up air miles quickly because you earn miles every time you fly, and every time you use your card. Plus – lots of cards have sign-up bonuses. When you’ve got enough miles, simply use them to get free flights, but don’t forget you’ll still have to pay any taxes and fees.

Join the Airline’s Loyalty Club

Loyalty counts. The second most important tip is to sign up for frequent-flyer club membership with the airline you’ll be flying with, even if you don’t travel often, or you’re new to travel. Then remember to use your membership number whenever you book a flight! You’ll be among the first to be emailed about upgrade opportunities; when check-in or gate agents, or flight attendants are looking to offer upgrades, loyal customers are usually first on their list. It pays to be in the club.

Join a frequent flyer club and start earning miles. When airlines are oversold, they will look to upgrade their most loyal passengers first


Katherine Clark, Regional Business Development Director for TripAdvisor Flights told the Daily Mail

Network Like a Ninja

If you have friends/family who work for the airline, work it, baby! Shamelessly beg them to see if they can help with how to get flight upgrades. Airlines often give employees vouchers for family/friends, and it costs your contact nothing to share the goodies with you.

Book the Dreaded Middle Seat

Flight attendants sometimes look to move passengers (especially solo travellers) to allow families to sit together, or to make a trip more comfortable for passengers in the less desirable seats. Booking that middle seat is risky, as you may end up stuck with it, but it’s an excellent strategy to try, particularly on shorter flights.

How to Get Flight Upgrades: What to do At Check-In

Smile and Be Gracious

Be nice to everybody from the moment you walk on airport property. You’re talking to people who are decision-makers.

Former flight attendant Carolyn Paddock, founder of the website Life in Flight, told Bankrate.com

Dress as if you belong in first class

Aim for a classy, smart-casual look, with a few well-chosen accessories that scream “quality”. You could still wear comfortable leggings/pants, but team these up with polished leather ballet flats, a longline top and a structured jacket or cashmere shawl.

A business suit isn’t necessary (not to mention uncomfortable on long flights), but it helps if you look smart. A stylish haircut and a statement necklace go a long way too.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 8 Long Haul Flight Tips | Hacks for Surviving a Long Flight

Ask for an upgrade

Smile and say to the check-in agent: “If you are upgrading passengers on this flight, I would like to be considered.” Agents deal with lots of grumpy people; they’ll remember you if you’re polite and friendly.

It can make all the difference if you remember your Ps and Qs with a smile on your face

Bob Atkinson, Travel Expert at MoneySupermarket.com

Be Early

Make it easy for the check-in agent to offer you an upgrade. The early bird gets the worm. Instead of trying to get the attention of the agent while he or she is busy with other passengers, show up early and be the first one to ask. Your flight may have only one or two upgrades available.

If passengers need to be moved between cabins for operational reasons, the airline will probably know this several hours before the flight. So, if you’re among the first few passengers to check-in, you have a higher chance of being chosen.

James Teideman of Skyscanner told the Daily Mail

How to Get Flight Upgrades: What to do At the Gate

Travel solo

Every time I got an upgrade, I was flying solo. Getting two (or more) passengers travelling together upgraded is very rare.

If you’re travelling with a friend and you seriously want to bag a flight upgrade, book your tickets separately and sit separately in the departure gate. Gate agents often look for solo travellers to upgrade.

Flying by yourself can improve your chances of an upgrade but might not improve your relationship!

Travel during peak times for economy passengers

Aim to avoid business/commuter peak time flights, particularly “red-eye” flights. Travel when the economy cabin is full, but business class is not to improve your chance of an upgrade. Think midday and midweek, especially during school holidays. If you travel when the economy cabin is not full, you’re unlikely to get moved forward.

Give up your seat

Airlines always want a full load of passengers, but people with flexible tickets often make last-minute changes/cancellations. To manage this commercially, they regularly overbook flights, knowing there will be ‘no-shows’. Sometimes this means there are more passengers than seats available.

If a gate agent asks for volunteers to give up their seat, agree if they will upgrade you on the next flight. I’ve done this several times. You get a fully expensed delay plus a much better trip! If no one else wants to volunteer, you’re in a strong bargaining position.

Be late

A riskier strategy is to arrive at the boarding gate at the last possible moment. If you’re a frequent flyer, the economy cabin is overbooked, and other passengers have already boarded, the crew might offer you an upgrade. If you’re a member of the airline’s loyalty programme, your chances of getting upgraded this way are higher.

How to Get Flight Upgrades: What to do On the Plane

Check your seat

The minute you sit down, check that everything works properly. Check your seatbelt, armrests, footrests, recliner and tray table. If anything doesn’t work, tell a flight attendant immediately. Passengers in broken seats are reassigned (if seats are available) and that could mean an upgrade.

SEE ALSO: Hong Kong to London in a Broken Seat! Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300 Review

Fly on a special occasion date

Tell the check-in agent and the flight attendant if you’re celebrating your birthday or anniversary, or if you’re on your honeymoon. You’ll probably get a free drink, and you might get an upgrade too.

Don’t be a fussy eater

If you’ve ordered a special meal, you’re less likely to get an upgrade, because your meal choice(s) might not be available in the higher-class cabin. It’s much easier for flight attendants to upgrade someone uncomplicated. Be uncomplicated.

6 Ways to Kill Your Chances of an Upgrade

There are some passenger behaviours that are guaranteed to drive airline staff nuts. Don’t do any of the following if you’re hoping to get a flight upgrade!

  • Share a crappy sob story: Save your time. The crew will have already heard every story under the sun
  • Turn up without a reservation: You’ll be fast-tracked to the worst seat possible
  • Be the obnoxious/high maintenance passenger: Nobody is going to reward a passenger who behaves badly
  • Have a drink or three before pitching for the upgrade: Why not wear a badge saying, “I’m not upgrade material”? Same effect…
  • Pretend to be someone you’re not: Use an honorific, if it’s genuine and enjoy the kudos (Doctor, Judge, Lady, Reverend etc.). If you’re faking it, don’t forget that the name on your ticket must match your ID!
  • Loudly demand a new seat because you’re next to a screaming baby or a person of size: Your reward might be a seat reassignment next to the toilet or the flight attendant offering an upgrade to the passenger you disrespected!

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Airliner flying over land with sunset in the background

Have you ever been upgraded on a flight? How did it happen? What’s your favourite tip about flight upgrades? Let me know in the comments if you’ve got more recommendations!

About Author

Coralie is a Brit living in North Yorkshire. When she's not writing, she's either out exploring, planning a new trip, tasting street food or relaxing with a cold G&T. With 40+ years of adventurous travel to almost 40 countries (so far), she knows there's still much to see and remains an adventure-seeker at heart. Follow her on social media and keep up with her adventures and awesome travel tips.

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