How To Get Upgraded On Your Next Flight

How To Get Upgraded On Your Next Flight

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I have never, ever been upgraded on a flight before and it really pisses me off. It’s like being picked last for sport. Which happens to me with more regularity. Also I fly a lot, heaps more than almost anyone I know, so it’s a statistical anomaly that it’s never happened to me. It seems like every person I’ve met has been upgraded at least once. I’ve been quizzing people for years about how they managed to wrangle their way into the curtained mecca of the business class section. Here are my findings. 

How To Get Upgraded On Your Next Flight

Dress Well

I have it on good authority that your comfortable travel clothes that look like pyjamas, just won’t cut it. Airlines have no control over what paying business class passengers wear but apparently if you wear stilettos, they are far more likely to get you to that amazing recliner chair and French bottled water than if you wear your summer holiday sandals. I also heard a rumour that men will not be upgraded unless they’re wearing a suit. You heard it here first.

Check in Early or Late and In Person

If there are spare business class seats on a flight, they’ll fill almost all of them early. This means that the well dressed couple that show up 2 hours early for the flight are a shoo-in. Your other option is to arrive JUST as the last passengers are walking through the gate. If there’s a spare seat and you look fabulous and important, you might just get a last-minute upgrade. If you check in online and rock up to the gate 20 minutes before boarding your chances are almost zero.

Tell A Good Story

According to a particularly reliable source, couples on their honeymoon aren’t the favourites for upgrades anymore. A friend of mine works for an airline and she said that she once upgraded a woman because she had recently got divorced and her ‘cheating scumbag husband’ had finally paid the settlement, so she was off to spend 6 weeks in Italy. So be honest about your travel plans, you never know, they may just pique the interest of the check in person behind the counter. 

Be Very Polite

This one is pretty obvious but some people don’t know the difference between posh and asshole. It’s okay to enquire about an upgrade but be charming, polite and mind your Ps and Qs. Don’t walk around like you own the airline. Delusions of grandeur will keep you firmly planted in economy. 

Ditch The Kids

This one is pretty obvious and also kind of discriminatory but it’s unlikely an airline is going to put you and your three children under the age of 5 in business class for free. It’s probably best to wait until you’re on a naughty weekend away with your significant other before hinting for an upgrade at the check in counter.

Have you ever been upgraded on a flight? Do you have any idea why? And was it as awesome I think it is?

Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.

35 Comments

  1. Julia Munro 5 months ago

    You’re going to hate me, I’ve been upgraded about 7 times but I’ve been travelling a lot since I a kid so it averages out. I can’t remember all the reasons now, once I was wearing my work uniform, which kind of looked like a flight attendant uniform? I have heard from ex FA’s that if they think you look like a FA and there’s a spare seat you stand a good chance of getting upgraded. I got upgraded to Raffles Class on Singapore air, most people at that time flew London to Australia via Singapore so by the time the flight got to Singapore they already knew it was overbooked. I’d asked if there was any chance of getting an exit row or bulkhead seat because I’ve got freaky long legs and instead they asked me if I would be happy to fly the next morning. I got upgraded, put in a 5* hotel, got taxi vouchers and a treated like a goddamn Queen.

    The other times there’s been no rhyme or reason, just luck!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      I’m so angry with you right now. I’m totally dressing like a rockstar/FA for my Bali flight next week. Upgrade be mine!

  2. Fiona Dolan 5 months ago

    I too have been upgraded several times. Always when I fly with Qantas or codeshare airlines, so I assume your frequent flyer status with an airline and perceived loyalty comes into it too?
    Once I was flying back and they asked me at the desk if I had any other shoes to change into (I was wearing thongs aka flip flops) and when I did, they upgraded me straight away! So don’t wear thongs to check in!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Ah! It’s a shoe conspiricy! I’m on it.

  3. beautyholicsanonymous 5 months ago

    I’ve travelled more than I can remember, did every single thing you mentioned and never once have I gotten upgraded. Sigh. Ain’t stopping me though.
    I’LL HAVE THAT UPGRADE, MARK MY WORDS! *shake fists*
    Ahem.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      I’m exactly the same! I’m off to Bali next week, on my own so I’m going to dress like a rockstar and see if that works.

  4. I’d also add, flying solo will give you a much higher chance of an upgrade. Jim was upgraded for doing the check in early thing – he always asks if the flight is full as a gauge to whether an upgrade is possible. I was once in my economy seat on a busy flight and was upgraded just before takeoff. I was wearing heels so I think that helped ;)

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Good call! I’m totally doing heels this week.

  5. niki 5 months ago

    The only time I ever got upgraded (and it was just to an exit row) was from Sydney to London. I was 21, it was my first trip to Europe and I definitely wasn’t dressed posh. I think I was just so excited about going on such an anticipated trip (I’d put uni on pause and saved solidly for 8 months) that they felt all gooey and did me a teeny favour. I always check in online to make things faster but maybe I’ll try dressing up and checking in in person next international flight!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      That’s so lucky what an awesome first overseas experience!

  6. Nicole 5 months ago

    I have never been upgraded, but of course very much want to. If these are the ways, I guess I’m shit out of luck. I think I wear high heels MAYBE a couple times a year so I definitely wouldn’t be wearing them to the airport.
    Not exactly the same thing, but I have heard that checking in online sometimes allows you to get an upgrade for way cheaper than the original ticket would have cost. It’s not free, but it’s better than economy.
    When we take our trip to London this year we plan to fly Premium Economy, we’re hoping the cheaper upgrade for business class will be available then.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Yeah there’s paying options I think for little upgrades depending on the airline. I’d love to be able to afford premium economy or similar! That’s my life long wish to be able to throw money at airlines. ACtually screw that. I want my own jet!

      • Nicole 5 months ago

        Haha yeah, a private jet would be pretty great. Either that or Star Trek style transporters. I’m not picky.
        We don’t usually fly premium economy, but being as this is to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we figured we’d save up and splurge a bit. Kayak actually has some really good deals. We’re sort of treating it like the honeymoon we never had.

  7. Kelly Exeter 5 months ago

    I have never ever ever been upgraded! So much so I have given up on dressing nicely for flights and go the soft pants every time!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      I ALWAYS wear soft pants and now I’m changing my strategy!

  8. I’ve never been upgraded either, although I’ve been let into the airport lounges a bunch of times when travelling with my parents thanks to Dad’s frequent flyer status (generally only one guest is allowed).
    Once they tried really hard to upgrade me as I was coming home from China with my parents and they were flying business class and I was in economy (they were flying for business, I was coming home from visiting them) and the lady felt sorry for me but it was fully booked. Boo!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Oh me too! I LOVE airport lounges. Mr Smags used to have a membership but I don’t think he has it anymore. Sad face.

  9. guest 5 months ago

    Don’t request a special meal. No upgrades if you have particular dietary requirements.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      I KNEW IT! Mr Smags is a coeliac! Urgh! He RUINS EVERYTHING!!!!

  10. I’ve never ever been upgraded and now I know why we weren’t upgraded on our honeymoon last year, though we did get free champers and cake, so all wasn’t totally lost…!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Oh well that’s nice! I guess it’s also easy to lie and say you’re on your honeymoon… which reminds me that Mr Smags and I should lie more and say we’re on our honeymoon….

  11. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 5 months ago

    I’ve heard that the only sure fire way is to have status points with airlines. Although my brother in law got upgraded to first class once and he has absolutely no status with the airlines. Maybe they do it to the odd person to keep the mystique and stories alive! :P

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      What do you mean status points? Like flying heaps with the same airline and having frequent flyer points them? I’m hungry for INFORMATION!!!!

  12. On honeymoon, we travelled for 4 months on 20+ flights and didn’t get upgraded once. I’ve tried every trick in the book, dressing nice, going on the charm offensive and checking in uber early but I never got an upgrade. I haven’t given up hope though! And on the flip side, flying economy is character building!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Flying economy IS character building! I had a guy fall asleep on my shoulder on the way back from Singapore.

  13. Harlow 5 months ago

    When my partner and I travel we always dress well and do all of the right things in the vain hope that we might get upgraded…but since we are in our early 20s I just assume that they wouldn’t dare think of upgrading us in case we pull out a bong or something!

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Totally! I think age as been a huge downer for me so far. At least wrinkles will be good for something! :-)

  14. I have never been upgraded but that may also be because I have always had children with me. Thank you for the tips.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      I don’t have kids and I’ve never been upgraded so it’s all about the package! Good luck!

  15. Rachel Pierce 5 months ago

    Spontaneous upgrade? That sounds like a myth. Or at least it more or less doesn’t happen in the US. To be fair I mostly fly from and into larger airports where they have a standby list of people willing to shell out cash for the upgrade.
    Seriously though, this is a thing? That happens often? I’m relatively traveled and I’ve never heard of this before in my life.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Yeah it’s a true thing in Australia, I’m not sure if it ever happens in the US though. It’s never happened to me but it’s happened to plenty of people who have commented and lots of people that I know. I also know a guy who was on the Qantas flight that had an ‘crash’ (it was the first ever Qantas crash and no one was hurt at all) and he got free flights for a few years.

  16. Monica Gomez 5 months ago

    I’ve been upgraded three times, sadly never on a long intercontinental flight- an both times I was grossly underdressed.
    The first time was United Airlines flying out of Mexico City to San Francisco….it was just from economy to economy plus, but god bless those extra few cms of legroom. The flight was full and the airline somehow assumed that my parents and I really really reaaaallllyy wanted to sit together and those were the only spots available.
    Second time was on a short Aeromexico flight from Mexico City to Guadalajara. It was an overbooked commuter flight, but we had fully-guaranteed tickets so I guess that’s why we got the good seats. Pretty awesome breakfast, might I add.
    Last time was Czech Airlines from Rome to Prague. We checked in online and just dropped our bags off at the counter. I looked exactly as you’d expect a near-broke grad student that has been traveling around for a couple of weeks in 40 degree weather to look like: a complete and utter disgusting mess in short shorts and the raggediest pair of chuck taylors you’ve ever seen and a t-shirt with a very recent coffee stain on it. Not much before boarding they started calling my name over the AP system and I approached the desk half-expecting to be bumped off the flight since I had bought my tickets with a hefty discount, but I was just handed first-class boarding passes without any explanation. I looked like a hobo in the first class cabin and when the Armani-clad, gorgeous looking, suit-wearing Italian man sitting next to me asked me what I did for a living, looking as I did at the moment, I slightly hesitant to answer that I was a fashion designer pursuing a graduate degree in fashion management. I was right- he just glared at me and muttered in italian about how the fashion business is in decay because of people like me.

    • Author
      Smaggle 5 months ago

      Oh my lord that’s mental! I generally look like a hobo when I travel but it’s never worked for me. That would have been amazing after travelling!

  17. Kathryn OHalloran 5 months ago

    I used to get upgraded occasionally when I traveled a lot on Qantas and had heaps of frequent flier points, which makes sense. I had paid first class and business class overseas flights too.

    Now I fly budget airlines and figure I don’t have a hope of getting an upgrade. On Air Asia you can pay for the chance of an upgrade if they have seats – if you miss out, they refund your $$$ and seat you next to an empty seat (or two) in economy.

    I’ve got upgraded when I arrived late at the airport too. I kind of hate that because it rewards people for bad behaviour.

  18. Kassandra 4 weeks ago

    here is something I like to do… Just walk on up the stairs to first class! hehe, nothing like being a little cheeky and as long as you smile, are polite and have a nice little chat with the FA’s they haven’t kicked me out yet! Of course looking the part is a must and it only works if your on your own.

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