Business class: Scoring an airline upgrade isn’t easy, and it occurs less often nowadays than in the past.
However, if you’re on the hunt for a business class seat, a few tricks can increase your chances of success.
Sometimes, all you need to do is ask nicely or volunteer to take a later flight.
If you’re willing to spend a little money, you could also try to purchase an upgrade at a discounted rate.
For the best shot at getting upgraded, book your flight strategically, arrive early and well-dressed, and treat all airline personnel politely.
Call the reservations department in advance to ask about an upgrade. At least 24 hours before your flight, look up the phone number for your airline’s reservations department. Give them a call, and politely ask if any first or business class seats have been released for upgrades.
- Ask the reservations agent, “Has revenue management released seats for upgrades? How many are left? If they haven’t released any yet, when might they begin?”
- The key words to drop are “revenue management.” Most travelers don’t know this important department exists, and inquiring about it will let the reservation agent know you understand how the system works.
- Even if they don’t upgrade you for free or in exchange for frequent flier miles, they might still add a note to your reservation, and the gate agent may offer an upgrade at check-in.
Check in at least 2 hours before your flight. Arrive to the airport early so you can check in before other travelers can ask for upgrades. Furthermore, you’ll have an easier time getting the check-in agent’s attention when they’re not busy with a long line of passengers.
- In addition to arriving early, you’ll have a better shot at getting upgraded if you look and act in a professional manner. Wear business casual attire, and be polite to check-in agents, flight attendants, and other airline personnel.
Volunteer to take a later flight if the plane is overbooked. When you check in, tell the agent that you’re happy to give up your seat in exchange for an upgrade to business class if the flight is overbooked. Airlines typically overbook economy seats to account for no-shows. If all passengers show up, gate agents need to upgrade passengers or bump them to later flights.
- Ask the gate agent, “Are you looking for volunteers to give up their seats and take a later flight? If so, is there any chance that an upgrade to business class is possible?” Delaying your flight may be inconvenient, but if you’re not on a time crunch, it’s an easy way to get a free upgrade.
- Within 24 hours of your flight, log into the airline’s website with your booking info and check the flight’s booking status. If it’s overbooked, you’ll know in advance that the gate agent will be looking for economy volunteers to give up their seats.
Tip: Avoid checking your luggage if you’re on the hunt for an upgrade. If you’ve only packed carry-ons, taking a later flight will be less of a hassle.
Let check-in agents and flight attendants know if it’s a special occasion. If you’re actually celebrating a special occasion, casually mention it to the airline staff. Tell them that you’re embarking on your honeymoon or going on a trip for your birthday. Try to nonchalantly bring up a special occasion, and avoid exaggerating or bugging airline personnel.
- Do your best to be sincere, and try not to come off like you’re fishing for special treatment. Say, for instance, “My spouse and I couldn’t go on our honeymoon right after our wedding, but we finally have the chance now. We’re so excited!”
- Even if you don’t get a seat upgrade, you might get other freebies, such as complimentary drinks.
Ask for an upgrade if you’ve been inconvenienced. If your seat doesn’t recline, the seat belt is broken, or if you’ve experienced another legitimate grievance, politely discuss the issue with a gate agent or flight attendant. The key is to be as cordial as possible; you won’t get an upgrade if you raise your voice or treat airline personnel with disrespect.
- For example, grab a flight attendant’s attention by saying, “Excuse me—I hate to complain, but my tray table appears to be broken. Is there any chance another seat is available?”
- You could also have a legitimate concern about another passenger. For instance, you may discreetly say, “Pardon, but I take medicine that weakens my immune system, and I’m worried that the person next to me is coughing a lot without covering their mouth. Is there any chance another seat is available?”
- While you might just get moved to another economy seat, you could get a free upgrade to first or business class if the flight is full.
Tip: If you’re planning a trip and have some flexibility on flight dates, set a Google Flights alert or use an app such as SkyScanner or Hopper. Remember that deals may only be available for a couple of hours, so be ready to pounce if you receive an alert.
Bid on an upgrade through PlusGrade. To bid on an upgrade, log into your airline’s website using your booking info and look for a link to an upgrade auction. Alternatively, search online for the name of the airline plus “upgrade auction.” Look online for the cost of a business class ticket for your flight, subtract the cost of the economy ticket you’ve purchased, then offer a bid of 20% to 40% of the difference.
- The auction will list a minimum offer amount, but you’ll need to make a competitive bid in order to win. For instance, if a business class ticket is $1400, and your economy ticket cost $400, you’re left with a difference of $1000. You’d then bid $200 to $400 on the upgrade auction.
- Over 50 airlines participate in PlusGrade, which is a system that lets passengers bid on unused business and first class tickets. Typically, you can start bidding after you book your ticket up to 24 to 72 hours before the flight.
- There’s no guarantee that you’ll win, but it’s worth a shot. You won’t be charged anything if you lose, and you could end up scoring a 50% or 60% discount on a business class seat.
See if you can purchase an upgrade at a discounted rate at check-in. If you couldn’t score a deal in advance or get a free upgrade, ask the check-in agent if upgrades are available for purchase. If you check in online before you go to the airport, see if the website lists upgrade rates. If those rates are still out of your price range, ask the gate agent if discounted upgrades are available when you get to the airport.
- Asking the gate agent before boarding is more of a gamble, as the business cabin might be full by then. However, if you luck out, you may be able to purchase an upgrade for a fraction of what you’d ordinarily pay for a business class seat.
Purchase your ticket directly through the airline. Whether you’re trying to score an upgrade at check-in or bidding in an auction, buying directly through the airline is key. When upgrades become available, airlines rarely give them to customers who booked flights through third-party companies.
- Additionally, you usually need to book a flight through the airline in order to be eligible to bid in an upgrade auction.
Tip: When you book your flight, list any professional titles you have under your reservation. Ministers, judges and, less commonly, doctors are more likely to score complimentary upgrades.
Fly in the middle of the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or weekends. If you have any flexibility in your itinerary, schedule your flight during times when fewer business travelers will be flying. Avoid flying on Monday, Thursday, or Friday mornings, which are peak hours for business travelers.
- If there are fewer business travelers on the plane, you’ll have a better shot at getting upgraded. If you fly during peak hours, the business cabin will be packed and no upgrades will be available.
Book a premium economy ticket instead of basic economy. For the best shot at an upgrade, invest in premium economy if the airline offers separate premium and basic economy classes. Premium economy perks usually include a little more leg room and better meals and beverages. More importantly, most airlines only allow passengers to upgrade 1 class level.
- If an airline offers basic and premium economy classes, this means that passengers can’t upgrade to business from basic economy. Only upgrades from basic to premium economy, premium economy to business, or business to first class are allowed.
Fly with the same airline to collect frequent flier miles. When complimentary upgrades are available, airlines almost always hand them out to loyal customers. If you travel regularly, use the same carrier and sign up for its loyalty program.
- Additionally, if the airline partners with a bank or creditor, sign up for a co-branded credit card with miles rewards. Once you’ve accrued enough rewards points, you can cash them in for a free upgrade.
When hunting for upgrades, the most important rule is to be polite. Put yourself in the shoes of a flight attendant or gate agent. Ask yourself if you’d do someone a favour if they raised their voice or pestered you.
Keep in mind complimentary upgrades have become a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, you could still get lucky if the flight is overbooked or in other special circumstances.