It seems everyone who flies frequently has a story about finessing his
or her way into scoring a sweet airline upgrade. After all who wouldn’t
prefer to buy a cheap economy class ticket only to get bumped up to
business or first class where more comfort, more legroom, more attentive
service, and access to the airline’s posh lounge are just a few feet
away? The continued installation of flat seat beds in business and first
class have reinforced the appeal tenfold.
Gone (more or less, but not totally) are the days where having the “right look” scored you an upgrade. (Still, I advise dressing well anyway so you “look the part.”) You may exude some well-measured and cool charisma that previously convinced airline staff that you are a VIP accidentally seated with commoners, but airlines today are overwhelmed with more hurdles that make complimentary upgrades a challenge, but that much sweeter for those who triumph.
Join your airline’s frequent flyer program.
When you reach ‘elite status’ you increase your chances of getting upgraded if there is any availability on the day you fly. Airlines give upgrade priority to their highest-level members.
Don’t demand an upgrade; warmly inquire about availability. Remember, hotel and airline folk are always bombarded with requests so a nice, respectful person stands out in a sea of frustrated complainers.
Have an upgrade game plan and enough time to execute it. All those late arrivals hoping to get on standby should be competing with you, not you with them.
Make easy requests.
Then work your way up. Start with asking for more legroom with an aisle seat. Then try for a seat move toward the front of the plane.
Ditch the discounted economy tickets.
If you know you really want that upgrade in advance, pay for a full fare economy or premium economy ticket. Those tickets give you upgrade priority and make it easier to hedge your upgrade bet.
Play the customer loyalty card.
Keeping up with the kind and respectful tone, it never hurts to politely mention what a loyal customer you are to the airline. While asking for the upgrade, let the staffer know that you only fly their airline and only stay at their partner hotel – adding that you’ve been doing so for however many years.
Smaller airports and smaller frequent flyer programs are more inclined to give you an upgrade. With the little guys the competition is less steep.