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How to get a flight upgrade

10 ways to boost your chances of an upgrade

flight upgrade
Chloe Best
Lifestyle Features Editor
8 August 2017
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Dressing smartly, being super friendly and showing up early are all myths of how to get a flight upgrade at check-in, but exactly what works and what doesn't? We spoke to the experts at who have shared ten top tips on how to bag an upgrade on your next holiday...

1) Travel at quiet times

Lynn Unick, a growth manager at Skyscanner, says you have 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".

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2. Spend lots of money

Sometimes you have to invest to get a return. A 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."

first class champagne© Photo: iStock

3. Be loyal to your airline

Another flight upgrade secret: simply join the airline's loyalty programme before you fly. Even if it's at the lowest level, you'll get rewarded first. Make sure you get a card for each partnership accordingly.

4. Check your emails

Make sure you check the email you booked your flights with ahead of your departure, as some airlines offer cheap (not free) upgrades, which may be worth paying for if you have a particularly long journey or overnight flight.

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5. 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 well before the scheduled departure. If it doesn't work, you'll have to kill some time in duty free but it worked for Skyscanner's 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."

woman in business class© Photo: iStock

6. Be late for your flight

Or 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, you can work out if your flight is likely to be overbooked by checking on the seat allocation online. 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."

7. Get mad

The travel search site's 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. Be nice

Kindness pays, so pay it forward with interest and you could be in first class with the flash 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!"

flight upgrade© Photo: iStock

9. Dress up

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".

10. Try your luck

Don't be afraid to ask for an upgrade. Of course they could always say no but what have you got to lose? Dress well, be nice and smile sweetly and a please might just do it you never know.

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