Here are five tips on how to get an upgrade on your next flight, because simply dressing nicely and smiling sweetly may no longer cut it.
1. Become a frequent flyer
One possible way to get a cheap or free upgrade is to become a member of an airline’s frequent flyer program. As you accrue points with the flights you take, you can work towards trading these for seat upgrades.
In the case where a plane has empty seats in business class and the airline is offering free upgrades, these will usually be offered to frequent flyer members first.
The following table displays a snapshot of frequent flyer credit card products on Canstar’s database. The display is sorted by airline points per dollar (highest to lowest) and then by provider name (alphabetically). Results based on a monthly spend of $3,000.
2. Make an upgrade bid
It’s becoming more common for airlines to allow passengers to make a bid for an upgraded seat. This system can give the airline a fair way to distribute its more expensive seats while offering passengers a chance to taste the good life on their own terms.
Some airlines have stipulations that need to be met before you’re able to bid (e.g. a certain number of frequent flyer points and often a minimum bid), and others are open to all.
How much should you bid?
Winning bids vary from airline to airline and flight to flight, so there’s no one fixed amount that will guarantee you the seat. Flights with more leisure than business passengers, such as flights to Bali, are likely to have more empty premium seats and may give you more chances to win.
The IB Times recommends you work out the difference between the price of an economy seat and the seat you’re trying to get, and bid between 20% to 40% of that value.
3. Volunteer to be bumped
There are times when it pays to be late. If you ever find yourself on a flight that has been overbooked, your airline might make a call for passengers who are willing to take a later flight to solve the issue.
This offer might not be too appealing by itself, so the airline can throw in an incentive. This may be credit to put towards another flight or potentially the offer of a first-class seat. If they haven’t stipulated and you don’t see anyone else rushing forward, think about asking them if an upgrade is available and you may find yourself flying in style, albeit a bit later than expected.
4. Travel alone
In our experience we’ve found upgrades are most often offered to single travellers rather than to those travelling in pairs. While you may love the idea of ditching your mates for a premium position on the plane, the cabin staff are much more likely to offer it to someone that they know is travelling alone.
5. Check budget options
While many budget airlines have one class for all their passengers, some have more than one option, especially on international flights.
Because many people fly with budget airlines to get the cheapest option available, they may also have premium seats up for grabs. While these seats will likely be more expensive than flying economy, they’re often much cheaper than flying first class with a full-service airline, while still giving you some of the same benefits.
These days, money talks when you travel. The idea of a free upgrade is a golden unicorn, and while it never hurts to ask, in many cases you won’t be upgraded without being charged unless the airline has something to apologise for.
Oliver Gaywood is a travel writer for Skyscanner Australia. Originally from the UK, he has journeyed around the world extensively, seeing much of Europe, North America and Southeast Asia, as well as every state and major territory in Australia.