First class and business class air travel is a luxury usually reserved for the rich, but there are ways to experience all the perks without breaking the bank.
Airlines each have different upgrade processes — and even with rules in place, whether you actually receive the upgrade is often left to other variables.
Warning: Before we go into what you should do, let’s talk about what not to do. There are tons of sites online that will sell you unused miles, which they claim you can redeem for upgrades, free airline tickets, and other perks. They buy these points from businesses or frequent travelers who rack up more points than they can use. Sounds legit, right?
The problem with this practice, is that nearly all commercial carriers forbid the buying and selling of unused miles and according to most terms of carriage, the airline can void itineraries booked through a mileage broker without notice or compensation. Bottom line: stay away from mileage brokers. You might get away with it, but it’s not worth the gamble.
Here we have the top 12 ways to upgrade to Business Class and First Class on the major Airlines
Getting Upgraded to Business Class and First Class.
These days with little profit and extra overheard costs, a flyer with no past history on a given airline has little chance of upgrading to business class. But it can happen if you do your homework. Hence why you are here today.
Method #1: Asking the ticket counter agent nicely or perhaps offering him/her a bribe. Does this work?
In 99% of the time absolutely not. In most cases on most airlines, the ticket agent is not authorized to upgrade passengers unless you have frequent flyer status and even with frequent flyer status, you will most likely need to use miles to get your upgrade. Of course you have to hope they actually have first class seats available for upgrade. With many frequent flyer programs, and with rules changing frequently due to airlines merging with other airlines, or the carrier simply revamping their frequent flyer program, many of the top tier frequent flyers get upgraded before they fly. Thus by the time you arrive at the airport, there is a good chance that the first class seats that have not been sold have been allocated to frequent flyers. Bribing a ticket agent can not only get the agent in hot water, but she will probably seat you at the back of the plane just for being stupid.
With some airlines, fellow flyers I have met have been clever enough to ask the ticket counter agent to kindly add a code to their ticket. Why? Because the code signifies to the gate agent that you as a passenger are potentially eligible for an upgrade. It works with the right airline and of course you will need to know which code to use as each airline uses different codes for different situations that are independent of other carriers.
Method #2 Dress smart and arrive as late as possible
There are plenty of flyers who believe in getting to the airport as early as possible in the hopes of either asking the counter agent for an upgrade or asking the gate agent for an upgrade. Believe me, I have tried thousands of charming ways to get upgraded and the employees are simply following the rules. Oh and they have heard every line in the book. So why would your line be any different?
Of course if you want to press your luck, you can arrive at the 11th hour and ask the gate agent for an upgrade, it will of course help to dress the part and of course hold some status even if its just a basic member in the airlines frequent flyer program. One method that has worked for me in the past is to tell them the reason you are late is because of a terrible experience you had with their competitor, sometimes if they think they have the potential to win the business of a frequent flyer from another carrier, they might put you in first class, space permitted since you are in an emotional state. It can work.
Method #3 Buying an Upgrade
Many domestic carriers in an attempt to earn more business will happily sell business class seat upgrades on a first come first serve basis. Obviously they want to earn as much money as possible and they will release first class seats typically only at the airport and only on the day of the departure. Instead of paying $1,200 for a business class flight coast to coast, you might end up paying 300 for the coach ticket and just 150 each way for the first class upgrade. Certainly better than begging for an upgrade and this is certainly better than using miles in many cases.
Of course this rate may not apply to you, on some airlines they only offer the upgrades to their frequent flyers first and only after they have exhausted all attempts at selling to their most loyal customers will they sell to you. Hint: Get a frequent flyer card as soon as possible. It’s free and will only help you upgrade and of course you start to earn miles with your first flight.
If by chance you paid full fare for your coach ticket, there is still a chance of buying an upgrade, but like everything in this world, don’t expect much with a free or heavily discounted coach ticket.
Method #4: It’s not what you know but who you know
If you just so happen to be related to a family member or are friends with an airline employee, you certainly could ask for an upgrade, but keep in mind that airlines are in the business of making a profit, and if there are upgrades to sell, or loyal frequent flyers to keep happy, don’t expect to be first inline for an upgrade.
On a positive note, keep in mind that suppliers, contractors and airline partners have some pull to get upgraded. It’s not just family of the carrier’s employees.
Method #5: Show a travel agent ID
Again, if and only if seats are available will an airline offer a free upgrade and even though a travel agent might have some pull, you always have to assume that frequent flyer status will help more than just travel agent status. If you have both, you will only improve your chances of an upgrade. It certainly does not hurt to try. You can of course become a travel agent for as little as $50 without having to sell anything.
Method #6: Ask a flight attendant for an upgrade if you a seat available
Typically flight attendants never upgrade passengers and simply asking for an upgrade is not going to work. However, there are legitimate reasons why a flight attendant will upgrade you. Here are a few.
- An oversold flight – Typically airlines overbook flights and hope that some passengers will simply not show. If however there are more passengers than seats in coach, your best chance to be upgraded is to get assigned a seat towards the front of the aircraft. If there are no seats left and the flight is oversold, you may also be asked to volunteer to take a later fight. This would also mean compensation but of course not necessarily a first class upgrade.
2. A problem with your seat – In some cases where your seat has malfunctioned and you can not comfortably sit there, I.E. seatbelt problem or the seat will not stay in the up position, the flight attendant will make an attempt to find you another seat. If no other seats are available in coach yet space is available in first, you will be moved to first class. On the down side, this is a rare occurrence.
3. A problem with a fellow passenger – If by chance you are sitting next to a passenger and you have a legitimate complaint, the flight attendant can at her discretion, move you to first. This actually happened to me on a flight when I was trying to watch the small screen in front of me, and a senile old woman would not move. I was upgraded.
Method #7: Book with a travel agent
When you book with a travel agent, it is possible, with a valid reason, to have the agent mark your reservation with a comment, such as OSI (Other Significant Information). The record may indicate that you are a VIP or CEO of a big corporation. Airlines like to see this information as they are trying to win more and more business away from their competition. If there is a chance that an important decision maker is flying with them it could potentially mean extra revenue for the airline as they may want to try to win your company’s account.
Method #8: Book directly with the airline
When you book directly with the airline, there is the possibility of also adding an OSI to your record, if you are a travel agent, travel writer, or event planner, it certainly won’t hurt your chances.
Method #9: Upgrade using frequent flyer points or status
If you are a frequent flyer, you can certainly use your miles to upgrade as long as allocated seats are available for upgrade. Not all seats are allocated for frequent flyer upgrades, as the airlines want to hold a certain block of seats for fully paid customers so that they can earn as much as they can for each flight. Using the right miles at the right time is also of importance. Each airline has their set terms and conditions for frequent flyers, miles and upgrades. You will need to determine the best case scenario for each flight you want to take. Short flights are typically not worth the upgrade since you would waste valuable miles.
Of course on many airlines having frequent flyer status will only help to get free upgrades. Typically, the higher the status, the better chance of getting a free upgrade confirmed days before the flight.
Method #10: Be in the know
Airlines in an attempt to woo passengers and business will offer specials frequently throughout the year. You might even encounter a special that allows you instant status in their frequent flyer program. I’m not referring to basic status, anyone can become a member of each airlines frequent flyer program for free. I’m referring to the next level of status. For example, American Airlines has these levels. Member, Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum. You can gain Gold status in this example by simply calling a special unpublished phone number and following some basic requirements. I explain more about this on my website.
Method #11: Purchase Upgrades
There are many ways to buy upgrades cheaply. Keep in mind that there are specific rules for who can use them and how they are used. You need to read the fine print carefully. But in most cases, not only is it easy to purchase upgrades, its easy to put them to use.
Upgrades for most major carriers can be purchased on Ebay, in travel forums, and some can be found for sale in classified ads.
In some cases you can purchase an upgrade for as little as eight dollars, but as usual, these upgrades can only be applied to your ticket at the check in counter once you arrive at the airport. Other more expensive upgrade will allow you to confirm your upgrade over the phone before you arrive at the airport.
Method #12: Buy discounted first class tickets cheaply
Contrary to what you may have seen or heard, first class tickets are not always expensive, and there are numerous ways to purchase discounted tickets. The price may not be as cheap as coach tickets but with fierce competition one can buy tickets that are heavily discounted that in comparison to coach tickets, may make sense to spend a little bit more to travel in style.
Typically, a coast to coast ticket on the major travel websites will sell for about $1,200. But using our method, a first class ticket could cost you $600 or less for the same flight. Compared with 300-400 for a coach ticket and you can see why it may be wise to simply spend a bit extra instead of going through hoops to get upgraded.