¨”If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs.”
Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

Airline Upgrades

This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.

I have flown business or first class around twenty times in my life. Only twice have I paid significantly more than an economy class ticket. (Both times, I bought a ticket at the last moment, and the only available seats were in business class). 

I bought a business class ticket five times that did not cost much more than I would have paid otherwise. On flights geared toward leisure travelers, airlines occasionally offer business class tickets for only $50-$100 more one way than an inexpensive economy ticket. (I have flown business class three times from Montreal to Cancun for $50-$100 more than economy class). I have also flown business class after paying a small additional fee at check-in time. 

However, most of the time, I have scored a better seat from the airline staff after check-in. I believe that a few lucky Fifty Plus Nomads can follow in my footsteps by following a few simple strategies.

6 Strategies for Airlines Upgrades

I don’t usually know why I scored a business class seat. But, I suspect it is because I have followed several of these expert-recommended strategies:

  • Mention that you’d like a better seat for a legitimate reason. (For example, you need special assistance, have a medical condition that makes it hard to sit in cramped spaces, etc.). I would only recommend using these reasons if they are correct. If they are not and you’re found out, you may forfeit any chance of getting better seats in the future.
  • Spend lots of money. I think I got a better seat once because I bought a reasonably expensive flight and had a minor problem at check-in. ($600 from Portland, Maine to San Jose, Costa Rica).
  • Check your emails. Sometimes airlines email you before departure, offering a cheap (not free) bump to business class.
  • Airlines can give you a better seat more easily than compensating you. If the airline has done something that has caused you a legitimate problem (like potentially missing a meeting), explain what has happened. Then, ask politely but firmly for a business class seat.
  • Be nice. A flight attendant once gave me a better seat with extra legroom because I asked the attendant to move me to do a favor for a young, sleepy girl who needed my seat to lay down and sleep next to her mother.
  • Dress appropriately. A dress, an attractive pantsuit, blouse, and a pant combo should work for women. I always dress in a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. (these outfits also may help you easily get through immigration in some countries).
  • Be among the first customers to register for the flight. The agents know when they have available seating in business or first class as soon as the counter opens. (Sometimes airlines sell too many seats in the economy section and have a couple of unsold seats in business or first class). Agents often offer these seats for free or at a small price early in the check-in process.
  • Be a member of a frequent flyer program. I have been a United, American, and Delta’s Frequent Flyer Programs member for at least twenty-five years.

A Few Final Thoughts on Airline Upgrades

Several times, I have been placed in business class because I paid extra for overweight baggage at check-in. One time, for example, I arrived early and paid $50 extra for an overweight limit. The airline then offered me a business class seat for an additional $50. 

One agent gave me a business class seat because I was a volunteer English teacher in Russia. In her words, I needed a “bit of comfort” before I started teaching again

Dress well, be friendly, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Try your luck. Don’t be afraid to ask. Of course, the airline could always say no, but what have you got to lose?  

Fifty Plus Nomad offers personalized workshops and courses in Spanish, English, Living and Traveling in Mexico, and Long-Term Travel Book a Two-hour Free Sample Introductory Session

Want to Learn More About How to Get an Airline Upgrade?

Here is a link to a helpful article from Smarter Travel

Additional Long-Term Travel Related Posts from Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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