¨If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs¨.
Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines
Airline Flight Upgrades
I have flown business or first class around twenty times in my life. Only twice have I actually paid significantly more than for an economy class ticket. (Both times, I bought a ticket at the last moment, and the only available seats were in business class).
Five of these twenty times, I bought a business class ticket 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 one way than economy class). I have also flown business class after paying a small additional fee at the time of check-in.
However, the bulk of the time, I have been scored a better seat from the airline staff after check-in. By following a few simple strategies, I believe that a few lucky Fifty-Plus Nomads can follow in my footsteps.
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 to a better seat for a legitimate reason. (Such as you need special assistance, you 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 one time I got a better seat because I bought a reasonably expensive flight an and had a minor problem at check-in. ($600 one way from Portland, Maine to San Jose, Costa Rica).
- Check your emails. Sometimes airlines will email you a couple of times before the day of departure offering a cheap (not free) bump to business class.
- 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. Airlines can give you a better seat more easily than compensating you.
- Be nice. A flight attendant once gave me a better seat me with extra legroom because I asked the attendant to move me to do a favor for a young, very sleepy girl who needed my seat to lay down and sleep next to her mother.
- Dress appropriately. I always dress in a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. A dress or an attractive pantsuit or blouse and pant combo should work for women.
- 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 unsold seats in business or first class). Often, agents will offer these seats for free or for a small price early in the check-in process.
- Be a member of a frequent flyer program. I have been a member of United, American, and Delta’s Frequent Flyer Programs for at least twenty-five years.
A Few Final Thoughts on Getting a Business Class Seat
I have been placed in business class a couple of times 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.
I was given a business class seat because I mentioned to the counter agent that I was a volunteer English teacher in Russia. In her words, the kind check-in agent decided that I needed a ¨bit of comfort¨ before I started teaching again.
Try your luck. Don’t be afraid to ask. Of course, the airline could always say no, but what have you got to lose? Dress well, be friendly, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Want to Learn More About How to Get an Upgrade?
Here is a link to a useful article from Smarter Travel
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