¨If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs¨.
Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines
Airline Flight Upgrades
I flew 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 being offered an inexpensive upgrade at the time of check-in.
However, the bulk of the time, I have been upgraded for free by the airline staff after check-in.
Strategies for Airlines Upgrades
I don’t usually know why I was upgraded. But, I suspect it is because I have followed several of these expert-recommended strategies:
- Mention that you’d like to be upgraded 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 being upgraded in the future.
- Spend lots of money. I think one time I was upgraded because I bought a reasonably expensive flight. ($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) upgrade.
- 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 an upgrade. Airlines can give you an upgrade more easily than compensating you.
- Be nice. A flight attendant once upgraded me to an empty pair of seats with extra legroom because I asked the attendant to move me to do a favor for someone else. My row had 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 airline sell too many seats in the economy section and have a couple unsold seats in business or first class). Often, agent 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 Airline Upgrades
I have also been upgraded several times because I paid extra for baggage at check-in. One time, for example, I had arrived early and paid $50 extra for a bag over the weight limit. The airline then offered me an upgrade to business class for an additional $50.
One time, I know I was upgraded because I mentioned that I was a volunteer English teacher in Russia. The kind check-in agent decided in her words that I needed a ¨bit of comfort¨ before I started back at teaching.
Try your luck. Don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade. 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.