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Five tips for getting an airline upgrade

Airline upgrades — these days they’re as rare as, well, hens' dentures. Here are five tips that will definitely improve your chances of turning left rather than right.
Five tips for getting an airline upgrade
Five tips for getting an airline upgrade

We’ve all got one of those annoying friends.

You know, the one who breezes back from their latest trip gushing: ‘Oh yes, it was amaaaazing! We got an upgrade and spent eight hours sleeping off our pre-flight Moët’.

Annoying as they are, secretly we’d all like to be them and enjoy the luxury of life in the pointy-end of the plane. Well, while nothing is guaranteed, here are our five top tips for getting an airline upgrade — or at least improving your odds!

1. Be loyal

You won’t get an upgrade just because there’s a shedload of empty seats and chilled champagne going spare in Business. However, if the airline has overbooked Economy, some of the sweet seats just might be on offer. Loyal customers will always get priority, so you’re much more likely to get an op-up* (yep, now you know) if you’re a regular — or at least have a few points up your sleeve. So sign up for as many airline loyalty programs as possible to give yourself a sporting chance.

* Operational upgrade. Now you really know.

Five tips for getting an airline upgrade
Five tips for getting an airline upgrade

2. Be early… or be late

Confused? The truth is both tactics can work. If upgrades are on the table then it’s usually only a couple of seats, so if you’re really early you might just get in first. The odds are about the same for being late. If the flight is overbooked, being the last to check in means it’s just possible you might get bumped up if there are seats available.

How will you know which way to go? You won’t. So, you’ll just have to do your best Dirty Harry and ask yourself ‘Do you feel lucky punk?’  Well, do you?

PS. Don’t miss check-in all together. That would not be good.

Five tips for getting an airline upgrade
Five tips for getting an airline upgrade

3. Look nice and be nice

Getting kitted out in Gucci and fronting up to ask for an upgrade in your best cut-glass accent ain’t what it used to be, but you’ll have a far better shot if you’re dressed smartly than if you show up barefoot in a Bob Marley t-shirt smelling of patchouli oil. The ‘being nice’ advice should go without saying, but just to reiterate: nobody ever got an upgrade by calling check-in staff ‘a jumped-up little insert insult here’. They probably got arrested instead.

4. Pick your battles

By that I mean your flight times. If you can travel on a weekend or public holiday you’ll increase your odds of getting upgraded simply because most business people aren’t flying around the world then being busy and important. Avoid early morning and late evening flights and fly midweek or Saturday.

Five tips for getting an airline upgrade
Five tips for getting an airline upgrade: Be wined and dined in Business Class.

5. Show them the money

Airlines have now twigged that people are prepared to pay for an upgrade, so they’re happy to oblige. Plusgrade is an online auction site where airlines sell off their available premium seats. You need to have a paid ticket on the flight to be able to bid. Check the required conditions.

You can also ask at check-in how much it will cost for an upgrade. How the airlines determine their prices is as mysterious as the Google algorithm, but it’s worth asking — and can vary from ‘as if’ to fairly reasonable.

Lastly, you can upgrade on points. The catch is most airlines only allow flexible ticket holders (i.e. not sale tickets) to do it, so if you don’t end up getting an upgrade you might end up paying a whole lot extra for a whole lot of nothing.

Do you have any tips for getting an airline upgrade? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

About the writer

Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. Her first novel — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman — is now available in bookstores.


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