How to get a first class upgrade Secret tips & strategies

Nowadays, when we get barely any benefits but pay more on additional overheard charges, a passenger with no prior flying history on a certain airline has little to no hope of getting a first class upgrade. However, if you do your homework, it can happen to you. That’s what we’re covering in today’s article on The Travel Bunny travel blog! So keep reading to discover 12 secret tips and strategies to get that first class upgrade!

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Flying tip #1:

Ask the ticket counter agent politely for an airline upgrade. Or maybe give them a bribe to upgrade you. Does this work?

99% of the time: not at all! In most cases, the ticket agent is not allowed to give a passenger a first class upgrade unless they have a frequent flyer status. Then, even if you have a frequent flyer status, you will most likely need to use your miles to upgrade. Of course, the only way all that can happen is if they have any first class seat eligible for upgrades in the first place.

With certain frequent flyer programs and regulations also changing due to carriers combining with other airlines, or the carrier actually redesigning their frequent flyer policy, many of the top-tier frequent flyers are updated before they fly. Therefore, by the time you get to the airport, there is a fair chance that any first-class seats left unsold have been already assigned to frequent flyers. Bribing a ticket agent can not only get that agent in trouble, but you’ll also risk getting seated at the back of the plane just for not choosing a smart strategy to begin with.

With several airlines, fellow travelers I know were smart enough to ask the ticket counter agent to kindly apply a code to their ticket. Why? Well, that code tells the gate agent that you, as a passenger, are potentially eligible for a first class upgrade. The next step to this approach is to research the right codes for the airline company you’ll be flying with.

Flyng tip #2:

Dress smart and show up late

There are lots of travelers who believe they need to get to the airport as quickly as possible to either ask the counter agent or the gate agent for a first class upgrade. Believe me, I’ve tried many times to charm my way to an upgrade, but the airline representatives are strictly obeying company rules. Plus, they’ve already heard every line in the book. Twice! So why should your line be considered any different?

Of course, if you want to press your luck, you can come in the 11th hour and ask the gate agent for a first class upgrade. It will obviously help your case to dress accordingly and hold some status even if it’s just a basic membership of the airline’s frequent flyer program. One approach that has worked with some of my friends in the past was to convince them they were late because of a bad experience with their competitor. If they believe they have the chance to win over a frequent flyer from another airline, they could place you in first class.

Flying tip #3:

Buy a first class upgrade

Many domestic carriers would gladly market first class upgrades on a first-come first-serve basis in an effort to win more business. Obviously, they want to make as much money as they can, so they will probably release first class seats only at the airport and only on the day of departure.

Instead of spending $1,200 for a first class trip from coast to coast, you could end up paying $300 for a coach ticket and just $150 for a first class upgrade. Certainly better than begging for a business class upgrade, and in many situations, this is certainly better than using airline miles!

Of course, this business class ticket rate may not extend to you. Certain air carriers only offer a first class upgrade to their frequent flyers first, and they can sell them to you only after they have exhausted all their efforts to sell them to their most faithful customers.

Get your Frequent Flyer Card as soon as possible. It’s free and it’s going to help you upgrade easier and, of course, you’ll start gathering miles from your first flight.

If by chance, you’ve paid a full fare for your coach ticket, there’s always a chance to buy a first class upgrade. However, don’t get your hopes up if you bought a heavily discounted plane ticket.

expert flyer membership
Get upgrades, awards, seating charts and more with the Expert Flyer membership

free first class upgrade through flight attendant
Friendly flight attendants can help you get a free first class upgrade

Flying tip #4:

It doesn’t matter what you know, but who you know

If you happen to have a friend or family member that is an airline employee, you could ask for a first class upgrade to fly to the next destination. However, keep in mind that airline companies are in the business to make a profit, and if there are any upgrades to offer, or regular frequent flyers to keep satisfied, you won’t be the first in line to get complimentary upgrade.

On a bright note, remember that contractors, suppliers, and airline partners do have some leeway when it comes to upgrading to first class. It’s not just the families and friends of the airline’s employees.

Flying tip #5:

Present a travel agent ID

Again, if and only if there are seats available in first class will the airline offer a free first class upgrade. Even if a travel agent may have some pull, you should know that being a frequent flyer will bring you more benefits than being a travel agent. Being both significantly boosts your chances to get a free first class upgrade.

Flying tip #6:

Ask the flight attendant for an upgrade

Normally, flight attendants don’t upgrade customers, and merely asking to be upgraded to first class won’t work. However, there are a few valid reasons that can get you upgraded to a better seat by a flight attendant. Here are a few of them:

  • An issue with your seat. In some cases where the seat is malfunctioning and you can’t sit there safely (e.g. seatbelt problem or the seat won’t remain in the up spot), the flight attendant will try to find you another seat. If no other seats are available in economy class and there is a seat available in first class, you will be moved there. This is an unusual event, however.
  • An issue with a fellow passenger. If you have a legitimate complaint against the person sitting next to you and you have a valid concern, the flight attendant will, at their discretion, move you to first class.
expert flyer membership
Get upgrades, awards, seating charts and more with the Expert Flyer membership

Flying tip #7:

Book your flight through a travel agent

When you book your plane tickets through a travel agency, it is possible, for a legitimate reason, to make an agent mark your reservation with a comment, such as an OSI (Other Significant Information). The record can show that you are a VIP or CEO of a large company. Airlines like to learn this information as they compete to attract more and more customers away from their rivals. If there is any chance that an influential decision-maker is flying with them, it might possibly mean more money for the carrier, and they may put in the effort to win the company’s account by offering a free first class upgrade.

Flying tip #8:

Book directly with the airline company

When you book your flight directly with the airline, there is also the option of adding an OSI to your own record. Whether you are a travel agent, travel blogger, or event planner, it would definitely not harm your chances of getting a free first class upgrade.

Flying tip #9:

Upgrade to first class using frequent flyer points or status

If you are a frequent flyer, you can certainly use your miles to upgrade to first class, as long as there are some available seats for upgrade. Not all seats are dedicated to frequent flyer upgrades, since airlines tend to keep a certain block of seats reserved to fully paying passengers. That way, they can maximize their profits on each flight.

It is also necessary to use the right miles at the right time. Every airline has its own terms and conditions for frequent flyers, miles, and upgrades. You’ll need to decide the best-case scenario for each flight you choose to take. Quick flights are normally not worth upgrading because they’ll cost you precious miles.

In addition, those carriers with frequent flyer status will only be allowed to make free upgrades to first class. Usually, the higher the status, the greater the likelihood of a free first class upgrade confirmed a few days before the flight.

expert flyer membership
Get upgrades, awards, seating charts and more with the Expert Flyer membership

Flying tip #10:

Be in the loop

Airlines will regularly have special offers, upgrade options, and other perks throughout the year in an effort to woo individual travelers and companies alike. You might also get a special one that grants you immediate status in their frequent flyer program. And I don’t mean becoming a basic member to their program, because anybody can become a basic member in a frequent flyer program for free. I am referring to the next level of status to obtain a cheaper first class ticket. American Airlines, for example, also has the Gold, Silver, and Platinum Executive levels for frequent flyers. In this case, you can obtain Gold status by simply calling a special unnamed phone number and meeting certain specific criteria.

Flying tip #11:

Purchase upgrades

There are a variety of places to buy a first class upgrade cheaply, both online and offline. Bear in mind that they all have clear guidelines for who should use them and how to use them. So you’ve got to read the fine print carefully. However, in most situations, not only is it easy to buy improvements, it’s easy to use them.

In some cases, you can buy an upgrade for as little as eight bucks, but as always, these benefits can only be added to your fare at the check in desk before you arrive at the airport. Other more costly upgrades would allow you to confirm your upgrades online or by phone before your arrival at the airport.

Flying tip #12:

Buy cheap first class tickets

Contrary to what you may have seen or heard, first class tickets are not necessarily costly, and there are several options to buy discounted tickets. Of course, the price may not be as cheap as economy tickets, but because there is fierce competition, you can purchase first class tickets that are heavily discounted, which, when compared to economy tickets, can make it seem reasonable to spend a little more to travel in style.

expert flyer membership
Get upgrades, awards, seating charts and more with the Expert Flyer membership

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Mirela Letailleur is a Romanian travel blogger living in the South of France. She writes on The Travel Bunny travel blog about affordable travel in Europe, creator of unique free travel guides, local travel expert. Problem solver. Wannabe coffee guru.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

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