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6 ways to increase your chances of being upgraded on a flight

Published Jul 21, 2022

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A recent survey found that 65% of people plan to ‘go big’ with their travel plans this year, with many wanting to make up for lost time after the pandemic.

Alongside this, 40% of travellers are willing to spend more on trips, splurging on treats for their getaway.

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However, for many, the price of a first-class plane ticket is out of reach. Therefore, Forbes Advisor travel experts have offered advice advice on how to increase your chances of being upgraded on a flight, from knowing when to check in to how to ask for an upgrade.

1. Check in early

When heading to the airport, most people simply try to arrive with enough time to check in their bags, clear security and relax before taking off.

What you don’t know is that the time you check in can influence your chances of an upgrade.

Try checking in either very early – or at the last minute. If you arrive several hours early for your flight, you’re more likely to beat off any competition for first-class or business-class tickets – and avoid missing out to someone who got there before you.

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Chances are if the economy cabin has been overbooked, airlines will want to rectify this sooner rather than later to avoid causing delays.

2. Be flexible

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Ensuring you’re a helpful and flexible customer can often lead to rewards. It’s not uncommon for some airlines to overbook flights, leading to them needing to ‘bump’ passengers to another flight.

If the airline is looking for volunteers to take a later flight, take the opportunity as it could lead to a free upgrade for your troubles.

If a first-class ticket isn’t offered and you have been bumped (voluntarily or not), it’s always worth asking if they can upgrade your ticket due to the inconvenience.

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Another common occurrence on flights is to be asked to move to a new seat by the cabin crew.

While this can be inconvenient, if you’re flexible it could be to your advantage. Say yes to being moved and you could land yourself with a first-class seat – if not, again it’s always worth asking for an upgrade for your troubles.

3. Fly solo

Due to the premium price of first-class seats, you have much better chances of getting an upgrade if you’re flying alone.

It’s unlikely airlines will want to lose out on money to upgrade a large group, so are more likely to offer a free first-class ticket to individuals.

Alongside this, seating in first class is often limited, meaning there is less chance of a group of seats becoming available.

4. Pick your flight time wisely

There are certain conditions where first-class seats are less likely to be fully booked. For example, if economy class is overbooked, you’re more likely to be offered a free upgrade.

Consider occasions when this might be the case – for example, flying during peak times for families such as school holidays – most families won’t shell out to sit in first class and routes will be busy, increasing the likelihood of an overbooked economy cabin.

Alongside this, there is a higher likelihood you may be asked to move seats to accommodate a family with young children – again providing opportunity to be given or ask for an upgrade.

5. Dress smart

While dressing in your finest clothes does not guarantee an upgrade, a smart outfit will certainly enhance your chances of being chosen.

Top-paying customers will often be dressed sharper, and airlines will want to ensure anyone they bump to first-class looks the part.

Don’t feel the need to dress in anything extravagant. However, just make sure you avoid items that are too casual like flip-flops and cargo shorts.

6. Ask politely

Last but not least, one of the best tactics is to ask airlines if there is a chance of an upgrade. As long as you are polite, there is no reason why this can’t land you a free first-class ticket.

This is especially worth trying if you’ve been inconvenienced in any way by the airline, have been delayed, lost your baggage or missed a connection.

Politely mention that an upgrade would be appreciated, if possible, and stress your loyalty to the airline.

Alternatively, if your flight is for a special occasion, why not try your luck by mentioning it?

Many airline staff will help to upgrade you if they can to make occasions such as honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays more special.

Who knows, maybe on your next trip you’ll be flying in business class, sipping on mimosas?

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