How to Get an Upgrade in Airlines

Have you always wanted to fly first class or business class, but just never had the money? Or maybe you got a huge bonus just before your vacation, and want to upgrade a flight already booked. Well, hang on to your carry-on: here are a few things you can do to get yourself placed into those plush, spacious seats!

1. Buy an upgrade.
 This is by far the easiest, most sure-fire way to get an upgrade. However, unless you fly often with the airline and have earned elite status, it’s also the most expensive way to enjoy the perks of first class.


2. Become a frequent flier. Airlines categorize their customers based on how often they fly—or more to the point, how much they spend!

  • At 50k miles a year, you are in the middle of the “elite” zone, a position that makes you important to the airline. You’ll be rewarded with various perks along the way—from quick check-ins, to bonus miles, to first-class upgrades.
  • If you don’t normally travel a lot for business or pleasure, consider “mileage running.” This is the process of finding cheap, long flights and taking them whenever possible. The destination is not important—only the distance. A good rule of thumb for determining if a mileage run is worth it is if the price-per-mile cost is $.02 or below. Check out online resources such as Farecompare for prices and opportunities.
  • You might also consider whether you fly frequently enough to maintain elite status.

3. Check in at the airport kiosk. Arrive at the airport a couple hours early, and check in using the airline’s kiosk. You will be able to modify your seat assignment as available, and if there are any first-class seats available, you may be able to purchase an upgrade at a significantly reduced cost.


4. Check in early. When there is one upgrade available and two elite flyers are requesting it, all else being equal: the one who checks in first gets it. You must have elite status with the airline for this to work.


5. Get bumped! Take advantage of opportunities that arise during the normal course of travel. All airlines over-book flights, and sometimes, when they least expect it,everybody shows up for the flight. When that happens, they have to find people willing to be bumped from that flight. That could be you!

  • If the flight is very overbooked, your bargaining position is strong. Approach the gate agent, and be as genuinely charming and sympathetic as you can be. Ask them if they would consider rebooking you in return for an upgrade voucher in addition to whatever other incentives they might be offering.
  • This will be more likely to work if you don’t have checked baggage, which would entail much more work on the part of the airlines in order to bump you.

6. Find discounted tickets.
 Some airlines have relaxed upgrade policies for full-fare coach tickets. You may also have friends who have upgrade vouchers they may be willing to sell.


7. Plan long-term. If you are a regular flier, are considering doing mileage runs, and are planning a big trip that you want to enjoy in first-class style, you can also purchase miles directly from the airlines.

  • Visit your airline’s website, and locate the “Purchase Miles” page, generally located in the frequent-flier part of the site.
  • Enter your account number, and how many miles you wish to purchase.


8. Book directly with the airline. When you book directly with the airline, there is the possibility of also adding an OSI (Other Significant Information) notation to your record.

  • Based on that, ask about the possibility of an upgrade to first class. If you are a travel agent, travel writer, event planner, or captain of industry, it certainly won’t hurt your chances!

9. Buy a full fare coach ticket and ask for a first class seat. Many airlines have a fare code that automatically grants first class privileges, but you have to ask. Call the airline directly and ask them how much a coach class ticket with first class seating privilege will cost. This will be much less than a first class ticket. Be careful though, like most coach tickets it will probably be non-refundable.


10. Shop around. Reward airlines that have reasonable prices for business-class travel. As with any airline, if you fly frequently, they appreciate your business, and a struggling upstart might appreciate your business even more.


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Johanes (Joe) Chang is a corporate travel enthusiast and a serial entrepreneur. He has more than 20 years of experiences in fast growing and dynamic industries with multicultural environment such as travel, hospitality, and tourism, e-commerce, and emerging technologies. He is the founder of Biztrips, CorporateTravel.ID, Indonesia Corporate Travel Community / Forum / Workshop / Talk, and Connextrav. (

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