There’s a limit to pop culture upgrade tips – and we’ve finally reached it. It’s not that we don’t care about ad revenue – we love it – but there must be substance behind the clickable headlines. This week the collective minds of (real) travel writers everywhere exploded when they saw the headline “two words guaranteed to get you a business class upgrade”. Not only is this headline patently false – it will make you look like an idiot for even asking. Here’s proof.
Let me level with you on a personal level. My current favorite movie is The Big Short. It’s the one with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell and Christian Bale where they analyze the collapse of finance in 2008. In that movie, basically a few guys called “BS” on what was going on in the finance world – and they won. In a very small, very meaningless way, I just did the same thing in travel writing – but it proves a great point. And PS the Virgin Atlantic agent actually offers the BEST upgrade advice…
“We’ve heard some pretty tall tales from people trying to get a sneaky upgrade over the years – and this is certainly one of the most creative! As helpful as our lovely revenue management team are – they don’t handle upgrades, and customers can check the latest availability of our reward seats by calling our contact centre or via our website.” – Virgin Atlantic
It sounds so good doesn’t it? I mean, the headline is written in the stars: mutter these two words, and you’ll be in business class in NO time. But it’s just not true. I called Virgin Atlantic to see the real deal here. I called anonymously via Skype. I asked about an upgrade and got a no. So, after reading this life changing headline, I asked about the two magic words: revenue management. It turns out (as every real travel writer already told you) – it’s complete, utter BS. Not only is it BS, the advice fails to mention that a passenger would need roughly 35,000 frequent flyer miles each way for the upgrade, even if they said “sure” (which they never would). Oh, and you’d never be able to travel with a partner. Getting one seat would be an act of God, let alone two.
Thank you. Too kind. I can only defer to @TillyBagshawe1 who swears by it as I’ve never road tested first hand…
— Mark Ellwood (@markjellwood) February 24, 2018
Now lets play devils advocate here. I love Virgin Atlantic. I’d almost call them some of my peeps. And this isn’t at all about them. This is about a media outlet turning drivel into clicks which earn money. In fact, I asked the author of the original story about the validity, to which he said “Tilly swears by this”. PAUSE – that’s all it takes to be in a serious media feature? Swearing something to be real? So now, I ask the question: If I swear that wearing bondage gear and checking seven bags will guarantee an upgrade, can I too have a Bloomberg headline? I’m just a guy trying to prove a point, so I’ll take what I can get. Even USA Today would do. No offense, USA Today.
In reality, even if the person on the other end of the phone had mysteriously said that I could upgrade – any economy ticket would require more than 35,000 miles per person each way from economy to Upper Class. That’s more than 70,000 miles per person, which is the equivalent of flying around the world almost 3 times on expensive tickets. Or of course, you could spend $70,000 to earn those points as well. That’s an expensive upgrade. It’s possible that ringing Virgin Atlantic incessantly could cause someone to query revenue management for a seat, but they won’t put you through – and it won’t be confirmed over the phone. We’re told this ONLY could even potentially happen if more than half the business class cabin is unsold.
I honestly care about you. My life has changed dramatically since I learned to turn every day purchases into free flights, and those obscure things called frequent flyer miles into upgrades. But it’s honestly all about the learning process and taking those 20 or so minutes to figure out what’s real. The truth is, if two words could do it, everyone would. If you really want to upgrade, we have the best tips going – and they’re free. But thanks for clicking, I’m glad that at the very least, we earned it.