So you’re saying there’s a chance…

Any upgrade is nice, but few upgrades rival a long haul upgrade, especially on a flight crossing an ocean. With round trip economy fares between the US, Asia and Europe regularly dipping below $400 and premium economy fares found under $1000 – it’s harder and harder for travelers and corporations to justify spending $3000 or more for business class. Assuming there aren’t any brilliant business class deals to be found, there’s one great strategy for scoring free upgrades to business class that arguably works better than any other – other than paying for business class in the first place, of course…

Who This Is For

If you don’t hold elite status with an airline, you’re totally welcome to read on – but the chances of this working for you are so low, we’d be lying if we thought you’d ever get an upgrade from it. It happens, but unless you were planning on buying premium economy anyway, it’s not worth the extra investment. If you DO hold frequent flyer status with an airline, the higher the better – this is easily one of the best opportunities to fly business class without paying for it. Ready? Let’s do it.

The Smallest Cabin

Premium Economy fares represent increasingly fantastic value for all travelers. In many cases, two checked bags in premium replaces no checked bags in economy. In addition, up to 10 extra inches of legroom, improved food and beverage and priority check in and boarding really add up. Also – it’s the smallest cabin. The smaller the cabin, the higher the chance it fills up. At the right price, it’s a great investment over economy anyway, but it instantly leap frogs frequent flyers far closer to upgrades. Why? We’re about to explain.

Incremental Revenue, Oversold Cabins

Every economy passenger is tempted to peak through the curtain into premium, or secure that six extra inches of recline and big wide seat. Airlines know this, so even if premium economy is full, they’ll often send upgrade offers to economy passengers. They’ve already made money from you, and from the economy passenger, so why not make more from the economy passenger? All they need to do is move someone like yourself from premium to business class to create space. The passenger is happy, the airline loses nothing and in fact – they earn extra money. And on flights when both economy and premium are full or oversold- someone needs to get bumped from the tiny premium cabin up to business. If you’re an elite flyer, you’ll be toward the top of the list.

Find Full Flights For Upgrades

ExpertFlyer.com is a truly invaluable resource. If you’ve heard it mentioned before, it’s because everyone who uses it loves it. Not only can you set seat and upgrade alerts, you can also see how full virtually any flight is. If you have flexibility as to what time to leave or which flight to take, you can search which flight has the greatest chance of filling up. By seeking full flights, you greatly increase the chance of passengers needing to be upgraded to make room for an overflow from economy or an overflow from premium – or ideally, both. These are the kind of upgrades that you magically find when checking in online, or via the last minute “double beep” in the boarding line, where they tear up your boarding pass and give you a brand new, better, business class pass.

Extra Tips

The higher your elite frequent flyer status the better, and you’ll almost always do better with upgrades when flying on the airline you hold your elite status with. There are exceptions. Every airline has a system of ranking upgrade priority, so the more you travel and the more precious of a metal your frequent flyer card represents, the better. Traveling with other passengers on a reservation can greatly decrease your chances of success here. If you want to make this work while traveling with others, stay on your own reservation, even if traveling with friends, family or colleagues. Well, if you are the type of person that’s fine with leaving them behind, of course! Finally, special meals have been known to hold up upgrades in the past, so unless you have a true dietary requirement, you may want to stick to standard meal selection. On full flights, as a top tier flyer, this can easily work out more than 30% of the time.

Have you used this strategy?

Featured image courtesy of Cathay Pacific.