Upgrade articles are far too polite.
People click articles about upgrades looking for a miracle, but hoping to be the 1:1,000,000 traveler who gets upgraded by winking, wearing a suit or being the last to check in, is just amateur. If you want upgrades, like really, really want them – you need to expect better of yourself. In fact, demand it. That begins with the end of procrastination.
The difference between people who get upgrades and people who ask for them is that simple fact: people who get upgrades usually don’t ask, they take, and usually long before check in opens. Here’s how to actually get one.
Stop looking for ridiculous “upgrade hacks” which offer you a better chance of winning the lottery than enjoying a better seat. Stop it, seriously. Your three best options for scoring upgrades regularly are as follows…
- Win the lottery and just buy them.
- Earn points and upgrade yourself with points.
- Jet set constantly and become a VIP elite flyer.
Assuming #2 looks like the easiest option, because it is, let’s work on that. You can legitimately earn points every day from things like buying coffee, taking surveys, dining out, buying things on Amazon and basically anything that involves a transaction. You don’t even need a credit card for half of them. Here are a few great ways to get started, but start by opening free loyalty program accounts and then seeing the best ways to earn in that program.
Book with one airline and your ticket may not be upgradeable using points or cash. Book with another, you may be able to use either. Figuring out which airlines offer the most generous upgrade policies is a huge game-changer. Here’s a great resource on that, by the way.
Once you have an idea of which airlines offer the friendliest policies for booking a ticket in a cabin you can afford, you can use points to move your journey closer to the front. Start by looking for upgrade space when you book, rather than when it’s too late, like after check-in. It never hurts to call an airline up and ask which flights if any have upgrade space available before you actually book. If you have any flexibility, you can then put it to work!
Oh, and most upgrades are already assigned before you reach the check-in desk, so save the smarmy charm for the hotel bar.
Emirates lets you upgrade almost any economy ticket, but you get a lower price in points if you buy a “flex” ticket. A flex ticket can cost under $1000 for a long haul destination, as opposed to over $5,000 for business. You can see if a ticket can be upgraded during the booking process, which means that you can pay say… $900, and use points while booking and instantly upgrade. If an upgrade isn’t avail at the start, you can get added to an auto waitlist and it’ll do all the work for you.
British Airways lets you upgrade one cabin only, but they sell Premium Economy at great discount rates. It’s possible to pay as little as $690, or about £515 for a round trip long haul ticket in premium economy and then use as few as 20,000 points each way to upgrade. You’d simply find flights with upgrade space, book and immediately call in. Yep, you upgraded within 5 minutes of booking, not 5 minutes of boarding.
The only feeling better than getting an upgrade to business class is booking business class for the same price as coach, or maybe even less. It may sound absurd, but it happens every week.
Every day, somewhere around the world someone books a ticket in business class for roughly the same price many others will pay for economy for a variety of reasons. During peak travel times when economy is pricey, but business travelers stay at home, business class can legitimately be cheaper, and sometimes airlines just need to clear tickets at a deep discount because of increased competition. It happened just this week.
Next week, it’ll probably happen again. Learn how to use tools like Google Flights to find amazing business class flight deals, or just stalk this deals page highlighting the best offers to have them come to you.
Loyalty doesn’t mean flying with just one airline, because let’s be real – one airline can rarely take you everywhere you need to go in the world. Loyalty means sticking with a group of airlines like Oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance, which makes it far more feasible. Even if you fly a variety of airlines within that alliance, you can enter just one frequent flyer number from your preferred program, and earn from flights on like 15 different airlines.
When you do this, you may slowly rise up the tiers of frequent flyer status. As you do, your “free” upgrade chances increase, especially on short flights. This may be the one time where it’s “ok” to ask for last-minute upgrade options if you’re an elite customer with miles or upgrade certificates to burn.
In the USA – Delta, American, Alaska and United offer complimentary upgrades to elites. Basically, if there are any free upgrades to give out because the plane is full in economy, or “just because” you’ll be closer to the top of the winner’s circle.
If you have a lot of travel coming up in a short span, there’s a faster way to get this stuff too. A “status challenge” is a cool way to get more benefits with less flying, if you have a busy travel schedule in a three-month span. Basically, rather than needing to fly 50,000 miles in a year, 18,000 miles in a three-month span may be enough. Here’s more on those opportunities…
No Excuses Play Like A Champion
See, we told you: asking for upgrades is for amateurs. If you really want upgrades, you need to make points a part of your daily life, and you need to fly with airlines who make it easier to upgrade than others. Couple this streamlined approach with a little bit of a heads up attitude before you actually pay, and you may be in for a life of luxury without having to work harder, at least at your actual job. This whole upgrade hobby can become addictive.