We’re not saying what you’ve heard isn’t true. Actually… yeah, we are.

Upgrades really do happen, and when they do, they feel better than anyone ever imagines. Sometimes its the double beep at the gate to let the agent know your seat has changed for the better, or it’s an email the night before letting you know that it’s all worked out, but however it happens it’s simply the best. If you want to be one of those frustratingly happy and smug looking people on the plane smiling in their selfies, there are a few flight upgrade tips that actually work, and you should really be using them. Like, yesterday…

a pool with palm trees and chairs on a beachBe Smart

Want people to think you’re filthy rich when you travel, without needing to actually innovate or disrupt an industry? Enter: flight deals. Every once in a while, crazy opportunities come along where you can book business class for less than you’d pay for economy. Don’t believe us? In the last two months, you could’ve flown business class from Los Angeles to Asia for $560 round trip; or Qatar Airways business class from Europe to Maldives or Malaysia for £700 round trip. That’s just recently! Here’s how to never miss a flight deal, and get in on the action for yourself.

a tv on a table in a planeBe First

All those people collecting points are not part of some fringe movement of travel lunatics. Other than paying for it, points are the only sure fire way of getting an upgrade, and booking it long enough in advance that you can get excited for your trip for months. Here’s a list of airlines that let you upgrade international plane tickets, and how many points you’ll need. It’s super important to remember that earning points doesn’t require travel. You can earn points from your daily latte spend, amongst many other things. When it comes to using them…

  1. Look for flights with upgrades using points available before you book.
  2. If no flights are available for upgrade, set alerts to see if they become available.
  3. Lock in said upgrades using points, saving tons of cash and feeling wonderful.

a sign in an airportBe Chill

You know, like a cucumber. People get worked up and crazy at the airport and start making all sorts of demands. If rather than make demands, you simply ask to be added to the volunteer list at check in, you’ll put yourself in prime position for a bump which can result in $1000’s in flight vouchers, an upgrade – or both. One traveler got more than $10,000 in vouchers for a single bump, and still made it the same day. This happens when a flight is oversold and someone needs a seat. For best practices: fly solo (or book solo), don’t check a bag and be polite. It’s often first come first serve, so whoever gets #1 on the bump list often gets the bump. They’ll put you on the next flight, with either money, upgrade or both in hand.

a bed in a planeBe Competitive

Many airlines allow upgrade auctions, and sometimes they can actually offer some bargain gems which will get you business class for less. Systems like PlusGrade allow you to enter your booking details and bid for an upgrade using cash. It’s important to remember what’s “worth it” and more importantly, what’s not – but sometimes if you get a fantastic economy deal, it can make perfect sense to spend a bit and win an upgrade auction to business class. Flat beds are really nice, after all. Before you book, check if your airline offers upgrade auctions, and take it from there…

people sitting on a patio with people sitting on chairsBe Elite

Elite airline status isn’t quite as hard to attain as you’ve been made to believe. There are even ways to secure it with as few as three flights. Three! You care about airline elite travel status not because you enjoy the self aggrandizing feeling of walking to the priority boarding lane, but because if there are any free upgrades to give out when check in or boarding starts, it’s usually going to one of these people. In fact, airlines in the U.S. like American, Delta and United give complimentary upgrades on domestic flights to elite flyers, so it happens on almost every flight to someone. Here are a few shortcuts to elite status…

a glass of champagne on a tableBe Realistic

Other than the above, your best bet is knowing the pilot, crew or airline staff. Did you know more than 60% of travelers enquire about upgrades at check in? With that in mind, your upgrade pitch is likely far from original. Though some travelers have actually managed to receive upgrades for for ludicrous reasons, you’ll do best to avoid headlines like “two words” to get upgraded, and your comfy jeans will not be the reason you don’t. Rather than fight the grain and look for the easy way to upgrade, immersing yourself in these tips will actually get you there…

Have you ever been upgraded?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I’ve been upgraded on Cathay Pacific BOS-HKG from economy to Premium economy then to Business. I was holding silver status and this was the day before Christmas so I’m pretty sure it was an operational upgrade.

  2. 3 times, so lucky! With Virgin Atlantic… once it was actually Valentine’s day! What a treat! 😁

  3. Upgraded from economy to business on a Jet Airways flight from BOM to LHR last year. The trip wasn’t an easy one as it was a visit to a friend, who was in a very bad way, and when I was checking in at the airport, exhausted for my return, I got shunted around a lot but kept smiling. (In fact, at the crowded LHR departure gate on the first leg of my journey, when I wasn’t paying attention, one of my fellow passengers filched the cashmere sweater I’d just taken off moments before… so that was, well…) Anyway, boarding at BOM I was pulled aside inexplicably and started to get worried as no one would tell me why. Then – sudden silver lining – an upgrade! Perhaps as it was a night flight, I was traveling solo, and had one piece of soft hand luggage, and there was only one seat empty. Was placed next to a French government minister who promptly fell asleep. I pre-ordered far too much food for breakfast from the Indian options, and got off the plane in London 10 kilos heavier but happy!

  4. Despite second to highest status with American, I never get upgraded. On international flights, despite offering to pay or use miles to upgrade, there are never any business seats available and as American out of Philadelphia uses US Airways old planes, there are never any premium economy seats on the planes, so I avoid flights to London and other destinations via American, choosing instead to use British Airways. My miles have accumulated to over 300,000 as I have never even been able to use them for transcontinental upgrades. One needs at least the highest status, Executive Platinum to receive a chance, so this article is a little deceptive.

  5. My wife and I were upgraded two days ago on an Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi. We had been allotted an aisle seat and the one next to it. We asked (politely) if it was possible to get two aisle seats. The man said that the flight was pretty full but he made a phone call and after a couple of minutes gave us two business class boarding passes. This made two old people very happy.

  6. More than a few years ago, my wife and two daughters were returning from NZ to LHR via LAX. The first sector was in Qantas economy. We were travelling on Delta code share tickets. When we got to LAX we were directed to check in at the Delta Desk for our, once again, code share Virgin flight. There was no queue at the desk. When we got there the young lady apologised to me saying that 5he flight was over booked and would we mind travelling back ‘Upper Class’. We did not protest! A splendid journey. Just before landing at LHR a lady and a gentleman were led through the curtain from Business to seats opposite the curved bar. I recognised the chap as Ben Elton! I felt rather smug.

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