When Im not in first class I miss it. Between the hand towels, slightly less fake flight attendant smile and the welcome drink its hard not to feel elated as you settle into your spacious first class seat, especially ones that turn into beds. Sadly, Everyone knows the feeling of walking past first class to the economy cabin. All the excitement of a trip can go out the window as you spy your uncomfortable seat, overweight neighbor and the plethora of screaming babies ready to make your life knee battering hell. 

First class upgrades happen and they happen for many reasons. The days of wearing a nice suit and putting on a charming smile to score that dream seat are long gone but there are many ways to find yourself sipping champagne instead of exchanging elbow grease. Airlines want to fill every seat on the plane. If there is space up front they want someone there. Moving someone upfront means more seats to sell in coach. Everybody wins. Other than forking out an ungodly amount of money, there is no surefire method to “turning left” but following these tips will help your chances whether it’s your first flight or your millionth mile. 

a woman holding a tray with drinks

See About Using Miles

You can score hundreds of thousands of miles without ever flying and using miles to “upgrade” can be one of the best and most stress free ways to fly first class  Upgrading with miles allows to opportunity to experience the best without using all your miles. After booking your ticket you can check online or call well in advance of the date of your travel to see if there are any opportunities (with your fare type) to upgrade with miles. The more you had to pay for your coach ticket, the better the chance you can upgrade using miles. Most airlines allow only a one class upgrade so if you are on a flight that offers coach, premium economy, business and first, keep that in mind. If you ask in advance and are told that there are not indeed any opportunities, don’t give up, ask again the days before, at check in and at the gate as things often change. 

a woman sitting in a chair with windows

Bump Opportunity

Airlines love to complain but flights are more full than they have historically ever been. Accordingly, flights get cancelled or oversold. When this happens chaos ensues and the airline must scramble to get as many people to their destination as quickly as possible with less planes or more passengers. When these hair raising instances occur, passengers who “volunteer” for a later flight because of flexible travel plans most often are upgraded to first class on the next available flight. If you have flexibility in your schedule and hear that your flight is oversold or looking for “volunteers” make sure you are the first person to put your name on that list! On our last flight from London to New York nearly everyone around us in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class had been upgraded because of a delay on their original flight. Your day might be longer or you may have to stay another day but the airline will pay for your hotel and you will fly in style on the next available flight!

a bed in a plane

Check in Early/Opportunity Upgrade

Many airlines have instituted systems of Opportunity Upgrades on domestic and international flights. On flights where the airline would like to squeeze a few extra dollars, they offer passengers checking in online or in person the opportunity to buy an upgrade, generally on a first come first serve basis. Some airlines including Virgin Atlantic, may even proactively call you and offer you an occasionally intriguing price to move up. These upgrades can cost anywhere from $49-$1000 depending on the flight and the business/first class product. The longer the flight and the more glamorous the product the more expensive it will be, yet often the more worth it. Best advice is to check in as soon as the 24 hour window opens so that if seats are being sold and you are interested, you don’t miss out. 

a row of seats with monitors on the side

Elite Upgrade

If you happen to have elite status with an airline, your chances of regular upgrades increase significantly. For the best chances, try to avoid main business routes and travel on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Weekends and mid week are less business frequented and often lead to great result. If you can take a connection through a smaller city, that may help too.Upgrades are automatically assigned if seats are open and they clear by elite ranking so if you are the highest tier with an airline you will get the seat over an elite member at the lower tier. Proactively monitor your reservation and the upgrade list for best results!

a seat in a plane

Hail Mary

Had a bad day or have a special occasion? If you are flying, chances are you have lots of company. If, however, you feel that your circumstances are somehow spectacular for better or worse and all else has failed; go ahead and mention your circumstances and ask if any seats are available up front, especially if you’ve been mistreated. The best medicine in the world is kindness and being appreciative. Needless to say the less pushy, the more thankful and (the more treats you bring) the better your chances ; ) In general you have as much chance of this working out as I do in becoming an Olympic gymnast but crazier things have happened. Go for it. I’ll start stretching.

a group of men standing on an airplane

The bottom line is that first class upgrade opportunities are random and occur differently on nearly every flight.  The more you know and the more angles you play, the better your chances are for snagging one of these wonderful and elusive seats. Knowledge and planning equal opportunity… and champagne.

As Always, Get in Touch: GodSaveThePoints@gmail.com

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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