Qantas First Class Bed

Hurry up and wait…

Frequent flyers, especially those in the United States enjoy a travel perk offered to few others: complimentary upgrades. Though competition is fierce, at least a couple lucky flyers usually end up enjoying life up front on each and every flight. The pecking order for these coveted upgrades is supposed to be based on status and other tie breakers, but sometimes it’s all about how you play it. Here’s how to maximize your chances of an upgrade. Oh, and here’s how to get elite status without flying.

a row of black chairs in an airplaneFirst In Line

Even if you’re number one on the upgrade list and seats seem to be available, agents are known for going “rogue” and passing people on the upgrade list who are not available at the gate when their names are called. Frequent American Airlines flyer and (my personal favorite) blogger Gary Leff shares his insights.

The Fix: As painful as it may be for some travelers, it’s worth finding a comfy chair within ear shot of your boarding gate in the minutes before boarding. Just because you need to sit near the gate doesn’t mean you need to board. Missing out on a better experience just to have an extra carrot stick in an airport lounge would be foolish.

an airplane with seats and windowsFirst To Board

Some things are best not left to chance and upgrades are certainly one of them. Even if no upgrades are doled out in advance of boarding, sometimes – scratch that – quite often, people no show. When they do, a new opportunity for upgrade arises. If everyone is already on board and seated, some gate agents will choose not to upgrade anyone, just to keep things easy. But Renés Points, a Delta blogger just wasn’t having it.

The Fix: If you require overhead space, this one is a bit hit or miss – but if you don’t it’s a no brainer. Unless you’re already upgraded, wait to board last and inquire if any first class seats have gone unexpectedly unoccupied. If they have, you may be able to skip the upgrade list, right to the top. After all, you read blogs – and the other guys don’t!

a bed with pillows and a purse on itFirst To Find

Computers are fast, but many of the airline systems which connect them are an embarrassment to Windows 95! No disrespect – Bill Gates. But staying on point, sometimes you can apply for an upgrade, even on international flights, and the upgrade won’t automatically clear right when the seat becomes available. Your request will just sit there – and someone else may snatch it up. But not if you find it first…

The Fix: Use ExpertFlyer to set alerts for upgrade space, especially if you’re planning on using certificates or upgrade vouchers. By setting alerts, you’ll be first to know when a seat is made available, via an email alert – and can call to lock it in. This can sometimes usurp the upgrade list, allowing you to book it on a first come first serve basis. Not bad, eh?


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. Great suggestions. I like the waiting to board suggestion the best. You’re already going to be sitting on the plane for hours anyway, why rush to board? Enjoy the elbow room and fresh air of the airport as much as possible before you board.

  2. Carrot stick?!? No, definitely not worth it. But for an extra glass of good champagne (admittedly lounge dependant), I’m happy to forgo the tiny chance (I’m elite because of websites like this, NOT because I spend money flying) my ticket gets the upgrade…

  3. And I’d rather be on the plane, getting my shit sorted and relaxed, than in a queue,or waiting for a queue to die down

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