delta one suites

Here’s two actually “legit” ways to land upgrades.

I really should be more appreciative of people seeking flight upgrades for doing nothing. I should actually encourage it. The topic, and people’s pursuit of upgrades has brought me many nice things, and plenty of face time on television shows around the world, as I attempt to demystify them.

But in my heart, I really just want people to do the thing which everyone seems very against doing, which is learning. No, not about suits that might get upgrades, or things to say to airport staff or phone staff, like “revenue management”, but things that are real — and really work.

In this day and age, if you want an upgrade, you need to either be: valuable, or tactical. If you can be both, my goodness, you’ll find flight upgrades practically hand delivered to you. Here’s a closer look at how to make it work.

a table with a tablet on it in an airplane

Want An Upgrade? Be Tactical

I’m focusing on international upgrades, because they’re the ones that count. Crossing an ocean, or a vast continent is when you really want a bigger seat, or ideally, a comfy bed in the sky.

Want the secret trick to getting the best upgrades? It’s getting them instantly, at the time of booking.

The best upgrades happen when someone tactfully books the cabin behind the one they really want to fly in, knowing that the cabin they really want to fly in, is instantly available for an upgrade using points.

This accomplishes two wonderful things: savings and an upgrade, all at once!

By buying the cabin below the one you aspire to fly, you’re able to save money versus the cost of buying it outright. By being tactful, and doing the highly reasonable amount of research you’d need to find out if an upgrade is available, you’re also able to put any miles or credit card points to use.

A premium economy ticket might be $800 and business class $5,000, but by tactfully finding a flight where upgrades are instantly available, you can snag that business class flight for $800 and circa 20,000-40,000 miles each way.

The sweet spot here is booking premium economy, when you really want to fly business class. Economy to premium really just isn’t enough of an upgrade to wow, and the delta between premium and economy is typically much lower than the price between premium economy and business class.

Here are a few real life articles to digest on the topic, like this one, and this one. Here’s a mega look at how upgrades work with most airlines too.

delta one suites

Being Valuable Is The Next Best Upgrade Bet

Assuming you struck out with all the above, you’ve got one last real chance.

If “free” upgrades are going around, usually because a cabin is oversold or there’s an effort from an airline to win some goodwill — most upgrades go to people who have shown some modicum of loyalty or value.

These days, that doesn’t always mean purely being a frequent flyer. Airlines get that there’s not always a “good vibe” on that, so even just being a frequent spender can add up to perks. American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United in the US are prime examples.

Delta, among others, lets you spend your way to “elite status” which can receive complimentary upgrades on some routes. On routes further afield, it can also unlock upgrade vouchers for international flights. JetBlue just launched some revolutionary stuff here too.

Even if neither apply but someone needs to be upgraded, it typically comes down to which tier of frequent flyer you are with Delta. If that’s a tie between two people it comes down to who has spent more and or flown more.

Spending Your Way To Perks

American Airlines has taken this to interesting levels this year, allowing people to earn status from all sorts of spending and activity, even without an American Airlines credit card. Simply Miles made people quite happy this year. Many upgrades and perks were earned. One blogger even made it to their “invite only” tier, mostly from spending.

The “already too long and don’t want to read more” gisst is that you can earn perks, or give yourself a significantly better shot at upgrades by engaging with airlines. Having a frequent flyer account instantly makes you more likely for an upgrade than someone who didn’t bother to enter one.

Having an airline credit card, even if you don’t fly constantly — can make you more likely to get an upgrade. Doing your holiday shopping via airline shopping portals to earn miles for giving people presents, can also help you earn upgrades.

Stop relying on ideas like dressing up. Long haul travel is taxing enough with the most comfortable French terry lined hoodie on, so the idea of wearing a suit just to be told no is unbearable.

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 Comment

  1. Good advice. I did just this on a flight to London, booking premium economy then calling up and getting an inexpensive upgrade to business. Seemed to help that it was a four class aircraft (economy, premium, biz and first)? Curious what you think the optimal time to do this is? Days/weeks/months before the flight? Biz class a month out was largely unsold (about 23 out of 30 seats still open).

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