There’s a limit to pop culture upgrade tips – and we’ve finally reached it. It’s not that we don’t care about ad revenue – we love it – but there must be *some* substance behind the clickable headlines.

Somehow, the collective minds of (real?!) travel writers everywhere exploded when they saw the headline “two words guaranteed to get you a business class upgrade”, and even years later, they’re still writing about how dressing up can get the job done.

It won’t, and your flight in economy will be even more comfortable from it. Not only are these headlines patently false – they will make you look like an idiot for even asking. Here’s proof. Like, quantifiable proof.

Ring, Ring

Let me level with you on a personal level. My current favorite movie is The Big Short. It’s the one with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell and Christian Bale where they analyze the collapse of finance in 2008 – and then most of the world with it.

In that movie, basically a few guys called “BS” on what was going on in the finance world – and they won. In a very small, very meaningless way, Idid the same thing in travel – but it proves a great point. And PS the Virgin Atlantic agent actually offers the BEST upgrade advice

Wrong, Wrong

“We’ve heard some pretty tall tales from people trying to get a sneaky upgrade over the years – and this is certainly one of the most creative! As helpful as our lovely revenue management team are – they don’t handle upgrades, and customers can check the latest availability of our reward seats by calling our contact centre or via our website.”

– Virgin Atlantic

It sounds so good doesn’t it?

I mean, the headline is written in the stars: mutter these two words, and you’ll be in business class in NO time. But it’s just not true. Well, unless those two words are credit card!

I called Virgin Atlantic to see the real deal here. I called anonymously via Skype. I asked about an upgrade and got a no. So, after reading this life changing headline, I asked about the two magic words: revenue management.

It turns out (as every real travel expert already told you) – it’s complete, utter BS.

Not only is it BS, the advice fails to mention that a passenger would need roughly 25,000 frequent flyer miles each way for the upgrade, even if they said “sure” to the revenue management request (which they never would). Oh, and you’d never be able to travel with a partner. Getting one seat would be an act of God, let alone two.

And, And

In fact, I asked the author of the original story about the validity, to which he said “Tilly swears by this”. PAUSE – that’s all it takes to be in a serious media feature?

This is about a (HUGE) media outlet, and usually a credible one, turning drivel into clicks. Now, T&L is running a story about dressing “smart, but not too smart”, chic but not designer, in hopes of bagging an upgrade. Don’t bother. If there are 100 things which define an upgrade, what you’re wearing would be somewhere between 97 and 100, well after the 1 or 2 potential upgrades per flight, due to things like overbooking might be dished out.

Swearing something to be real? That’s all it takes?

So now, I ask the question: If I swear that wearing bondage gear and checking seven bags will guarantee an upgrade, can I have one? I’m just a guy trying to prove a point, so I’ll take what I can get.

Real, Real

In reality, even if the person on the other end of the phone had mysteriously said that I could upgrade – any economy ticket would require more than 35,000 miles per person each way from economy to Upper Class. The article makes no mention.

That’s more than 70,000 miles per person, which is the equivalent of flying around the world almost 3 times on expensive tickets. Or of course, you could spend up to a cool $70,000 to earn those points as well. That’s an expensive upgrade.

It’s possible that ringing Virgin Atlantic incessantly could cause someone to query revenue management for a seat, but they won’t put you through to them – and it won’t be confirmed by the revenue manager to you. It’s just not how it works. You can ask if they can open up seats, but don’t bank on anything other than a “we don’t do that”.

If there’s availability, there’s availability, if not – not. We’re told this ONLY could even potentially happen if more than half the business class cabin is unsold.

Future…

My traveling life has changed dramatically since I learned to turn every day purchases into free flights, and those obscure things called frequent flyer miles into upgrades.

But it’s honestly all about the learning process and taking those 20 or so minutes to figure out what’s real – and what’s not. The truth is, if two words could do it, everyone would be in business class. If you really want to upgrade, we have the best tips going – and they’re free. But thanks for clicking, I’m glad that at the very least, we earned it.

Did you ever believe two words, or a nice outfit, would get you an upgrade?

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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18 Comments

  1. In my experience this does work, on Singapore airlines with wait listed on awards. If you call ~1 week before a flight that looks wide open but a waitlist hasn’t cleared, you can ask for them to send a chaser. My understanding, is this is just a nudge to revenue management to open award space. It has worked for me. Cleared two seats within 12 hours of calling.

  2. How could you write this article and not even bother to highlight or bold or italicize the two magic words, instead hiding them in the middle of a paragraph.

    You know people are scrolling through the article trying to find what these words are.

  3. While I do question the claim in the source article, you certainly did not replicate what was suggested.

    Main differences between your approach and Bagshawe’s:
    1. You specifically said you’d just randomly read about this online. Big red flag.
    2. Bagshawe details specific steps. She doesn’t just say ask revenue management to open up a seat. She asks specific questions – such as whether revenue management has yet opened up upgrades, how many seat are open for sale etc. It’s a step-by-step strategy that you chose to completely ignore.
    3. You don’t give a specific reservation number. The agent has no idea of knowing who you are or how much you paid for your ticket.
    4. If revenue management were to make that kind of exception (big if), they’d probably look at the revenue history of the passenger asking for the upgrade space to be opened up. I’m guessing your revenue history with VS looks nothing like Bagshawe’s (not that you even identified yourself).

    So unless you can replicate the circumstances and steps that Bagshawe details, logically you can neither prove nor disprove her claims. They sound bogus, but your attempt to verify/disprove her story was also bogus.

    1. I’ll take this one step, to be abundantly clear here for anyone watching from the peanut gallery. Your questions are bolded. My answers are not.

      1. You specifically said you’d just randomly read about this online. Big red flag.

      The agent confirmed that there were no seats available already. Which is what anyone would’ve seen. But don’t take it from me. Watch the video and listen to her response. She almost laughs me off the phone.


      2. Bagshawe details specific steps. She doesn’t just say ask revenue management to open up a seat. She asks specific questions – such as whether revenue management has yet opened up upgrades, how many seat are open for sale etc. It’s a step-by-step strategy that you chose to completely ignore.

      False. If a seat was opened by revenue management, it would’ve been bookable. Therefore the question of “whether revenue management has opened upgrades is null and void. The answer can in fact be found online easily without calling. A passenger in the history of Virgin Atlantic has never spoken to revenue management. In fact, it’s technologically impossible.

      3. You don’t give a specific reservation number. The agent has no idea of knowing who you are or how much you paid for your ticket.

      I know more about Virgin Upgrades fares than almost anyone on the planet. So long as you’re not booked into three specific fare classes, any ticket is upgradeable. A premium economy ticket has the same validity for upgrades as the cheapest economy ticket thats eligible. It’s first come first serve and if there was a seat available, it would’ve been mine. I travel more than 200,000 miles a year doing exactly this sort of thing, roughly every three days.

      4. If revenue management were to make that kind of exception (big if), they’d probably look at the revenue history of the passenger asking for the upgrade space to be opened up. I’m guessing your revenue history with VS looks nothing like Bagshawe’s (not that you even identified yourself).

      It’s not hard to figure out who “I” am. I spend a considerable amount on travel, and guarantee I fly more frequently than Tilly. But this is all irrelevant drivel. IF, an agent was willing to entertain this ludicrous request (which countless Virgin employees have confirmed to me is ludicrous) they’d have to to get permission to even send an email to revenue management. No phones. Revenue management would then take a minimum of two days to weigh out their decision. Unless you’re sir Paul McCartney or an invitation only top, top flyer – you are irrelevant in the equation. It’s entirely about maximizing revenue per passenger. There are complex mathematical equations for this and DYKWIA is not one of them.

      I **** dare you to successfully replicate Tillys story. Upgrades with Virgin are extremely transparent. Here’s how to find them online: https://www.godsavethepoints.com/2016/08/24/easyvirginupgradeguide/

  4. I read the article because I wanted to see what kind of nonsense it would push. I agree that it was total BS. I’ve been working my whole life in the travel industry, 45 years and still going. NO ONE gets to talk to the airlines Revenue Management team

  5. You’re wrong, there are 2 words that can guarantee you an upgrade on any flight with available seats in upgrade, they are “how much?”

  6. Yeah but what if I dress smart, but not too smart, smile nicely but not too smiley, ask them “about” but not “to speak to” revenue management AND (here’s the secret magic key)… I drop your name Gilbert… surely that’ll be seat in the cockpit time!?!?!

  7. In days gone by the ‘what you wear’ possibly held true to some extent, but only if they were LOOKING for someone to upgrade due to overselling in Y for example. However, at one time the magic words (if they can be described as such) were ‘load controller’. I successfully (and politely!) asked at the gate if the load controller was available, and then politely asked him or her if they were looking to upgrade – and on more than occasion I got myself and a fellow passenger bumped forward. I strongly doubt that would happen now and wouldn’t embarass myself by testing it!

  8. Just once, returning from Dubai, I was walking down the air bridge…smartly dressed, for the ghastly 2am flight back to London in Y, an Emirates ground staff agent with a clipboard approached m3, looked at my Boa ding pass, crossed the seat assignment out and scribbled a new number in pen accompanied by a squiggle, smiled, said ‘enjoy your flight sir’ which was probably the best upgrade ever for me, flat bed on an overnight… and no, I wasn’t particularly high up in SKYWARDS…. found it strange though that there had been no suggestion of an upgrade at the boarding gate….

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