Upgrades don’t involve as much blind luck as you may think…

Few sounds on earth rival the double beep. For anyone unfamiliar, it’s the sound that your economy boarding pass has been upgraded, and you’ll need to pop over to the desk to get your shiny new business class seating assignment. Amongst the most popular gripes of frequent flyers is a lack of upgrades. In the pursuit of scoring as many “free” upgrades as possible, there are a few mistakes to look out for, but also a few operating ideas to maximize your chances…

a black board with white text and yellow dotsAvoid Mondays And Fridays

By nature, business travelers are generally frequent flyers, and thanks to corporate funded tickets, these travelers often outrank most others in the upgrade pecking order. Avoiding early AM or mid afternoon, early evening flights on Mondays and Fridays is a great first step in this novel pursuit, and if you must travel during these times, try these extra tricks out – and be sure to volunteer for a bump opportunity as well. Just don’t say “revenue management“.

Find Big Jets

Part of the “when to travel” element is about making conscious decisions about which planes you’ll fly, within your schedule constraints. Many routes exist where airlines ferry their major international planes on domestic or short haul flights, before heading onward, which means a business class cabin typically consisting of just 16 seats may suddenly offer 48. Take the extra effort to see if that 3:30 Miami flight with the wide body Boeing 777 might be better than the 4PM Boeing 737, with the 90’s era lazy boy seats. For upgrades, it definitely is.

Travel During Holidays

On international flights, airlines generally only upgrade passengers when cabins are full. Traveling during peak holidays may present unique challenges, but it also provides the highest probability for upgrade. During peak travel holidays, business travelers make a concerted effort to get “off the road”, and with planes flying full or more and more commonly – oversold, this is the perfect storm to be No.1 on the upgrade order. Yep – fewer people ahead of you on the upgrade list, and more upgrades to hand out, to make space for other passengers. It’s a win-win. Naturally, this tip is most effective if (and almost only) if you have frequent flyer status of some sort.

a group of palm treesConnect The Dots

Certain routes will always, always be magnets for elite travelers. New York, London, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Mumbai, Sydney, Atlanta and Frankfurt are hotbeds for busy business travelers, and business cabins are almost always full. If you don’t mind connecting, aiming for connecting routes or alternative airports can do wonders for your upgrade potential. For example, every frequent traveler in Los Angeles thinks LAX, but Burbank is served by most airlines, and presents far better upgrade chances. Milwaukee and Chicago, Baltimore and D.C., if you’re really into your upgrades, the options are endless.

Seek Mid Week And Weekends

If you must travel during the week, shooting for midday or late, late evening departures is your best shot. If you have flexibility however, you’ll improve your upgrade chances traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well as weekends, when business travelers are traditionally at home. Even on weekends, the more leisure oriented the route, the better your chances. Most frequent travelers find that they’re upgraded far more often to destinations such as the Caribbean, where most travelers are one off holiday makers.

Featured image courtesy of JetBlue.

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. This all depends on how and why you travel. I’ve been flying for work for 12 years and I’ve never been able to avoid Monday’s and Friday’s. My new job has me flying on Wednesday’s now and it’s certainly better . It’s all luck of the draw. Choosing big jets can be helpful but on hub to hub routes like Houston-Newark on UA, 1K on an M fare was number 14 for 0 seats. 777 on Delta ATL-LAX I’ve never even seen an upgrade (I tell the world to avoid Delta ) American is another story where MIA-LAX 777 is your only real shot at an upgrade as the A321s are booked solid all day every day.

    There is a mix of people , those who can choose and those who can’t. I personally prefer getting home more than anything. An aisle seat in Economy Plus with a free drink and I’m good versus trying to fly during non-peak times to hope for an upgrade.

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