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20+ Flight Upgrades Tips

Try for free or buy business class on the cheap
Flight Upgrades

They’re the Holy Grail for regular travellers but while rare, flight upgrades do exist.

The chances of getting one can be slim, but here are our top 20 tips for boosting your chances of bagging a better seat. Of course, the bulk of these tips won't be relevant on a budget airline where there is only one class.

They’re the Holy Grail for regular travellers but while rare, flight upgrades do exist.

The chances of getting one can be slim, but here are our top 20 tips for boosting your chances of bagging a better seat. Of course, the bulk of these tips won't be relevant on a budget airline where there is only one class.

Join frequent flyer schemes before you fly

The best way to get regular upgrades is to join a frequent flyer scheme and diligently build up points/miles.

It's not what you know but who you know

If you've got close friends at the check-in desk, or better still, higher up in the airline, they may be able to wangle you occasional special privileges. Some airlines also give their staff upgrade vouchers, which'll effectively buy you an upgrade if there's a higher-class seat available.

Don't waste your time or miles on short-haul upgrades... long-haul is where it's at

There's not much point going to the end of the Earth to wangle a free upgrade on a short-haul flight, and certainly little sense in using your flyer points or cash to pay for one. Often, all you get is a slightly bigger seat and a fancier sandwich at best.

Instead, medium and long-haul flights offer the best value upgrades and you'll have time to enjoy them. You only tend to get the flat beds and all the bells and whistles on a longer journey.

What do I get if I upgrade?

Here we explain the different cabin classes and what you typically get. But before getting into the nitty-gritty, this is about non-budget airline cabins, given the budget carriers only have one class. The four main classes are...

Economy class. Small seat, basic food, basic service.

Premium economy / executive class. Bigger seat, basic food, basic service

Business class. Big and possibly fold-flat seat, luxury food & service, lounge access

First class. High-end luxury, exceptional cost, lounge access

Free upgrades do happen – nearly one in five have got one in the last two years

They might be less frequent than they used to be, but free upgrades do still exist. In July 2014 we polled our users who’d flown in the last two years and found 16% had been upgraded for free, though of those on a non-budget airline, the figure is 18%.

Dress to impress

Remember, an upgrade will put you into the posh cabins, so while an old T-shirt and flip-flops might be comfortable, an airline is less likely to put you in with its top-paying customers if you don't look the part.

Upgrading using loyalty points

Since the early '80s, airlines have used frequent flyer loyalty schemes to keep their customers coming back. These can often result in serious freebies.

On honeymoon or anniversary? Let 'em know

If you're off on your honeymoon, jetting away to get married, on a 70th birthday or other special occasion, let the airline staff know.

Say it with a smile

It might be obvious, but if you want the check-in staff to be nice to you, it helps if you're nice to them.

Ordering special meals can ruin upgrade chances

If you order a special in-flight meal in advance- such as vegetarian, vegan, halal or kosher - you may destroy your upgrade potential. Flights rarely carry spares, especially for higher-class seats whose food costs more.

Should you ask or wait to be offered?

This is the thorniest upgrade question around. Are your chances better if you ask, or if you stay humble and wait for one to be offered?

On a busy long haul flight think about whether you’re prepared to be bumped

If a flight's completely full, check-in staff will look for people to be "bumped off" onto the next one and offer incentives can make it worthwhile.

Got a problem, eg seat table broken? Let them know, you may be moved

If there's a genuine problem with your seat/seatbelt/seating companion, then get up and discreetly speak to the nearest steward about it. If there's no spare space in your current area, they may move you up a class.

If you've an impressive title, use it

Use your titles

If you're a doctor, professor, judge, councillor, or - especially - a VIP, anecdotal evidence says you've a stronger chance of getting an upgrade.

Be first or last to check-in to boost your chances

It might be contradictory, but being first or last to check in can boost your upgrade chances.

Move if the cabin crew ask you

If you're on the plane and the cabin crew ask you to move, there's a good chance you'll get rewarded for being nice.

Flying solo makes an upgrade more likely

Lone travellers are much more likely to be upgraded than any others as they can be put anywhere without fuss.

Pick the right flight to max your chances

Conventional wisdom says your best chances at being upgraded are if the economy section's packed. But it is also true that quieter flights have more room for upgrades.

Use cash to bag an upgrade at the airport

Upgrade in cash

Depending on availability, it may be possible to get a massive discount on the airline's standard cash upgrade price at the ticket desk on the day of departure.

It can be as low as £200 to go from economy to business on a long-haul flight but could cost more than £2,000 more to have bought the more expensive fare in the original booking. This all depends on availability. If airlines have loads of spare room, they're more likely to offer a better price.

If it’s the airport lounge that you want, you can pay for it without upgrading

The biggest benefit of business class flights for many short-haul flights is access to the airport lounges. But you don't have to fork out for an expensive ticket to get access.

Must buy premium economy, business or first? At least get it cheaply

The only way to completely guarantee a business class seat is to buy a business class ticket. But the same flight will be on sale through different places for different prices.

As an example, for one transatlantic business return the airline charged £3,800, but a flight-finding website had the same seat on sale for under £2,000. Use the comparison services listed in the Cheap Flights guide and just select the class you want.

Check which airlines offer the best seats

Different airlines use different planes, often with different seating layouts. This can have a big impact on how much legroom you get and makes a big difference when you're six hours into a 10 hour flight.

Select seats with more legroom, or use charm to get them free

If you can't get an upgrade, do the next best thing and bag the best possible seats in your cabin.