Top 5 Ways to Get an Upgrade


Every morning as the Going Global Editors settle into the office and have their first cup of coffee (scotch) they begin checking our social media feeds and confront this classic question, “What is the best way to get an upgrade from Economy to Business or First Class?” Their answer is always the same… earn it. Sadly there are no magic bullets or insider tricks on how to get moved from the back of the cabin to the front but don’t despair because there are few smart and easy to follow tips that will greatly improve your chances of sipping champagne on your next flight.

Bums in Seats

EQMs or Elite Qualifying Miles (or whatever your airline of choice calls it) are frequent flyer miles that are usually earned for flights on an airline’s metal or that of their alliance or codeshare partners. The goal here is to maximize the miles from an airline’s frequent flyer program in order to gain Elite Status. Elite level flyers qualify for free upgrades in addition to other perks like pre-boarding, extra baggage allowance and free seat selection. And they are often the first passengers bumped up by an airline.

Our advice is to always try to pick the airline and alliance that’s right for you and then to be as loyal possible. Many hardcore flyers like to spread their business around and try different carriers and that’s great. But if your goal is to be upgraded as often as possible, we find the best strategy is to concentrate on one airline. Not only will this increase your chances of moving up to the forward cabin but you’ll also get to know the ins and outs of that airline’s frequent flyer program. And as they say, knowledge is power.

Never Leave Home Without It

OK that’s the slogan for one particular credit card and we’re not endorsing one brand over another but we do like the benefits that some charge cards offer when it comes to flying. Carrying an airline-affiliated card can help you earn miles on sign up, bonus miles on purchases and provide other benefits like lounge access or free checked bags. Many carriers then let you use these miles to upgrade. Of course when you’ve earned enough miles you can also just book a reward ticket in J or F class. There are many strategies and many bloggers who specialize in capitalizing on credit card miles so do a little digging and then get the card that’s right for you. The miles will add up and they will definitely help you in future travels.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

One thing that leisure travelers with lots of time on their hands can consider doing is volunteering to be bumped on oversold flights. Often airlines ask for volunteers to give up their seats when a flight is sold out and in exchange they’ll pay a fee (say $200) or offer a free ticket for future travel, and in some cases provide food and hotel vouchers. We have also heard of volunteers being moved up to Business Class on their re-scheduled flight. More than once our Editors have been on planes where the person seated next to them gave up their seat on a previous flight and in exchange an appreciative airline rewarded them with a bump up to the front of the plane.

Sharp Dressed Man

We don’t know if it is an urban legend or a rumor created by Hugo Boss, but there are always stories of well dressed travelers being moved up to First Class simply because they looked the part. These days Gate Agents have little or no control over upgrades so we find this a little hard to believe but it can’t hurt to dress for success.

Mind you P’s and Q’s

Again we can’t personally confirm that passengers have been upgraded based solely upon being polite but we can’t see any reason not to try. Airline employees have tough jobs, the traveling public can be downright rude, so always smile, ask how a Check In Agent or Gate Agent is doing and always say please and thank you. And then maybe, just once, your good karma will come back in the form of an upgrade to the big seats. In a worse case scenario you’ll still be in Economy but you’ll have made others smile and that really is part of the joy of travel.

So what about you? We want to hear your stories of upgrade successes.

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