How to score an upgrade while travelling

By Samantha Fanelli

Dreaming of an upgrade on your next flight? Try out these tips…

Being lucky enough to land a free flight upgrade seems like something that only happens in the movies, but believe it or not, it is entirely possible with a few tips and tricks. Of course, it all depends on the airline, the day and how gracious the flight crew is feeling at that moment. But it’s always worth a shot, because after all, who would say no to an upgrade to first class?

Check out these pro tips for earning your next flight upgrade and start your next adventure by searching for flights on KAYAK. Not sure where to fly? Use KAYAK Explore to discover all the places you can go on your budget, and then use our tips to try for an upgrade.

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Buy the slightly more expensive ticket 

There’s nothing wrong with booking an economy ticket, but keep in mind that if you do so, you’re less likely to be upgraded compared to someone who purchased a premium economy ticket for example. Airlines know that economy tickets are the cheapest, and they are much more likely to upgrade someone who invested a little bit extra on their ticket. It’s easier to go from premium economy to business class than from economy to business class, if you catch our drift. If your curious about the different cabin fares, check out our guide to economy, business and first class seats.

Put those frequent flyer miles to good use

Trade in that view to an upgraded seat

If you’re a frequent traveller, chances are you’re already a member of one (or several) loyalty programmes, allowing you to collect and use travel points or miles. Once you’ve collected a certain amount of points, you can trade them in for a ticket in your preferred seat class, or use them to upgrade an already-purchased ticket to another cabin class.

To make the most of your loyalty programmes and to collect the most points, you should aim to fly with the same airline or group of affiliated airlines, that way you’re not collecting points at random across several different programmes (which you might forget about or, sadly, never earn enough points to be able to use for an upgrade).

Buy an upgraded seat

Speaking of loyalty programmes, if you don’t have enough points for an upgrade (don’t worry, you’ll get there!), many airlines offer the option to purchase additional points, which can then be used to upgrade your seat. Say you have an economy ticket booked but really cannot bear the thought of another flight without the comfort of additional legroom, you can simply buy the additional points needed to take you from economy to economy premium, or whatever cabin you prefer.

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Get to the airport early

The early bird gets the worm

Prone to procrastination? You might want to rethink your habits. Rather than wait until the last minute, head to the airport well in advance for a higher chance of being upgraded. Airlines will often have an upgrade “waitlist”, based on the times that people check in. The earlier you’re checked in, the higher your name will be on the list. If you can check in online, even better. If the odds are in your favour and the airline staff know that the flight will be almost completely full, they might bump up someone who was quick to check-in, in order to make sure there’s room in economy for more travellers.

Volunteer to give up your seat

Not only is volunteering good karma, but it just might also get you that upgrade you’re secretly craving. Sometimes, if a flight is overbooked, airline crew will ask for volunteers who are willing to be moved to another flight. If you’re flexible with your travel and don’t have to be at your arrival destination by a certain time of the day, let the staff know that you would like to volunteer your seat. Although it’s not guaranteed, the staff might offer to bump you up a class as a thank you for being so flexible and helpful. You never know!

And last but not least… just be nice

To everyone, but especially to the airline staff and crew. You would be surprised how far a simple smile and a “hello, how are you?” will go. If for some reason there are any spaces available in business class, who do you think will get the upgrade – the grumpy passenger complaining about how long boarding is taking, or the one who is polite, friendly and saying thank you to the airline crew? Remember, kindness is key.

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