Top 10 Ways to Score a Free Flight Upgrade

Today I am very pleased to share with everyone a fantastic guest post by Amy Chan, Director of Marketing for Kiwi Collection, the world’s largest luxury hotel reviewer. She and her team travel extensively, flying hundreds of thousands of miles every year. She was good enough to use her insight and experience to provide great insider tips on how to get upgraded on your next flight.

Gone are the days where a smart suit, puppy-dog eyes and a nice smile during check-in could send you to business class, sipping champagne. Yes, free flight upgrades are rare and sometimes just a matter of pure luck, but here are some tips to help you increase your odds.

1. Airline Loyalty Programs – Join ‘em
Keep your eye on the prize: elite status. Airlines will give priority for upgrades to top-tier members. Pick an airline and stick to it. If you are a regular customer you are more likely to get those three coveted letters: SFU (Suitable For Upgrade) next to your name on the passenger list. Also, there are often rewards for accumulating miles quickly (usually over one calendar year) and different “perks” are awarded each time you hit a certain mileage tier.

2. Choose Your Carrier Carefully
Points systems are not all born equal. For example, if booking on Qantas, you can buy an upgradeable economy ticket and request an upgrade to premium economy or business. British Airways, on the other hand, makes it nearly impossible for those who fly economy on short-haul flights to ever earn enough points to make it to the next level.

3. Travel Alone
This might not be possible, however, keep in mind that if you are traveling as part of a small group, an airline may not be able to upgrade everyone, and thus, will upgrade no one at all.

4. Check in late
The economy seats will likely have been filled, meaning you may get booked directly to business class. This is a very risky strategy however, as you chance not being able to get a good seat in economy, or getting split up from your travel partner.

5. Be Plane Picky
Pick a flight that will be using an airplane with a large first class cabin. You can find out this information from the airline web site or Seat Guru.

6. Volunteer to Give Up Your Seat
Have time to spare? Every so often an airline will oversell the flight and will need volunteers to give up their seat. If you don’t mind the delay, you can score a flight voucher and/or a free upgrade certificate.

7. Pay Full Fare
If you purchased a full fare ticket and travel on an oversold flight, then you also have more potential for a courtesy upgrade.

8.  Wear Business Attire
This won’t be the reason why you get an upgrade, but not being dressed suitably could be the reason why you don’t. Flying like you just rolled out of bed is just a bad call altogether.

9. Charm Your Way
Once upon a time, being nice could result in someone at the check-in counter upgrading your seat, nowadays, stories like that seem more like an urban myth. It may be rare, but it’s worked for me. When experiencing an airline issue, if you ask to speak to management and you articulate yourself in a professional, calm yet confident manner, you may get a free upgrade (if not  on that flight, perhaps  on another) or other perks like free lounge access.

10. Marry a Flight Attendant
Practicality aside, if all else fails, this is a surefire way of increasing your upgrade odds. Knowing someone working for the airline definitely helps. Even if you can’t get an upgrade for free, as family, you can purchase discounted business class tickets.

By: Amy Chan

Amy Chan is the Director of Marketing for Kiwi Collection, the world’s largest luxury hotel reviewer. In her spare time, when she's not making mix tapes or up to general do-gooding, she's an avid blogger (with the moniker AmyFabulous), food enthusiast and ‘social-media-lite’ with a column in various print and online publications including The Huffington Post. To see more of her articles, visit Amy Fabulous.

4 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Score a Free Flight Upgrade”

  1. I’ve only been upgraded once but oh it was so amazing. I did check in late and was alone although I had been traveling for 20 hours so looked like crap, maybe they felt sorry for me.

  2. number 10? haha i dont know if this works really! but i’ve seen someone got upgraded because he know the person in-charged on that flight. even a captain can upgrade you easily. getting upgraded for free is awesome for sure, but with massive promotion lately, i can see business class rate getting more affordable

  3. I just went to Mexico a few weeks ago and my boyfriend and I were paged to the desk during boarding. We had been upgraded! So I guess another way is by dumb luck?

    Also, I know someone who is active military that has received upgrades for that. Obviously, DO NOT LIE about this, but if you are active duty – go for it!

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