Want An Upgrade To First Class? Why Not Try To Get It?

When heading out on a trip, whether for business or pleasure, and we board that airplane, we often look at those heading to first class and wish we were sitting there. Somehow, someway, we wish we could upgrade from our “lower class” seats to the elusive first class section. And, we all know that upgrades rarely happen, but there are ways to finagle one – maybe.

Jaime Fraser, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman sets out the reality of the situation: “There is no way to sweet talk or dress yourself up into an upgrade. If our airport staff are looking to upgrade passengers on the day of departure, there is a process that they follow which generally sees passengers that are frequent fliers of the airline – or those that have paid for a fully flexible ticket – benefiting.”

OK, so what chance do we have of upgrading? Although unlikely, here is a list of some of your best chances to obtain that long, sought-after (free) upgrade to first class.

Fly. A lot.

The single most common way to earn a free upgrade is if you are a frequent flyer. Interestingly, many airlines reserve a few spaces for those fliers who travel at least 25,000 miles per year; and the best perks go to those who rack up 100,000 + miles annually.  But now, as the economy slowly improves for some, airlines are selling out their upper class seats. That means many high rollers are competing for one or two seats. In this instance, “normal” riders don’t stand much of a chance for a free upgrade. But, on routes with less business flyers and more tourist flyers, there is a greater chance to score an upgrade.

Use those miles.

If you don’t log tens of thousands of flying miles a year, but still have a number of miles banked, try to leverage them for an upgrade. But there may be a catch: many airlines ask for not only miles but cash to be upgraded. Something to be aware of.  

Try lady luck.

Sometimes airlines overbook the coach section and in order to get the flight moving, a few lucky passengers get the bump to first class. Airline staff try to make sure the elite flyers get first dibs, but in a busy situation, some lucky, run-of-the-mill passengers get the nod.  Flying blogger Gary Leff notes that, “Agents usually have some flexibility to make sure the plane gets out full and on time. So if it’s the easiest way for them to do it, they might upgrade someone else out of order.”

Have a bad day.

Most airline staff have heard every sob story in the book. But, if your bad day is due to the airline’s fault, it may be more likely to give you a free upgrade in order to do some damage control.
Pay for it.

Although it’s not a free upgrade, you can always try buying one. Writer Zach Honig points out that, “The easiest way to move up to business or first class is to simply book a business or first-class seat in the first place.” Well, that’s no fun, but if you really want that upgrade, pay for it.

Give it a shot and ask for it.

If you are flying for a special occasion such as your honeymoon or anniversary, don’t be afraid to tell the airline staff and beg for an upgrade. The worst that can happen is they say no.


Good luck!