How to Score an Upgrade on Your Next Flight Without the Sticker Shock

Apr 05, 2017Reading Time: 5 min

The simple sentence, “You’ve been upgraded,” is always music to the ears of a traveler. Flying in economy class is no picnic these days with nonexistent leg room, passengers kicking your seat for 5 hours and the dreaded arm rest hog. Most passengers walk past first and business class on their way to coach with longing eyes. However, you don’t have to have a large budget to score an upgrade from economy. We have rounded up some simple ways to get bumped up to business on your next flight without the sticker shock.


  1. Monitor Airline Emails Leading Up To Your Flight

You’ve booked a ticket with a seat in economy. Now you must wait for the promotional emails to roll in, offering discounts on upgrades to first and business class. Airlines often send out these discounted deals the closer it gets to your flight. You might be able to snag a great deal on an upgrade for a very reasonable price.

  1. Fly Frequently and Be Loyal to an Airline

If you want to play the upgrade game, you have to walk the walk. Travelers who fly a lot and remain loyal to one airline are often first on the upgrade list. Earning elite status can always help get you an upgrade. Travelers with status are more likely to be bumped. You also don’t always have to fly all the time to receive an upgrade. Frequent flier credit cards can also help you rack up miles and elite status for the hope of an upgrade.

  1. Use Miles

Most travelers don’t have the cash on hand to buy an upgraded ticket in first or business class. However, you might be sitting on cash in another form to score an upgrade. If you have a bunch of miles sitting around, you can often use these miles to your benefit for an upgrade. You should always check to see if you could give up some miles to be bumped to first class.

  1. Gamble By Not Selecting a Seat When You Book

When you book a ticket on what appears to be a nearly full flight, resist selecting a seat. If you are a bit of a gambler, this move can either pay off or land you in the back of the plane in a middle seat. If coach is overbooked, you can sometimes get bumped up to first and business class seats that are available. The airline has to put you somewhere.

  1. Avoid Flying When Business Travelers Do

Business travelers often scoop up all of the business and first class seats when they fly. In order to increase your chances of an upgrade, don’t fly when they do. Instead of flying on the first flight of the day on Monday, fly mid-week in the middle of the day. There will be less business travel competition for scoring an upgrade.

  1. Be Flexible

If your flight is oversold and the airline needs volunteers to catch a later flight, you can usually score an upgrade by volunteering to take a later flight. By being flexible, you stand a better chance of receiving an upgrade as you are doing the airline a favor. Even before the gate agent gets on the intercom to make this request, let the check-in agent know that you are comfortable taking a later flight if your original flight happens to be oversold.

  1. Let It Slip About Special Occasions and Circumstances

While flat out asking for an upgrade isn’t always the best strategy, letting it slip that it’s your honeymoon, anniversary, birthday or that you missed your connecting flight due to airline error can increase your chances of an upgrade. Make sure the check-in agents and gate agents know your circumstance. While it might not produce an upgrade, it never hurts to mention these factors to see if there is a better seat on the plane that they can bump you.

  1. Dress The Part

While you want to be comfortable when you travel, dressing like a slob will not work in your favor with an upgrade. An airline doesn’t want to put someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed with other passengers who paid a premium to sit in first or business class. Dressing a little neater never hurts when you are seeking an upgrade.

  1. Be Kind

All too often, passengers rush through the airport, treating gate agents and check-in agents like they are machines. Smile, talk to airline employees and simply be kind to those you encounter. A hot head who is screaming at airline employees never gets an upgrade. Take the time to be kind for you never know where that will lead in the upgrade department.

Gone are the days of glamorous air travel if you can only afford an economy ticket. However, with a little ingenuity, you can land yourself more legroom, better food and a more comfortable flight by imploring these upgrade techniques.