How to get upgraded to first class for free
First class is the holy grail of air travel, and, especially on international flights, for good reason. Back in the halcyon years of air travel, it was sometimes possible to get an upgrade to first class just by asking the flight attendant nicely, or at least that's how we want to remember it. Nowadays that's no longer the case—in fact, flight attendants are strictly forbidden from moving a passenger without the permission of a supervisor on the ground or, in case of emergency, the pilot. Now there's no fool-proof way to get an upgrade—apart from paying for one—but there are still ways to increase your chances of a free upgrade.
The best way to improve your chances for a free upgrade to first class is to be an elite member of the airlineís frequent flyer program. If there are unoccupied seats in first class, elite members are the first to be offered upgrades. Some airlines require members to call ahead of time to request upgrades, and others can only upgrade you if you ask the ticket agent at the airport. The higher your status (i.e. the more miles you have), the more likely you are to get an upgrade. Even if youíre not an elite flyer, just being a member of the airlineís frequent flyer program can improve your chancesómembers in low standing are still more likely to get upgraded than non-members. And even if you donít fly very often, watch for promotions that can earn you elite status. Many such promotions arenít publicized, so itís best to call the airline to find out what promotions are currently running. Finally, your frequent flyer miles can be spent on upgrades, and doing so is often a better value than saving them up for your next big trip.
The most likely scenario for a free upgrade is on a flight where economy class is full and first class is underbooked. If economy is overbooked, the agent will prefer to bump you to the front of the plane than to a different plane. In fact, overbooked flights can work to your advantage in another way: If your travel plans are flexible and the flight is overbooked, offer to give up your seat in exchange for a better one on a later flight. Often in exchange for making the gate agentís life a little easier theyíll put you in first or business class as a reward.
If youíre willing to pay a little more for your ticket, many airlines offer free upgrades to first class on full-fare coach tickets. These donít guarantee you a spot in first class if the plane is full, but if thereís empty seats your upgrade will be free. If you happen to have been inconvenienced by the airline, your chances of getting an upgrade improve considerably. Donít raise a stink, but do tell them that you have been inconvenienced and that you wouldnít mind being upgraded for your trouble.
It may be a clich?and it may work with decreasing frequency as more and more first class travelers dress casually for travel these days, but dressing professionally can also improve your chances. A jacket and tie alone wonít get you an immediate upgrade, but youíre more likely to get placed in first class dressed like that than dressed in gym shorts and a tank top.
Like the lottery, you canít win unless you play, and you, so your best bet is to ask early and ask often. Call the airline a week or two in advance and ask about upgrades. Try again 24-48 hours before your flight, and then again when you get to the airport. Be as friendly and polite as possible and be willing to compromise. Do not act as though you are entitled to a free upgrade. Being humble and accomodating will always yield better results.
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