Unlocking the Secret: How to Get Upgrades on Flights

Many travelers hope to score upgrades on flights. They provide them the opportunity to experience the luxurious comforts of business or first class at no additional cost. Among other benefits, these upgrades provide you access to premium lounges, cushier seats, and enhanced dining experiences. Yet, it can be challenging to receive a free upgrade on flights. Airlines tend to have pretty strict guidelines for distributing these premium seats.

Although receiving a free upgrade is uncommon, there are some strategies that can improve your odds. We’ll take a look at some of these techniques to see if we can help you discover how to get upgrades on flights for your unique itinerary. You just might be able to improve your chances of being upgraded on your next flight by using these suggestions.

Join the Airline’s Frequent Flier Program

If there’s a loyalty program for anything you do, hotels, casinos, coffee shops, you should join it. Getting free stuff for what you are already going to do is pretty sweet. Frequent flyer programs are an excellent way to earn rewards and get special perks from airlines. By joining a frequent flyer program, you accumulate points or miles every time you fly. You use these points to redeem for free flights and upgrades.

One of the most significant benefits of frequent flyer programs is achieving elite status. You earn elite status by accumulating a certain number of miles or segments inside a year. Once you achieve elite status, you can enjoy a range of benefits. Priority boarding, free checked bags, lounge access, and of course, free upgrades.

When you hav elite status, you’re more likely to get an upgrade on flights. Airlines prioritize their most loyal customers, and elite members often get first dibs on available upgrades. In some cases, elite members may even be upgraded automatically based on their status and availability. For example, if you’ve reached Platinum Medallion status on Delta, you’ll get an automatic upgrade to their Comfort Plus cabin within hours of booking on every single flight.

Maintaining your elite status is key to getting upgrades. That’s why you’ll see some travel hackers doing mileage runs to get to the next status level. This means flying frequently on the same airline and achieving the required miles or segments each year. By doing so, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of your elite status, including free upgrades.

So, which airline to choose? Look at your closest airport. Is it a hub for any airlines? If so, the choice is easy! If your airport is not a hub, is the airport that you fly to most frequently a hub? Choose that airline. If neither of these are the case, choose the airline with the most convenient routes for you.

A few simple tips can help you get upgrades on flights
Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

Use Credit Cards to Earn Rewards

When it comes to how to get upgrades on flights, airline credit cards might be your most valuable ally. In addition to frequent flyer programs, many credit cards offer airline rewards or elite status as a perk. By using these credit cards for everyday purchases, you can earn points or miles that can be redeemed for flights, upgrades, or other travel benefits.

Some credit cards offer sign-up bonuses, which can be a quick way to earn a significant number of points or miles. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers up to 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. The Chase points tend to be, point-for-point, the most valuable of all credit card points, so while there is an annual fee, you will easily make that back in rewards. While not co-branded with a specific airline, these points are transferable to airline partners, including United, Southwest, and British Airways, among others.

Other credit cards offer elite status as a benefit. For example, the American Express Platinum card offers complimentary Gold Elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. Gold Elite status can provide benefits such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and complimentary breakfast. While the annual fee is steep, the perks can’t be beat for those travelers who enjoy lounges and elite statuses. I, personally, have averaged about $1,500 worth of benefit from the Amex Platinum alone, and that’s not counting the cost of food and beverage that I’ve enjoyed in the lounges.

Another way to earn airline rewards with credit cards is by using co-branded airline credit cards. These cards are typically offered in partnership with specific airlines, such as the Delta SkyMiles card or the United Explorer card. By using these cards, you can earn miles on every purchase and enjoy benefits such as priority boarding and free checked bags. The Delta Skymiles card, in fact, can help you earn elite status with it’s miles boost and it’s one of the last cards that offers a complimentary companion ticket every year. Essentially, if you travel with another person on a flight that costs more than $250, the card pays for itself!

Before applying for a credit card, be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully. Some cards may have high annual fees or require a minimum spend to earn rewards. With the right credit card, and diligence in maximizing your benefits, however, you can earn rewards and elite status that can help you get free airline upgrades on your next flight.

Book During Less Busy Times

Booking during less popular times is one of the simplest methods to improve your chances of receiving upgrades on flights. When you book on weekdays and off-peak seasons, airlines are more likely to have empty premium seats. This makes it simpler to get upgraded, as you’re not up against as many elite status holders and business travelers. Because they aim to fill as many seats as they can, airlines may be more ready to upgrade a passenger if there are open premium seats.

Research is essential because different airlines have different busy times. For example, booking a ticket on a Saturday may boost your chances of receiving a free upgrade on flights. Business travel usually to occurs on weekdays, and pleasure travel tends to happen on Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. Similar to this, if you’re traveling by air to a beach resort, consider booking during the off-season, when fewer people are traveling, you could find it simpler to secure an upgrade.

These are some instances of when certain airlines and locations are less busy:

  • United Airlines: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are often less busy days for United Airlines.
  • Delta Airlines: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the least crowded days for travel.
  • Destinations in the Caribbean: As December through April are often the busiest months, May through November are good times to book for possible upgrades.
  • Destinations in Europe: As the summer months are typically the busiest, booking a flight from September to May may boost your chances of receiving an upgrade.
Asking at the airport to get upgrades on flights
Photo by Phil Mosley on Unsplash

Dress the Part, and Be Kind

Believe it or not, when it comes to receiving a complimentary upgrade on flights, dressing nicely and being kind to gate agents and flight attendants can sometimes make all the difference. Although it’s not a certainty, showing a little respect for the airline’s employees may increase their likelihood of giving you an upgrade. They take a lot of flack from entitled and delayed customers, so a little kindness can go a long way.

When I say dress the part, I don’t mean that you have to put on a suit and tie to seem presentable. Yet, you should strive to appear put together and presentable. Avoid sporting anything too casual or tattered clothing. Instead, choose casual wear that is a little bit dressier. When in doubt, use my favorite hack – throw a great blazer over your outfit to immediately dress it up. Even those comfy joggers are elevated with minimal effort with a good blazer.

Just Ask

Sometimes all you need to do is ask to get an upgrade on flights. It is rare, and certainly not a guarantee, the airline might upgrade you if there are open premium seats available if you ask nicely.

When you check in or arrive at the gate is one of the ideal times to ask for an upgrade. Around this time, the gate agents usually distribute seats and might be more aware of the available seats. Don’t hesitate to offer a valid cause for your desire for an upgrade. If you have a health issue or a special event, like you’re traveling to your wedding. The gate agent might just delight you with a bump.

Here are some pointers on when to ask for an upgrade and how to do it:

  • Be courteous: When asking for an upgrade, be kind and considerate at all times. Even if they are unable to accommodate your request, be polite and thank the gate agent for their time.
  • Discuss any loyalty: When asking for an upgrade, let the airline know if you are a frequent flyer or a part of their loyalty program. The gate agent might be more inclined to upgrade you as a result.
  • Have a good reason: If you have a medical condition or special occasion, such as a honeymoon or anniversary, mention it when requesting an upgrade.

It never hurts to ask whether you can purchase an upgrade if the airline is unable to upgrade you for free. If there are a lot of premium seats still available at the time of your flight, airlines occasionally provide inexpensive upgrades to customers who request them. You may also be able to use miles to secure an upgrade as well.

Although asking nicely doesn’t always ensure you’ll get an upgrade, it never hurts to try.

In Conclusion…

Joining a frequent flyer program and using credit cards to earn rewards can help you achieve elite status, which can help you get upgrades on flights. Booking during less busy times is also a good strategy, as airlines may have more empty premium seats available. Additionally, dressing well and being polite to gate agents and flight attendants can make a difference in how they view you as a passenger. Finally, don’t be afraid to request an upgrade politely at check-in or the gate.

It’s important to remember that getting a free upgrade is never guaranteed, but trying out some of these tips can definitely increase your chances. Don’t forget to enjoy your travel experience regardless of whether or not you’re upgraded. Happy travels!

2 thoughts on “Unlocking the Secret: How to Get Upgrades on Flights

  1. These are all great suggestions and I have been successful a few times requesting premium upgrade – never have been able to get business however.

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