Last year Travel & Leisure posted the most ridiculous article I’ve seen in a long time on Instagram. Their caption read, “Sometimes getting an upgrade isn’t about the right timing or knowing the right people. Sometimes, it’s all about having the right outfit. Find out what to wear to increase your chances of an upgrade, according to flight attendants, at the link in bio.” FYI: The post is getting slammed so badly in the comments that I won’t be surprised if they delete it, so I have a screenshot below.
Here’s what one of the hundreds of commenters had to say:
@alyssabsnapp: I’m a flight attendant and this article could not be more wrong or outdated. Delete
Listen, T+L is trying to make some affiliate money by selling clothing but giving readers false information to do so is just wrong. You’re just not going to get upgraded based on your outfit.
It’s true that you can get downgraded (aka removed from a flight) for what you wear or don’t wear. Usually, customers get booted for not wearing enough clothes, or wearing something that has profanity or is encouraging harm. You can also get kicked off a flight for being too smelly so don’t forget to shower, wear deodorant and clean underwear.
To T+L’s credit, in the old days, by which I sadly mean before the year 2000, you could potentially get upgraded for dressing well, being nice or flashing a travel agent card. But with the implementation of computer systems, airline executives are able to track and hold all employees accountable for everything. So agents have much less flexibility to upgrade passengers randomly. In fact, most upgrades are determined by an algorithm that assigns upgrades with no one ever laying eyes on the passenger … or what they’re wearing.
Now, if you want to make a left turn when you step aboard a plane, here are my tips for flying first class:
1. Sometimes First-Class Tickets are Cheaper than Economy
Obviously. But what many consumers don’t realize is that sometimes buying a first class or business class ticket can be cheaper than a coach ticket. Always double check the prices (cash and mileage tickets) and don’t forget to look at Premium Economy as well. See screenshot above.
Even if it’s not cheaper, sometimes airlines charge just a little bit more so it might be worth it to spend the extra money, especially if you factor in the cost of checking bags, buying food/drink and assigning yourself a decent seat if you have an economy class ticket.
2. Become a Frequent Flier
The easiest way to get upgraded for free is to become an elite frequent flier with one particular airline. Many airlines give their elite fliers free upgrades (see screenshot of email from AA above) or access to affordable ones. These days, there are so many frequent fliers you really need to have more than entry way status.
3. Use Miles and Points
If you don’t fly a lot, you can still earn tons of miles by applying for certain credit cards and using them for first class tickets. Some offer sign-up bonuses of up to 100,000 bonus miles, which is good enough for a lie-flat seat on many airlines. The key is to make sure you pay off your credit card bills each month. If you can’t do that, then don’t get a travel rewards credit card. RELATED: Here’s how to fly first class for cheap between Los Angeles in New York.
4. Buy an Upgrade
Sometimes airlines will sell heavily discounted upgrades so always look when booking or checking in online. It doesn’t hurt to ask a reservations agent, check-in agent or gate agent. Normally a seat in first class for a transatlantic flight will be a few thousand dollars, but if you are flying at an off-peak time, they might sell an upgrade for as little as a hundred dollars.
5. Travel During Off-Peak Times
The key to getting upgraded is to fly when the frequent flier business travelers aren’t. You can forget about getting upgraded during peak business hours during the week since they usually have those seats reserved. But I always have good luck flying on Saturdays, when most business travelers are home with their families.
6. Travel Alone
My wife loves this tip 😂. But with first class being so full most days, your best chance of getting upgraded is by traveling alone or just trying to get one seat up front. Good luck getting your whole family or even your travel companion a seat with you.
7. Get Bumped
If you know the flight is going to be full and you’re not in a hurry to get to your destination, then ask the gate agent if they are looking for volunteers to be bumped. Airlines sometimes oversell seats betting that there will be no-shows, and so when everyone shows up and there aren’t enough seats, they offer compensation to those who are flexible and willing to get a different flight.
Be sure to only take cash vouchers and not free tickets since the latter are heavily restricted and you won’t earn miles for using them. I will usually give up my seat for $500 but I always make sure I have a guaranteed seat on the next flight, which is hopefully within a couple of hours. If they don’t have a lot of volunteers, then it’s a good time to ask them to sweeten the deal—like to also throw in first class on the next flight. Delta did just that the last time I got bumped (here’s that story).
8. Book With a Travel Agent
Good travel agents, or advisors, as they like to be called, (especially in the Virtuoso consortium), are routinely allotted a certain number of upgrades. This will not come free but if you book frequently via an agent, they may be able get you up front for much cheaper than on your own.
9. Date a Flight Attendant or Pilot
My wife loves this tip and photo, too 😂😂. However, one of the best ways to fly first class for cheap is to date a flight attendant, pilot or airline executive. There used to be an old saying in the flight crew world: “Marry me, fly for free!” You will have to fly standby and won’t board until the last minute but if you plan it right, you can be traveling the world in style. FYI: The photo above was taken in 2003 by my brother. That’s me and my old girlfriend (Amber Airplane) a former United flight attendant. That morning, we checked flight loads to fly Los Angeles to Sydney and first class was wide open. We flew in $14,500 seats for about $120 (taxes).
10. Be Nice
My number one travel tip is that passengers should always be genuinely nice to everyone they come across—from the reservation agents to the flight attendants and everyone in between. You will be surprised how far a big smile and just being genuinely friendly will go.
I almost always bring three bags of chocolates when I fly—one for the gate agents, one for the flight attendants and one for me. I never ask for an upgrade, I do it because I know how difficult passengers can be and most passengers treat them like crap. You probably won’t get upgraded but I bet they will give you first class service.
So there you have it. These are my 10 tricks and tips for getting upgraded to first or business class. And if you have no shot at getting upgraded on your flight, then here are my tips for getting the best coach seat on an airplane and how to make your coach seat feel like first class.
Did I miss anything? What’s your best tip or trick for getting upgraded?
Related: Do you have Econophobia?
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.