Travel Tips: How to Get an Upgrade…

20th May 2014
Pól Ó Conghaile

Successful blagging comes down to status, timing and charm… in that order.

Sadly, there’s no silver bullet or foolproof formula (if there was, I would be sipping champagne in business class, and not writing tips about blagging upgrades).

The only guaranteed way to get an upgrade is to pay for one… in cash or points.

1) Pay Your Way

Upgrades don’t have to cost the earth. Aer Lingus passengers may have noticed ‘Upgrade Yourself’ emails pinging in advance of long-haul flights, for example. These invite passengers to bid on an upgrade (on a sliding scale of €350 to €950, based on a flight I’m about to take to Chicago), with top bidders awarded any available seats. If you fly when flights are less busy, or business class regulars are unlikely to be on board (bank holiday weekends, for example), you may get better rates.

2) Choose Your Day

Upgrades generally happen when economy class is over-booked (as opposed to business class seats being empty). Therefore, it pays to choose routes and days that are likely to be busy in economy but not in business. Bank holidays to beach resorts, maybe. Monday morning to New York, not so much.

Sunday is a good night for hotel upgrades – with fewer leisure guests and business travellers yet to check-in. Dress well and make your request politely and enthusiastically at reception…

3) Join a Loyalty Programme

Airlines handle upgrades differently (some are automatically allocated), but as a rule of thumb it pays to a) join a loyalty programme and b) accumulate as many air miles as possible. The more points you have, the more desirable your status, but even passengers with low points are prioritised over non-members…

4) Fly Solo

It’s more likely for one business class seat to become available than two. If it falls to crew to invite an economy passenger to fill it, they are naturally more likely to seek out a solo traveller.

5) Dress Smart

Dressing like you mean it certainly helps, but it isn’t a deciding factor. A modern-day business class cabin is as likely to contain passengers in shorts and sandals as silver foxes in sharp suits. Bear in mind too, that if your request fails, it’s no fun flying economy in a three-piece suit…

6) Arrive Early

If there are only one or two seats available for upgrade, early bird requests may be an advantage. Be prepared to kill several hours in Costa if it doesn’t work out, however.

7) Ask Nice

There’s no harm in asking for an upgrade, but make sure your request is politely made at check-in or reception (rather than the gate, or your hotel room). Airport staff deal with a lot of frustrated and demanding passengers, so a pleasant approach is much more likely to win favours.

The same goes in any hotel. Forget name-dropping or nasty threats.

It’s worth having a good reason for your upgrade too. Are you very tall, pregnant, or celebrating a special event, for example? Speaking of which…

8) Mention a Honeymoon or Anniversary

This never hurts. Staff know honeymooning couples have large budgets, so they’re more likely to go out of their way to win their business and make them happy. There’s a human factor too – who doesn’t want to see their guests enjoy a happy birthday or anniversary?

9) Befriend an Airline Employee

“Either work for an airline or make friends with someone who does,” says Michele Erdvig of “Airline employees can many times go free in first. They also get passes that they can give to their family and friends who can also get first or business. These passes are on a stand-by basis only. But if first or business is available the pass riders can get it.”

PS. Left it late to book? Check your hotel’s cancellation policy. If it’s 24 hours, then call 24 hours before your stay… you may get a room, or an upgrade.

Keywords: How to get an upgrade