How to get bumped to the better seats

Finding cheap airline tickets is simple on, but getting an upgrade to business or first class is never a sure thing. In general, airlines give passengers upgrades based on seat availability, type of fare paid and frequent flier status. Here’s our advice for getting a free or affordable upgrade on your next flight.

Quick tips to improve your chances of landing an upgrade

  • Check your attitude. Always ask; never demand. Be respectful and tactful. Rather than declaring “I need an upgrade!” try: “Am I eligible for an upgrade today?” Airlines don’t have to upgrade anyone for free; being rude automatically eliminates you from consideration.
  • Don’t rely on charm. The way you speak to an airline agent is always important, but the days of smooth talking your way to an upgrade are over.
  • Use your frequent-flier program membership. Being an elite or top-tier member in the airline’s frequent travel program will improve your chances. But understand that there may be other elite-level fliers or more longstanding members who are also vying for upgrades.
  • Board late. Agents scan the boarding pass last-minute for passengers to upgrade.
  • Dress well. A sloppy appearance will hurt your chances; wearing professional attire, such as a suit, can up the odds in your favor.
  • Use common sense. If the agent is super busy or having a bad day, don’t bother.

Arrive early and request an upgrade at check-in

  • Book flights that leave early in the day and get to the check-in counter before the crowds arrive. There are often fewer fliers competing for available upgrades and agents often feel less pressured and more receptive to requests.
  • Airlines generally sell out economy-class seats first, but seats are often empty in the up-front cabins. When the economy section is overbooked, passengers are moved up front. So check-in early (but not more than about three hours in advance) or you could miss a chance to be upgraded.

Redeem frequent flier miles for an upgrade

  • Frequent flier program status won’t always guarantee a free upgrade. So if you’ve got miles to spare, use them to “buy” an upgrade. Redeeming those miles for an upgrade, especially on long, international flights, can be an easy route to a great air travel deal.
  • You can review upgrade opportunities by airline frequent flier program at Web Flyer’s Award / Upgrade Index page.

Consider the type of fare you’re buying

If you have to fly at the last-minute and must pay full-fare anyhow, ask for a Y-UP fare. These are not always available, but are considered non-restricted fares and put you on the shortlist for an upgrade if one becomes available.

Leverage your position (but don’t abuse it)

Your profession, your employer or your position within a company may enhance your odds of being upgraded. Ministers, employees of some non-profit firms and members of humanitarian organizations, for example, are often given special consideration. Employees of large companies that have negotiated corporate fares with a carrier and the top execs of major or well-known companies are also candidates for upgrading.

Ask the agent to add an “OSI” (other significant information) message to your PNR (passenger record). The OSI might indicate that you are a missionary performing humanitarian work or the head of a Fortune 500 company, which may net you an upgrade. The key here is to not expect or demand an upgrade simply because of your position.

Pay a little, get a lot

Pay for an upgrade? Absolutely. The days of free upgrades may be numbered. Modern airline systems allow airlines to fill seats more efficiently, which reduces the number of last-minute upgrade opportunities. Sometimes, the simplest way to get an upgrade is to pay for it.

Check for available upgrades when booking or at check-in. You might be surprised at how little you’ll have to pay to fly up-front.

Take advantage of business- and first-class discounts

If you can’t trade in miles or aren’t able to buy an upgrade, consider discount business- or first-class fares. Airlines offer significant discounts and promotional fares on some routes, so don’t overlook this option. makes it even easier by flagging these fares separately.

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(featured image: Richard Moross)

About the author

Melisse HinkleA New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has traveled throughout North America, biked through rice paddies in Bali, seen the Northern Lights in Iceland, walked alongside llamas in Machu Picchu and made her way around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Head of Content and Social Media for North America at Cheapflights.

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