How to nab the elusive free airline seat upgrade

Free seat upgrades aren’t a myth. They really do happen. Admittedly – thanks to full flights, the airline industry’s adoption of a surcharge culture and advanced seat booking systems – they’re a lot less frequent nowadays. But they still happen – even for fliers who haven’t done anything to ‘deserve’ them!

Snagging one takes luck of course, but you can improve your chances using these simple tactics.


Be a loyal customer
If possible, try to fly the same airline as much as possible and rack up those airmiles and loyalty scheme points. Upgrades are typically allocated to the passenger(s) on a flight with the most frequent-flier miles.

Chance your luck over the phone
Online check-in typically opens around 24-48 hours before departure time. Call your airline’s booking department just before online check-in opens. Offer your frequent flier number to the agent while inquiring if upgrades are on offer.


Dress well
If you’re going to be given the part, you’ve got to look it. While smart dress will never secure an upgrade on its own, scruffy dress will instantly rule you out.

Check-in early
It’s not only a case of being the first to ask. In the middle and latter period of check-in agents are rushed. If you want to have a chance to catch their attention, charm them even, you’ll need to show up when they’ve got time for more than mere pleasantries.

Ask nicely
Be polite but direct. Something along the lines of, “If you’re upgrading passengers on this flight, please consider me.” Oh and don’t bother asking if you’re in a party of more than two. It’s just not going to happen.

Be irresistibly charming
What more can we say…charm will get you places, including the front rows of an airplane. Many people an agent sees are demanding, obnoxious and miserable – stand out from the crowd.

Offer to get ‘bumped’
Offer to take an upgrade – you hero you! – on this flight or a later one if your class of ticket has been oversold.

Take a stand
If the airline’s caused you any notable issue, use it as leverage for an upgrade. Sad though it is, this is probably the likeliest way you’ll get an upgrade these days.

Take every…last…opportunity
Seating charts don’t fully take shape until after check-in has closed. If you’ve no shame then inquire again at the gate desk…you never know.

For further ideas see the Cheapflights Airline Upgrade Guide.

Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

(Image: Richard Moross)

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