Loyalty programs and co-branded cards are the most straightforward ways to get elite status and free upgrades — but they’re not the only ones. Free upgrades happen every day at airports around the world. Here’s how to put yourself in a position to get one, no rewards required.
Fly When It’s Not Busy
Flying during bank holidays, off-peak days and hours when business men (some of the most frequent travelers) aren’t filling up planes, and you can increase the chance that there will be an empty seat in first or business class. Once the odds of an available seat are in your favor, asking politely for a bump can tip the scales a little further.
Bring A Gift to the Gate
A sweet treat or gift can put the crew in a mood to treat you very nicely. One frequent flier swears by giving a box of chocolates to the gate agents and the crew, especially on long flights.
The key is to keep the gift small and pre-packaged (especially if edible), give it freely with a “thanks for your service” and continue on your journey. You might end up with extra snacks — or a free upgrade to business select. But don’t expect anything in return. Explicitly asking for a quid pro quo could have the opposite effect.
Get There Early
When spare business and first class seats are rare, the early bird often gets the worm. Be the first to check in at the gate, and you may be in time to get bumped up if you ask. But it’s a gamble. Miss out and you’ll have a lot of downtime by the gate with no upgrade at the end of your wait.
Get To Know Your Gate Agent
If you fly frequently, a little small talk with your gate agents can go a long way. More than anyone, they hold the keys to seating arrangements. If they know you by name, or you inquire after another attendant that you know, there’s a better chance that they’ll pick a familiar face for an upgrade when there’s one to be had. Plus, in a job where agents can take a lot of angry passenger abuse, it’s nice to be a smiling face in the middle of a long day.
If you know a flight is going to be full, volunteer to get bumped to the next flight in exchange for an upgrade to business or first class. Or, simply take the voucher that they offer and put it toward an upgrade on your next flight.
Mention That It’s A Special Occasion
Whether it’s your birthday, anniversary or honeymoon, make sure to drop it into every conversation you have with the desk clerk, gate attendant and flight attendants. You might be surprised at the room upgrades, class bumps and other unofficial perks and upgrades airlines give to guests to help make special days more special.
Stick With One Airline
While kindness and luck go a long way, joining an airlines membership program is the best way to get complimentary upgrades, or earn miles that can be used to get a class bump. Or, sign up for a card co-branded with an airline and you could get a big point bonus for signing up like The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature (30,000 bonus points). Even travel rewards cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred (50,000 bonus points for signing up) can be used with your favorite airline to earn miles and rewards points every time you travel.
Do you have any insider tips for getting more upgrades than most?
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