7 expert tips to score a free upgrade on your next flight


7 expert tips to score a free upgrade on your next flight
The only thing better than flying in a class higher than economy is getting the upgrade for free.

Receiving a flight upgrade seems like luck of the draw but there are ways you can increase your chances of it happening.

“Free upgrades on flights are rare, but not a myth,” says Flight Hacks founder and travel expert Immanuel Debeer.

“Not every plane is fully booked, and sometimes, a free seat in first class is just waiting to be claimed.

“What’s more, on quieter flights, airline staff often have to move people into these seats to balance the plane, so you’ve just got to make sure you’re the person they pick.”

How do you do this? Debeer says it’s all about politeness and presentation.

“There are plenty of simple tricks to increase your chances of getting an upgrade, but the most important thing to remember is that airline staff are human. It may seem obvious, but being respectful and friendly is by far the best way to increase your chances of an upgrade,” he says.

Here Flight Hacks share their top tips for getting a free flight upgrade and explain some of the mysteries behind the seat allocation system.

“Presenting yourself as someone they would want to offer a free upgrade to is what underpins all of these tips,” Debeer says.

Top tips for free flight upgrades: 

1. Stay loyal to one airline 

If you fly regularly, staying loyal to one airline can help you maximise your frequent flyer miles. Sign up to their rewards scheme for your chance to score free upgrades, early check-in and even free flights.

A research survey found that 80% of staff said that a customer in the airline’s frequent flyer scheme would be more likely to receive a free upgrade. Subscribing to the scheme also indirectly helps, as an early check-in reward places you first in line to secure a seat in the plane’s front section.

2. Travel alone or during quieter times

This tip might seem obvious once you think about it, but a single person on an empty flight is much more likely to get an upgrade than a family of 6 on a booked-out plane. Flying in the middle of the week or at off-peak times increases the chances of a seat upgrade, as the plane is less likely to be full.

Research suggests that almost three-quarters (72%) of cabin crew are more inclined to offer a free upgrade to a passenger who is flying alone. However, travelling alone or at quieter times might make other parts of your journey more expensive, like late-night taxi fees, so use this tip with caution.

3. Dress to impress  

Airlines don’t offer free upgrades out of the goodness of their hearts; they do it to gain customer loyalty. Dressing smartly and looking like a frequent flyer is a great tactic to maximise your chances of getting an upgrade.

Business travellers are an airline’s favourite type of passenger as they fly regularly and are more likely to spend freely on their company cards. Wearing business attire is a good strategy for presenting yourself as a customer they want to keep happy and loyal. Moreover, data has found that 59% of cabin crew are more likely to upgrade a well-dressed passenger.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask

It may seem simple, but one of the best ways to secure a free upgrade is to ask politely. It doesn’t hurt to simply enquire if there is any possibility of an upgrade, especially if you are flying alone – your chances are significantly increased by just asking.

5. Be a flexible traveller  

Airlines frequently overbook flights to compensate for no-shows and to ensure the planes are full. When everyone checks in and there aren’t enough seats, they often offer incentives to passengers willing to switch to a later flight, ranging from seat upgrades to cash incentives. Flexibility with your flight times presents the perfect opportunity to negotiate a free flight upgrade. However, it is essential to act swiftly, as many other passengers may have the same idea.

6. Take advantage of special occasions 

The final tip is to use whatever personal advantage you’ve got. Is it your birthday on the day you fly? Are you on your way to your honeymoon? Is it a special anniversary? Finding a way to casually drop this into a conversation with the check-in staff is a great way to increase your chances of an upgrade.

In fact, research suggests that 58% of cabin crew staff would be more likely to upgrade newlyweds. Chatting with staff about the reasons for your travel is an excellent chance to secure an upgrade, but only if you stick to the most important tip – be polite.

7. Be polite when checking in

There are often no strict criteria on how airline staff choose who should get free upgrades when they’re available. Therefore, the number one tip is to be polite when checking in. If a spare seat in first class is available when you come to check in, airline staff can sometimes choose to upgrade passengers; being friendly and nice automatically increases the chances of an upgrade.

In fact, research from a survey of airline staff, which investigated the top reasons staff choose to upgrade passengers, revealed that a huge 82% would be more likely to upgrade a polite passenger.


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