I fly a lot (seriously, I’m going to make 1 million miles flown on United even though my travel has slowed down). But I only started upgrading and taking business class a few years ago. I was flying between the US and Asia a lot and earned a few upgrades because of my frequent flier status. I used my upgrades for business class seats for my husband and I on several long haul flights and we were hooked! Previously, I never considered flying business class. But, when I easily got upgraded, I relished the ability to sleep horizontally and the better food options. My little one even shared seats with us once which helped her sleep a little easier. Now I’m a little more aware of how to get upgrades and try to get them when possible. We don’t always try to upgrade but I wanted to share my tips on how to get a business class upgrade almost every time. The extra legroom and food are a treat, especially on long flights!
How to get a business class upgrade almost every time
1. Become elite
This article has a great list of the factors effecting upgrades for some of the major airlines. In a nutshell, if you pledge your loyalty to one airline, you will earn miles more quickly as well as free upgrades. You can also use your miles to upgrade eligible fares. Bonus: you will be first on the list for free upgrades as well.
2. Plan and play the odds
You could also book and plan your trip normally, but hope that upgrades will open up. The chances are higher if you book during low seasons or at an off time (mid-week). I’ve had some luck with getting upgrades at the last minute. It’s always a pleasant surprise to get a last minute upgrade!
3. Buy the higher class fare
If you buy a higher fare class (e.g. full fare economy), you are also eligible for complimentary upgrades. You are also higher in the priority list for any potential upgrades.
4. Buy upgrades
I’ve bought upgrades a few times. I would either spend miles and money while I am booking. Or I would go on the secondary market and buy upgrades from frequent travelers who weren’t using their upgrades. Check out travel related forums and deal forums for travelers selling upgrades (hint: Dansdeals.com and flyertalk.com). It has worked out really well and saved me money while allowing me to upgrades as well.
5. Be nice
It never hurts to be nice. Various airline staff from the gate agent to the flight attendant can make a decision to upgrade your seat. You could share that it’s a special occasion for you. Or sometimes I have heard of flight attendants offering upgrades to passengers when they saw that the passenger gave up their more comfortable seat for a family to sit together. You never know who will reward a good deed!
6. Ask road warrior friends
You may have a friend who is a consultant or salesman and is constantly traveling. She is likely to have elite status on an airline and hence, lots of upgrades as well. If you’re lucky, she may be willing to share the upgrade love!
7. Be early or late to the airport
Sometimes it works out to be either early or late. If you are early, the airline may be overbooked and looking for volunteers to give up their seats. You can certainly request an upgrade on the next flight or the agent will automatically do that for you. On the other hand, you may receive an upgrade if you’re late because the flight may be full. At this point, you may be bumped to business class because your seat has been given away.
8. Work your airline contacts
I remember being upgraded years ago by my aunt’s friend at the airport. She was a check-in agent and easily upgraded us on our flights. It was lovely getting to unexpectedly lounge in a larger seat! Definitely work your airline contacts if your friends or family work at the airline you’ll be flying.
Save and redeem for business class seats
I’ve also just used my miles to simply book “saver level” business class seats for my parents. These types of rewards usually require fewer miles than standard bookings. This isn’t an upgrade, but at least a nice guarantee of a better seat!