I’ve been flying the Sydney to Los Angeles route every year since I was born, and without a doubt my mum would always shamelessly ask upon check-in “is there any chance of a flight upgrade?”.
You see, she had been upgraded a few times before I was born (and even once after that!), so she knew there was hope. It’s highly unlikely that someone travelling with a young kid would ever have been upgraded, but if there is one thing I learnt about travelling from my mother, it’s this; if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.
So the habit of always asking if an upgrade is possible has stuck with me, and it actually worked before, thanks to a very kind man in Switzerland! I’ve also managed to get seats with extra leg room, and even a first-class meal, all because I asked nicely. And after backpacking for several months in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, the opportunity to sleep flat on a 13 hour flight was totally worth all those times I asked.
Feeling lucky for your next flight? Here is what you need to know before you ask for an upgrade.
How to get a flight upgrade
First things first… Check your airline and ticket class online before you go. A quick airline search can tell you if business class has already sold out, so you know not to ask. If you used one of those resell travel websites to purchase your ticket it won’t be possible for you to be upgraded upon check-in… no matter how nice you are.
This might seem obvious, but only Kanye West can get away with dressing like Kanye West in business class. Leave the Adidas slides in your carry-on, along with a comfy change of clothes, and go to the airport dressed like you’re visiting Nan for lunch. If you’re flying long haul, it’s always nice to have a spare change of clothing with you.
Sign up to frequent flyer programs
Exchanging points for free flights is really a no brainer, plus airlines are more likely to offer a flight upgrade to customers they know fly often. The theory is the experience of flying in premium economy or business class will incentivise the flyer to buy a premium ticket next time, but maybe they simply want to reward their returning customers. Either way, this is a known fact.
Treat people nicely
Once again, this might seem obvious, but if you’re acting like a douchebag towards the check-in attendant they won’t want to help you, and they certainly won’t put you next to their premium-paying customers. Mind your P’s and Q’s, show off your personality with some light banter, and don’t forget to smile.
Choose your words wisely
These days, many airlines actually offer passengers upgrades to unsold seats at check-in for a discounted price. Simply ask “are there any upgrade fares available for today’s flight?” – this gives you the benefit of knowing whether an upgrade is possible, without directly asking for one. Usually they’ll come back with a cost for you to politely decline, but it could be your lucky day!
Love those layovers
Asking how much it would cost to get a flight upgrade during a layover is actually how I scored myself a business class seat. Ask the gate attendant if it’s still possible to upgrade your fare; it’s not actually possible, but the attendant might be feeling particularly nice that day.
Travelling as a couple? Airlines usually upgrade solo travellers, so it’s arguably not worth asking. The upside is that travelling with a partner means you can use my favourite flying hack to have a row to yourself… and this has a much higher success rate!
It’s easier to get a row to yourself
Select two seats in a three-seater row, but leave the middle seat free. Why, might you ask? Because unless they’re some starved-for-affection psychopath, no one will ever willingly choose to sit in the middle. If the plane is full and someone happens to be assigned that seat, offer them the window or aisle seat so you and bae can be reunited.
To improve your chances, opt for a row of seats right at the back of the plane. The ride might be a little bit more bumpy, but you’re even less likely to have someone (or two, depending on configuration) assigned next to you. Seats are assigned from the front of the plane to the back – you might notice empty rows are at the back of the plane.
Even if I’m travelling alone, I always opt for the last row and often have a free space beside me (with a lot less noise, may I add).
This article was originally published on November 1st, 2019.
Lou Blair is a professional bliss-seeker and globe wanderer. Or, in other words, she is currently homeless and jobless in Amsterdam. Her passion for writing about her own experiences was found after accidentally pitching an idea to a travel editor, and then being asked to actually write it.