Book with a travel agent. Some large travel agencies like Cook Travel are able to upgrade loyal customers’ international travel. You will have to buy a full economy ticket, which is pricey for what it is (ex. $2,800) but much less expensive than a business class ticket (ex. $4,500). In the scenario that they can’t upgrade you, travel agents are still capable of making your reservation with a comment such as OSI, which stands for “Other Significant Information.” This can be used to distinguish you as a VIP or CEO, possibly giving you an advantage.
Have status with an airline. If you have status with an airline, then you are more likely to be upgraded. For example, if you have status with Delta (meaning you are a Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond medallion member) then you will receive complimentary upgrades to Delta Comfort. When your upgrade “clears” depends on your status. In the case of Delta first class upgrades, Diamond and Platinum members clear 5 days prior to departure, Gold Members 3 days, and Silver Members 1 day. Not to mention, if you’re a Diamond member you’ll be treated like an airport God–but you’ll need to fly 125,000 miles to get it.
Check in early. If you are an elite or frequent flyer member, make sure to check in early to increase your chances of getting moved to the business class waitlist. The list of people waiting to be bumped up to business class are usually shown on a lighted monitor near the gate.
Ask the ticket counter agent for an upgrade–and look like you should get it. Usually the ticket counter agent is not authorized to upgrade you, but they have the authority to add codes that make you more likely to be upgraded at the gate. Something that will help turn your request into a reality is looking the part of a business traveler by wearing a clean suit or dress. (Of course, politeness helps too.)
Try to book a flight that’s likely to have a large upper-class section. Wide-body aircrafts like the Boeing 777 have a lot of first and business class seats that might be available. You can check on their status a couple of days before you fly by doing a pretend booking on the airline’s site. The more seats, the better the chance of successfully using all the tricks above.
And on that note: Ask a flight attendant for an upgrade if you see a seat available. Usually just asking a flight attendant for an upgrade won’t work, but there are a few cases where your chances largely increase. For example, if there is a problem with your seat or your neighboring passenger, you might get an upgrade.
Avoid flying from your carrier’s main hub. If you do, it is much more likely you will be up against some serious VIPs, and serious VIPs get seriously upgraded. If you can, flying out of a smaller airport that is not your carrier’s main hub will boost your chances.
Volunteer to get “bumped” from an overbooked flight. If you’re not in a huge hurry and don’t mind getting to your destination later, volunteering to be the unlucky sap that gets put on the next flight can actually work out in your favor–it makes you more likely to end up flying business.
And–if you can’t score a totally free upgrade–you might be able to buy an upgrade with miles. Purchasing an upgrade with miles can be incredibly costly, and oftentimes not possible, especially on international flights. However, you can accumulate miles by using a credit card with travel rewards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or Delta SkyMiles from American Express, and redeem these miles for an upgrade to business class.
My Delta SkyMiles AMEX card does not seem even to get me priority boarding on Delta anymore. Delta/SkyTeam perks are getting harder and harder to come by. Good-bye, Delta.