Many large travel agencies have free upgrade programs for international travel for loyal customers. The catch is that you have to buy a pricey full economy ticket, which can cost as much as $2,800 (a business class ticket in this situation might cost $4,400.
You can only get this upgrade to business class if there are seats available in the right inventory, and there are other catches, too. For example, most upgrades are confirmed only to Europe.
Here are 10 other tips from us to you on how to score a free upgrade:
1. Ask the ticket counter agent. Most of the time the agent is not authorized to bump you up to a better seat unless you are a frequent flyer. However, she CAN add a code that signifies to the gate agent that you are eligible for an upgrade, increasing your chances at the gate.
2. Book with a travel agent. Booking with a travel agent means that it’s possible for him or her to mark your reservation with a comment such as OSI (Other Significant Information). This can be used to distinguish you as a VIP or CEO.
3. 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 business class waitlist.
4. Volunteer to get “bumped” from an overbooked flight. If you’re not in a huge hurry and don’t mind offering to get bumped, this move increases your chances of getting an upgrade.
5. 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 couple of cases where your chances largely increase. For example, you might get an upgrade if there is a problem with your seat or your neighboring passenger.
6. Become a member of your airline’s frequent flyer program. Once you’re a frequent flier, your chances of getting an upgrade are much better. The good seats are saved for elite members, so it helps to stick with an airline and work your way up.
7. Avoid flying from your carrier’s main hub if it is a large airport. It’s really hard to get an upgrade on a Lufthansa flight when you’re flying out of Frankfurt, since it’s much more likely you will be up against the serious VIPs. Flying out of a smaller hub will boost your chances.
8. 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.
9. Look like you should get an upgrade. To fly business, you need to look business, says Inc.com, the business magazine. Make sure you dress the part.
10. Play the mileage system. According to Smarter Travel, using points on your American Express cards will help you get more upgrades.
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