By: James Asquith, CEO, and founder of Holiday Swap.
By the end of 2019, I will have taken nearly 200 fights. I certainly spend a lot of my life on a plane flying around the world and my never-ending love of travel. As a frequent flyer, people often ask how I get those elusive upgrades. The days of getting an upgrade because you’re on your honeymoon, anniversary or birthday are long gone. I have even witnessed someone faking their birthday at check-in just to get an upgrade – unsurprisingly it did not work.
Occasionally if someone at check-in is having a good day you may be upgraded to economy extra or plus, but it is difficult to get upgraded to Business and First Class. Airline staff do not have the same flexibility with upgrades as they used to, particularly as technology has made it easier for airlines to sell as many seats as possible on each flight.
In the U.S. particularly, you will notice the long upgrade waiting list at the gate, and few people are paying cash for the upgrade and either use accrued miles or their company’s goodwill. However, there are some tricks to get on that upgrade list and to find the cheapest price for the upgrade without relying on your airline status.
- Join Airline Alliance Programs. Airlines reward their most loyal customers, particularly as today there is so much competition. Sign up to each of the 3 major airline alliances: One World, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam. With a membership to an airline in each of these alliances, you can accumulate miles and status when you fly with almost any major airline worldwide. With this status, if economy is overbooked or if the airlines feel like upgrading a few loyal flyers, you will have a chance.
- Credit Card Points. Credit card points are a great way to get reward flights and upgrades. If companies are not paying for corporate travel, then many passengers in Business and First Class used points accumulated from their credit card spending. Most cards, such as American Express, have welcome offers that can contribute to your next upgraded ticket.
- Email Upgrade Offers. Check your emails before your flight! When airlines have not sold enough seats in Business or First Class, they will very often send upgrade bid emails. It is a free option for the airlines to be able to give the seats to the passengers bidding the most and it is surprising that few people enter a low amount. Many airlines have a minimum bid, but it is usually an absolute bargain (if you get it). I often get upgraded to for just a few hundred dollars, even on large airlines such as Qatar, Emirates, and Latam. It is definitely worth looking out for!
- Mistake Fares. Look out for mistake fares. Instead of getting upgraded you can actually book those luxurious lie-flat seats with cash for almost the same price as economy. Sometimes the route or dates will not be what you are looking for, but if you are flexible, it is a great way to try out some of the best First Class suites.
Follow more of James’ travels and adventures on @jamesasquithtravel on Instagram.