Every day, it seems airlines are doing more and more to squeeze every last penny out of their passengers. (We have to pay for the peanuts, too?!) Yep, it’s definitely harder now than it used to be to get upgraded on a flight. That said, they’re also aware that in today’s social-media age, reputation means everything (and a loyal customer base means even more). Here, five ways you could get bumped up to a better cabin.
5 Proven Ways to Get Upgraded to a Better Seat on a Flight
Fly During Prime Travel Hours
It goes against rational thinking: If a flight is full, how can there be any seats to get upgraded to? But often, flights that are full are also oversold (with a predetermined amount of oversell inventory), meaning airlines will be looking for volunteers to give up seats in order to accommodate all travelers. This means it’s prime time for seat upgrades if there are any left in business or first, and only if you can make a good case for why you should be upgraded from your coach or economy seat. If you take that moment to shine to the boarding clerk (by bringing up X years of airline allegiance, cardholder status, etc.), the airline might just be willing to free up your seat by moving you to a different cabin.
Make Their Mishap Your Opportunity
No, we’re not saying you should whine your way to an upgrade (please don’t come after us, Delta). But if a flight does get delayed for reasons inside the airline’s control (maintenance, technical issues, scheduling conflicts), or you’re one of the unlucky ones who’s been asked to check their carry on bag (basically, anything they’ve done that’s caused added stress to you), you could try to reason with the airline for a better seat in order to make up for the inconvenience. Negotiating 101: Ask politely.
Use A Third Party Upgrade Service
ExpertFlyer, a subscription-based website and app, searches 90 airlines to see if awards or upgrades are available for your flight, plus better options like window seats or sections with more legroom. For example, if a first class seat opens up on your flight and is available for an upgrade using miles, you’ll get an email from the Expert Flyer website (with the paid subscription tier). While the “free” subscription tier only allows for one seat alert at a time (and only searches within the same ticket class as your current fare, but for a better seat, i.e. not middle seat or by the bathroom), you can pay a $1 for each additional seat alert. (Read this detailed tutorial via The Points Guy for more info on the how-to.)
Join The Loyalty Program
Even if you travel relatively infrequently, joining an airline’s rewards program (and double bonus: signing up for the airline-branded credit card) can make all the difference when asking for a flight upgrade. Often, airlines like Delta look to Skymiles status first for determining whether the passenger is eligible for an upgrade (here’s a breakdown of the top airline loyalty clubs via Budget Travel). While it may seem like you’re a million miles away (literally) from Platinum-Medallion-whatever status, the flights do add up over time. And if you’re not making your current travel plans do a little legwork, your future self may be missing out on the possible upgrade options down the road.
Travel Light (and Dress Neatly)
It may go without saying, but the person with a yappy chihuahua (sorry, “service dog”) is less likely to get the bump up to first class than the solo traveler with minimal baggage. Same goes for the single dude with a small briefcase versus the family of five with enough luggage to fill the entire plane. Being mindful of appearances, too, can make all the difference. Desk clerks know that business class ticket holders tend to get a bit irritated when passengers who bought a coach ticket get the same seat and treatment as them, when they paid quite a bit more. So making an effort to blend in with the business set (nothing crazy—just, ya know, wash your hair, maybe drape a cardigan over your shoulders) can only help your case for why you deserve the seat next to Oprah or whatever other VIP seatmate they move you next to.