28 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: how can I get upgraded to first class?

Dressing well helps, simply because you are unlikely to be escorted to the front of the plane if you are wearing cargo shorts, 
a tank top and flip-flops

Ahmed M Soliman
30 May 2016 | 04:26 pm

I’ll be flying to New York later this month. How easy is it to get an airline upgrade? Is there a season when I’m relatively more likely to get an upgrade?

The procedure for getting upgrades that one is entitled to has become almost 100 per cent automatic and hands-off, and if the flights are full in both cabins, there isn’t much wiggle room for people to exploit.

Electronically issued upgrades are doled out by a number of metrics, whether to the highest-ranking elite flier, or the person who purchased an upgrade-eligible coach fare, or the person who cashed in her miles.

That said, since stories of free upgrades still persist, here are some tactics to enter that privileged group.

Dressing well helps, simply because you are unlikely to be escorted to the front of the plane if you are wearing cargo shorts, 
a tank top and flip-flops.

Ask politely and directly. Go with a simple ‘if you are upgrading passengers on this flight, I would like to be considered please’.

Be on time. Showing up late to request an upgrade when an agent is just trying to get everyone checked in isn’t going to work.

Be reasonable. Being overly demanding – or demeaning – can sink your chances.

If the flight is relatively empty, your chances are slim. Even though seats in a higher class may also be empty, airlines don’t usually upgrade people for no reason. If the flight is full, your chances are better. Airlines carefully plan how much they oversell flights, and their inventory departments are not upset if people need to be upgraded to accommodate everybody on the flight. Therefore, on a full flight the airlines are sometimes forced to upgrade people. In this scenario, if you have a good story, you may be lucky. Remember, of course, that business or first class may already be full from pre-booked elite-level upgrades.

Volunteer to give up your seat if the flight is oversold. Tell the agent that if they don’t need your seat but they do need somebody to upgrade, you’ll be happy to volunteer for that. Small chance, but worth a try. If they end up needing your seat for someone else, ask whether you can be upgraded on the next flight.

If you have been inconvenienced by the airline, don’t hesitate to ask for an upgrade. If they have caused you a problem, it may be reason enough.

Ask about availability at check-in, particularly on international flights, where check-in agents sometimes have more control over seating charts.

The final, ‘miracle’ upgrades always happen at the last minute, when all passengers are checked in and any remaining availability becomes clear. Make sure you are within earshot of the gate desk, although hovering over agents is not recommended.

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Ahmed M Soliman

Ahmed M Soliman

is a leading travel expert in the region.