5 ways to land a free flight upgrade next time you travel

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This is something I get asked about ALL THE TIME (especially on my Instagram). Liz, how are you always flying in business class? How did you nab that flight upgrade? You must be rich.

Well let me tell you, I’m not.

The past few years, I switched from being miserable cramped up in coach to stretching out and enjoying all of the comforts of flying premium WITHOUT paying full fares. Yes, you read that right. I almost always fly in business or first class but I only pay for economy fares, if at all.

And it only took me 10 years to learn how. Show me the champagne. Let me spill all the tea.

It’s totally possible to fly premium without paying premium fares if you know how to hack the system. A flight upgrade is totally possible if you know how the system works.

Sure there are always the same tips flying around about how upgrades work, like getting to the airport early or flying alone or offering to take the next flight if yours is overbooked, but honestly, those aren’t concrete tips. Sure they might work here and there, but not regularly. You just have to get really really lucky.

I’ve found it’s a perfect storm of a few things to be able to get that very expensive upgrade without shelling out thousands of dollars. Follow along as I share below.

1. Ask and you shall receive but don’t be thirsty

Long gone are the days of random, spontaneous upgrades, that almost never happens anymore. A flight upgrade got a lot harder to get.

Airlines have tightened up the purse strings considerably for upgrades, and you’ve gotta play their dance if you want a cozy seat that makes you smile instead of cry.

I can tell you just by asking about upgrades is the first start.

Your chances of getting upgraded move up considerably by just asking.

No one is just gonna give you an upgrade just because they feel like it – don’t act entitled at all.

Have you ever met a flight attendant before? They’re busy and overworked and see whiney travelers every second of every day. They don’t give a shit about you or your desire for an upgrade, and they sure as hell aren’t just gonna hand them out like candy.

And be careful how you ask too. No one likes anyone asking for free upgrades. It’s so annoying.

Use sentences like “are there any opportunities for upgrades on this flight” or “are there upgrades available?” to show that you’re serious and might even buy one (which you should consider – see #4). Often there are upgrades at check-in at drastically reduced prices.

I’ve often paid a couple hundred bucks at the check-in counter for a long haul flight upgrade (that’s usually $4,000), and a few times they even just gave it to me for free for asking nicely. Boom

flight upgrade
2. Dress the part – don’t look like a hobo

Look like a business traveler and act like a business traveler is key to getting an upgrade.

Often airlines still have a dress code to access lounges, and if you don’t look the part, your chance of an upgrade goes out the window.

You’ve often got to fit into their mold of what an affluent, business traveler would look like and your Uggs, Lululemon leggings while wearing a neck pillow with shitty attitude from long travel days doesn’t cut it.

Look professional, act professional, and it goes a long way.

flight upgrade

3. Build loyalty with an airline

From my experience, you have a much better chance of getting upgraded with you already have loyalty with an airline. As soon as you have status with an airline in terms of mileage, they almost immediately begin treating you better. They want to look after their premium customers first.

Obviously this means booking most of your flights with the same airline or same alliance network.

If your flight is overbooked, the top ranking status fliers are generally the first people who get bumped up a class to make room. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been bumped up at the gate on an Emirates flight from Auckland to Dubai because the economy cabin is full. Usually it’s right at the gate when they swipe my boarding pass and it goes “beep beep” and flashes read, only then to have flight attendant rip it up and hand me a business class ticket.

Trust me, it feels so GOOD!

4. Keep an eye out for last-minute upgrade options 

Often I get an email a few days before a flight offering a very cheap offer to upgrade which I often take depending on the trip. Usually it reads something like “book now for $400 and you can upgrade with this special offer into business class.”

Normally on my long-haul flights from New Zealand, the difference between an economy fare and a business class fare is around $3,000 – $4,000 this is quite a deal!

Some airlines, like Air New Zealand, let you bid on upgrades in advance, so you can put in how much you would pay for an upgrade in a cabin class and depending on other bids and the flight, you might get it!

Often I’ve found the cost of an upgrade might even equal out what I would pay in extra baggage, seat select, food, lounges and internet anyways, so I might as well pay for an upgrade and get all of that anyways.

flight upgrade
5. Use your miles, points and dollars strategically

Many of my upgrades come from strategically cashing in my miles I’ve saved, often from credit cards I use – worth it!

Nowadays since I’m no longer flat out broke, I generally book all my flights with either Emirates or Air New Zealand, the two airlines most relevant to me and the ones I both love the most and use the most. I strategically rack up my miles, often buying the most expensive economy fares knowing I am getting a lot more miles out of it.

And then I use my miles to upgrade cabin classes when I really need them.

I’m also super on top of when my airlines are running deals like double miles or bonus miles on certain dates and I certainly take advantage. And trust me, when you’re on hour 8 of a 17 hour flight, you want to be sprawled out in business class in custom pajamas with endless champagne than cramped up in economy.

You gotta be in the game if you want those upgrades. Are you?

Have you ever been upgraded on a flight? Do you have any upgrade hacks while flying? Share

flight upgrade

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17 Comments on “5 ways to land a free flight upgrade next time you travel

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  1. Question…since I’ve never flown business class I have no idea…you say to dress nicely, but then do you switch to more comfy clothes for an overnight flight, especially if you can lay down and sleep? Do you go into the bathroom on board and put on your comfy PJs? If I’m ever that lucky (and I’m working towards saving points for this to be a possibility for a trip next year, fingers crossed!) I don’t want to come off as a total inexperienced mess, haha.

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