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5 tips to score a flight upgrade using frequent flyer points

Compilation image of business woman flying in first class with a glass of champagne and laptop and an image of a airplane taking off the runway
If you want to be in with a change for a frequent flyer upgrade, you need to dress your best. (Source: Getty)

What felt like a decade of isolation has us all itching for travel. But that – along with the surge in the cost of fuel – means flight prices are, well, sky high.

So how can you work the frequent flyer points that have been laying dormant for the past few years, for maximum discount distance?

Read more from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

By applying for – and crucially getting – an upgrade.

Let me explain.

Upgrade hack 1: Get the upgrade advantage

Like prices themselves, the points required for flights have risen, albeit over a longer term. That means that one of the best ways to ‘drive’ them further is to go for an upgrade.

Say you want a return flight from Brisbane to Singapore in November. It might cost you roughly $1,000 – or alternatively, you could use about 50,000 points.

But you might be able to buy a flight first and then get an upgrade to business class – and therefore a far more comfortable flight – for just, say, 30,000 points.

That flight, were you to instead pay for it, would probably set you back more like $8,000, $7,000 more than buying a cheap seat and luxe-ing it up with points.

What is the point difference between an upgrade and frequent flyers alone?

That same comfy seat could alternatively set you back not 30,000 points but almost 140,000 points.

But flight insiders have a tip…

Upgrade hack 2: Flex is best

Airlines look at the bookings they have, and the upgrade applications, and are more likely to grant them on a flex fare.

This is quite simply a flexible fare that you can change at the last minute, the privilege for which you will possibly pay double a normal fare.

But because it’s a flex fare, if you don’t get your desired upgrade, you can just cancel it and get a refund.

Just be aware you might only get an upgrade by one class, so from flex to premium economy or from premium economy to business. But it might still make for a sweeter flight.

And the word from ‘frequent’ frequent flyers is that even premium pods on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – if you are lucky enough to be on one of those – are dreamy enough.

Remember those 30,000 points we said it might cost you to upgrade to Business to fly Brisbane-Singapore return?

That would usually be the points required if you booked and paid for a flexible fare, maybe $2,000.

Buy a more-like $1,000 economy fare in the first place and the necessary points to ascend to business class leap to about 55,000 too (don’t forget, it was some 140,000 to pay for a business class return purely on points… or instead maybe $8,000).

Man sitting on a window seat on a flight with a mask on and looking at a mobile phone
Use your frequent flyer points wisely and you could save yourself a fortune. (Source: Getty)

Upgrade hack 3: Sorry, your status matters

The airlines will also prioritise, in terms of upgrade requests, higher-status customers.

For example, Qantas says: “All Qantas Frequent Flyers can register for an upgrade.”

“[But] international upgrade registrations are considered depending on your Frequent Flyer membership level.”

With that airline, this is the order in which you will get access: Platinum One, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze.

Other airlines will have a similar, though differently named, pecking order.

Upgrade hack 4: Make your request early

Often you can make a request to upgrade a fully paid flight using points any time up until 10 hours before the flight leaves.

But, besides the over-riding member-type priority order, the order of application still counts.

Now, many airlines will almost instantly confirm or knock back a request for a domestic flight points upgrade.

You’ll know straight away if you are eligible and one is available.

For international flights, though, you will need to wait.

Again, your membership status level matters.

On this one, Qantas says: “[Points upgrades] will be considered and communicated in accordance with the following schedule:

Platinum One Frequent Flyers, from seven days prior to the scheduled flight departure;

Platinum Frequent Flyers, from three days prior to the scheduled flight departure; and

Other Frequent Flyers, within 24 hours of the scheduled flight departure.

You may even have to wait until in the departure lounge though.

And that’s particularly where it gets old school…

Upgrade hack 5: Dress for success

You need to look the part if you haven’t fully paid. Only rockstars can get away with grungy clothes in business class.

Steer clear of jeans, pack a coloured shirt if you are a guy and shoes matter…. forget thongs or any type of trainers.

Think smart casual or better to get further up the front.

But getting to recline while you fly – and enjoy premium food and drinks – makes it all worthwhile.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at www.nicolessmartmoney.com. Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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