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6 tips to get a free upgrade on your next flight

·Personal Finance Editor
·4-min read
A flight attendant sets up seats in business class on a plane.
Here's how you could score a free upgrade on your next flight. (Source: Getty)

There is a certain level of excitement one feels when hopping on a plane, but there is an even higher level of excitement when you get to fly up the front for no extra cost.

But how do people manage to get a free upgrade?

For most, the price of a first class plane ticket is out of reach, with airlines such as Emirates charging upwards of $10,000 for a one-way ticket.

Travel Experts at Forbes Advisor put together their advice on how to increase your chances of being upgraded on a flight, from knowing when to check in, to how to ask for an upgrade.

Here are their tips and tricks to secure that luxury seat.

1. Check in early

When heading to the airport, most people try to arrive with enough time to check in bags, clear security and relax before taking off.

However, many people don’t realise the time you check in can influence your chances of an upgrade.

If you want to improve your chances of a free first class seat, try checking in either very early or, alternatively, very last minute.

If you arrive several hours early for your flight, you’re most likely to beat off any competition for first class or business tickets – and avoid missing out to someone who got there before you.

Chances are if the economy cabin has been overbooked, airlines will want to rectify this sooner rather than later to avoid causing delays.

2. Be flexible

You catch more flies with honey, and ensuring you’re a helpful and flexible customer can often lead to rewards.

It’s not uncommon for some airlines to overbook flights, leading to them needing to ‘bump’ passengers to another flight.

If the airline is looking for volunteers to take a later flight, take the opportunity as it could lead to a free upgrade for your troubles.

If a first class ticket isn’t offered and you have been bumped (voluntarily or not), it’s always worth asking if they can upgrade your ticket due to the inconvenience.

Another common occurrence on flights is to be asked to move to a new seat by the cabin crew. While this can be inconvenient, if you’re flexible it could be to your advantage.

Say yes to being moved and you could land yourself with a first class seat – if not, again it’s always worth asking for an upgrade for your troubles.

3. Fly solo

Due to the premium price of first class seats, you have much better chances of getting an upgrade if you’re flying alone.

It’s unlikely airlines will want to lose out on money to upgrade a large group, so are more likely to offer a free first class ticket to individuals.

Alongside this, seating in first class is often limited, meaning there is less chance of a group of seats becoming available.

4. Pick your flight time wisely

There are certain conditions where first class seats are less likely to be fully booked up.

For example, if economy class is overbooked you’re much more likely to be offered a free upgrade.

Consider occasions when this might be the case – for example, flying during peak times for families such as school holidays.

Alongside this, there is a higher likelihood you may be asked to move seats to accommodate a family with young children – again providing opportunity to be given or to ask for an upgrade.

5. Dress smart

While dressing in your finest clothes is no guarantee for an upgrade, a smart outfit will enhance your chances of being chosen.

Top-paying customers will often be dressed sharper, and airlines will want to ensure anyone they bump to first class looks the part.

Don’t feel the need to dress in anything extravagant but make sure you avoid items that are too casual like pyjama pants and cargo shorts.

6. Ask politely

Last, but not least, one of the best tactics is simply to ask airlines if there is a chance for an upgrade.

If you are polite, there is no reason why this can’t land you a free upgrade.

This is especially worth trying if you’ve been inconvenienced in any way by the airline; have been delayed, lost your baggage or missed a connection.

Politely mention that an upgrade would be appreciated, if possible, and stress your loyalty to the airline.

Alternatively, if your flight is for a special occasion, why not try your luck by mentioning it?

Many airline staff will help to upgrade you if they can to make occasions such as honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays more special.

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