5 Cheap, Easy Ways to Take Your Flight to the Next Level
I’ll admit: flying first class is way better than flying coach.
I’ve been lucky enough to fly first class more than once and have been bumped up to business class numerous times.
The extra leg room, priority boarding, VIP lounge, and glass of wine all make a long trip that much better.
But while I love flying business class, I don’t exactly like to pay for it. Business class tickets can cost five times that of coach, and if it’s a short flight it becomes hard to justify the cost difference.
That’s why I’m always looking for ways to increase my odds of getting an upgrade.
To be honest, most of the tips you’ll find on this topic won’t get you very far. There’s no “two magic words” that will get you an upgrade.
And you can skip the three-piece suit or “upgrade outfit” because it’s not going to sway the odds in your favor.
Nowadays, flight upgrades are almost entirely done through automated electronic booking systems. Some airlines even have strict policies that prohibit arbitrary upgrading, both at check-in and onboard for this reason.
The electronic systems take into account a number of metrics, like highest-ranking elite flyer, or the person who bought an upgrade-eligible coach fare, or the person who cashed in their miles.
The truth about upgrades is every airline is different and you should treat each travel experience as unique. If you’re willing to invest a few minutes to learn how your airline operates, there are ways you can increase your chances of getting bumped up to business or first class for cheap.
Here are my best tips for getting a flight upgrade in 2019.
1. Track Flight Deals
Every once in a while, you’ll find flight deals that seem too good to be true. You’ll be able to book business class tickets for less than you’d pay for economy. Don’t believe me?
In June, you could’ve flown business class from New York to Paris round trip for $1000 or from Los Angeles to Shanghai round trip for just over $1400.
The lowest round trip economy class fare between New York and London right now will run you $799. If you want to maximize your chances of scoring sweet flight deals, you need to start tracking your flights.
Google Flights, Kayak, AirFareWatchDog, Hopper and SkyScanner are all easy to use tracking apps. Just add where you want to go and you’ll start getting price alerts either through the app or your email.
And the best part is all these flight trackers are free.
2. Start Collecting Points
Other than paying for it, points are the only sure fire way of getting an upgrade. Those crazy people collecting points are not so crazy after all. Remember that earning points doesn’t require travel.
You can earn points from buying groceries, shopping at your favorite stores and buying coffee. Research what credit cards offer the best points deals for your situation.
Then when you’re ready to use your points, here’s what you do:
- Search flights with upgrades using points before you book
- If no flights are available for upgrade, set alerts to see if they become available
- If a flight with upgrades becomes available, lock it in with your points
It’s really that easy. Note: different airlines have different points requirements for upgrades depending on domestic or international flights. Do your research beforehand so you know how many points you’ll need.
3. Ask to be Added to the Volunteer List
When you check in, ask if you can be added to the volunteer list. This will put you in prime position for a bump should your flight be oversold.
If you’re not in a rush and you’re willing to wait for the next flight, you can often score some expensive vouchers, upgrades, and sometimes both.
To increase your chances of getting bumped, it’s best to fly solo (or book solo), don’t check a bag and be early. It’s usually first come first serve, so whoever gets the top spot on the bump list often gets the bump.
4. Bid for an Upgrade
More recently, airlines have moved to upgrade auctions, where you can actually bid on business class for less.
You enter your booking details and bid for an upgrade using cash. The upgrade goes to the highest bidder. If you try this, I recommend setting a limit to what you’re willing to bid.
This strategy doesn’t always make sense, but if you already snagged a good deal on coach, it can be worth bidding higher to secure business class. After all, flat beds and free wifi are nice to have.
5. Attain Elite Status
Getting elite airline status is not as hard as you’ve been made to believe. I know people who’ve secured it with as few as three flights.
You should care about having elite travel status not so you can brag to your friends or because you’ll get priority boarding, but because if there are any free upgrades to give out, they’ll usually go to one of the elite members first.
Airlines like American, Delta and United offer complimentary upgrades on domestic flights to elite flyers all the time. Just Google “how to get elite status fast” and you’ll see how easy it really is.
Lastly, be realistic. Approximately 60% of travelers ask about upgrades at check in. So airline staff have likely heard your pitch before. If you follow the advice I outlined above, your odds of scoring an upgrade will be high. Good luck and safe travels.
To a richer life,
— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap