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How to get a free flight upgrade

Vapour trails left by a planeMany flyers have dared to ask, beg and deceive for a free flight upgrade –all in the name of greater legroom, free alcohol and better food. Here’s how some passengers succeeded in getting an upgrade.

Just ask

Whether you’re a honeymooner, smartly dressed, or in baggy trousers, the surest way to get an upgrade is to ask, wishful thinking won’t do much and if you get a no first off, don’t give up.  Ask at check in, at the head of the pier, just before going on board, and finally ask a flight steward as well. The last one could well get you your upgrade.

Turn up late

According to British Airways, anyone checking in late to an already full class of seats might end up being upgraded at that point; a useful tip for anyone willing to take the risk of running late for a flight.

Honeymooners

Unsurprisingly, newly-weds, or smartly dressed imposters, can sometimes convince sentimental staff to allow them more than their fair share of upgrades. Try calling the airline and let them know you're on your honeymoon. It’s worked for many newlyweds.

Anniversaries

Try the customer services desk. Before you even check-in, pay a visit to customer services desk and explain that it’s your anniversary and that but if they are looking to upgrade anyone, you’d love to be considered because of your special occasion. Again, it has helped others get upgraded.

Go late to the wrong desk

If you’re running late and there’s a queue for economy you could try checking in at business class. You could be told to go to the correct queue but one flyer managed an upgrade this way by using his charm on the back of the fact he was worried he would miss his flight!

Dressing up or dressing down

Wearing a suit is a common ploy and many believe it has helped them get bumped up a class. However, one flyer in a single trip to Australia got upgraded three times on several flights wearing baggy trousers and a t-shirt.

Help from the little angels

If your children appear well-behaved, it might help you get upgraded.  One family discovered at the gate that the check-in assistant had earmarked them as 'suitable for upgrade' because of how they presented themselves and because their children were well behaved.

Travel with the right people

More of a long-shot but one passenger told us he was upgraded to first class because he was travelling with a colleague who asked nicely and also had a BA Exec Gold Card.

The ultimate free upgrade

Here's my own story. I usually fly budget with no opportunity for upgrades. That didn't stop one man on the same flight as me who, as a keen flyer, asked a stewardess very politely if he could sit up with the pilot for the take off. The stewardess asked the pilot and, to my surprise and those around me, the pilot agreed. That beats first class in a premium airline.

Airlines policies on upgrades

The usual reason airlines grant free upgrades is because the plane is overfull. BMI and Lufthansa say they will prioritise by the most senior frequent flyers first. British Airways says it has “No hard and fast rule” and Virgin Atlantic says “it's luck of the draw,” so the moral of the story is get out your charm and try your luck.

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Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner waded his way through a mountain of claims as a paralegal before moving on to be an insurance consultant and claims manager. He is a long-term investor, and one-time property owner and landlord. He writes about property, investing, insurance, consumer issues, and helping people get out of debt misery.

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