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How to get a free flight upgrade

There are several ways to get to the top of the class on your flight – whether that's business or even first.

And once you gain access, the benefits from getting upgraded on a flight are substantial. Here are some tips on how.

Posted: 29/1/2022 | By Amanda Duffy

Man on plane in upgraded seating working on his laptop

When it comes to air travel most people opt to fly economy purely on cost. The price difference varies depending on airline, route and even day of travel, but it’s substantial – between five and ten times to fly business and ten to twenty times to reach the rarified air of first class. For many people, it’s simply out of the question, but there is a solution – get upgraded.

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What could you get with an upgrade?

If you succeed in boosting your status on a flight you can expect a much more relaxing trip in a comfier seat with more legroom, perhaps one that folds back for sleep purposes on long-haul flights. The menu will be better quality and feature a wider choice. You’ll also get access to the airline’s business lounge before your flight which can include shower rooms, areas to catch up on sleep and Wi-Fi.

How can I get upgraded on a flight?

You may not have the cash but it’s possible to get a free upgrade to business or first class without paying.

Here’s nine ways to increase your odds of being upgraded on flights:

  1. Look smart

    The surest way to avoid an upgrade is to wear shorts or a tracksuit. Wear a suit or at the very least dress smart casual and you increase your chances of a better seat hugely.

    Close up of man wearing smart watch and suit adjusting his tie

  2. Be an early bird

    Business and first-class upgrades are popular but they are limited. A good way to increase your chances of getting one is to arrive at check-in several hours early. You might well find you have a lot of time to kill but then you might end up with significantly better seats. If you have time to kill regardless you may as well kill it at the airport.

    Cup of coffee without milk on a long wooden table

  3. Ask for one

    If you don’t ask you don’t get. So dress well and inquire politely about a flight upgrade at check-in or as you board and you may well get a pleasant surprise. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

  4. Travel solo

    If you’re a lone traveller your chances of being upgraded on their flight are significantly improved. Those nice seats are at a premium, a family of four has no chance but a well-dressed traveller on their own tips the balance of probability significantly.

  5. Be loyal

    Regular flyers who are members of a frequent flyer scheme and build up their air miles to reach gold or premier status are right at the front of the queue when it comes to upgrades. Even if you don’t fly frequently it’s still worth being a member - you stand a better chance than someone who isn’t.

  6. Have a good excuse

    Did you have surgery relatively recently? It could increase your chances of DVT - a blood clot. Or perhaps you have a bad back problem or you’ve sprained your ankle badly. Explain your situation politely and ask if there’s a chance of an upgrade to spare you further discomfort.

  7. Don’t be messed about

    If you’ve been bumped and delayed then the service you’ve had has been well below par. Bring your bad experience with the airline to their attention there and then in a firm but polite way.

  8. Be prepared to be bumped

    Offer to move. If you’re not wedded to your seat and happy to move so two people can sit together then offer to give it up and ask if there’s a chance you might be upgraded in the process.

  9. Talk to your agent

    If you’re booking through a travel agent, you could put your request for a potential upgrade in there and then. If the agent has a good relationship with the airline, then it might improve your chances.

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