Seven Ways to Get Upgraded to First Class (For Free)

The following post is written by Jen from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Jen’s an avid traveler and shares tips for getting upgraded. 

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Picking up my stuffed and heavy rolling carry-on and glancing at my seat assignment on my boarding pass and then the long, unmoving line of people ahead of me, my excitement about vacation immediately dwindles: The first leg of my journey is to the back of the plane, and judging by the already-filled overhead bins and the slow shuffle of people ahead, it feels like it’ll take just as long to get to my seat as it would take to walk to my vacation destination. Immediately, taking a look at the few front rows of people already comfortably seated, buckled in, and relaxing with a drink in hand and their valuables comfortably stored directly overhead, I start to think that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad investment to pay the extra, well, paycheck, it would have cost to fly first class.

If you’re like me, and flying as inexpensively as you can is as much of a goal as flying first class, and you’re trying to figure out whether it’s better to be financially practical or cave into your indulgent #YOLOfirstclassbaby!!! whims on your next flight, here are a few tips to try to do both and get upgraded to first class for free.

1. Join your airline’s rewards program and secure their credit card. In truth, most upgrades are now done arbitrarily at check in, not at the counter, often rewarding those who show elite status and loyalty to an airline. Additionally, seasoned travelers who are recognized by their home airport’s gate crew as being a frequent flyer are more likely to be handed an complimentary golden ticket to the front of the plane over someone who may be traveling with that airline for the first time.

2. Dress neatly.  As much as we want to travel in comfy clothes, airlines are more prone to put people who look like they belong in first class in first class.

3. Arrive or check in early—and sometimes late. Being among the first to check in online may increase your chances of being upgraded when it’s done electronically. It also helps to be the first to the counter to put in a request—especially when the staff isn’t stressed or rushed and is able to consider your request in calm circumstances. But in some cases, those types of decisions aren’t made until closer to the time of departure when the airline knows that they’re likely not selling any additional seats, which is when it’s sometimes beneficial to check in and arrive late for your flight.

4. Ask. While most upgrades are now done by computer, it never hurts to ask the counter staff in a very polite and nice manner without demanding one, and without badgering them. Be willing to nicely accept their answer, and accept the seat you originally paid for. Additionally, if you ask about the availability of getting upgraded, you may find the airline presenting you with an offer to pay for the upgrade with cash or airline miles at a greatly reduced rate over what you would have paid had you bought the seat outright.

5. Have a problem and be a good sport about it. While no one wants to deal with travel delays or overbooking issues, if you’re willing to give up your seat to another traveler in distress on an overbooked flight or if you encounter issues on the plane, such as a faulty armrest or tray table, you’re more likely to be compensated by receiving a complimentary upgrade on your next flight. While the hassle may be maddening, do your best to be kind and nice about the issues to the airline staff, who may not have any control over the situation, but have control over how to compensate you when you do finally get on your way.

6. Celebrate something. Airlines want to earn your repeat business and want you to associate happy memories with your event and their service. It certainly doesn’t hurt to slip into conversation with your gate or flight attendant that it’s your birthday, honeymoon or milestone anniversary if the opportunity arises.

7. Use a travel agent. Our Travel Specialists have established relationships with the airlines and can view upgrade availability. Airlines are also more likely to reward those who paid full-price (e.g., a refundable fare) and paid them directly, rather than booked through a discount travel site like Orbitz or Expedia, who take a cut of the fare. Travel Specialists may also be able to make comments on your reservation noting your special celebration or needs.

To temper expectations, know that free upgrades to first class are now very infrequent, and it’s always best to select and pay for a seat that you’ll know you’ll be happy with rather than expect you’ll receive something for free.

If you’re ready to start planning your next vacation, email travelrequest@boscovs.com or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury). View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com