mc getting an upgradeFlying economy these days is the pits. And it’s not going to get better. What’s in store? Smaller seats, less recline, less padding. How about using miles to upgrade? More airlines are turning to awarding frequent flyer points based on ticket price rather than miles flown. (but if you want to go that route, check out my earlier post on a service that will handle that for you, Points Pros) So if your budget can’t handle paying for business class or first class, what to do? In a recent article in the New York Times, an airline purser suggested giving pursers chocolates. Might be worth a shot, but we need more tactics than that, so I turned to travel blogging colleagues who are in the know for their tips on how to get an airline upgrade:

1. Dress to impress

Dress professionally, be courteous to your purser and also be pro-active. If you want to be bumped off for credit, mention this when you check in to the gate. If you have an aisle seat or emergency, offer this up to the purser and ask if they can move you for the courtesy to an upgrade. (This also works if you are sharing an aisle with a family that wants to sit together).

Noel Morata

2. Frequent flyer perks

American Express Platinum Card holders can obtain a complimentary companion ticket when they book qualifying business or first-class international travel on one of 23 airline partners through Platinum Travel Service. (These tickets have no blackout dates or change fees, and are fully refundable.)

3. Discount codes for first-class seats suggests that travelers take advantage of ‘‘Y-Up’’ or ‘‘Q- Up’’ fare code designations. While hard to find (you might try calling the airline and asking for them), these are discounted first-class tickets offered by domestic carriers in the United States and Canada. A coast-to-coast first-class seat purchased as a Q-Up ticket, for example, can cost as little as $400-$600 each way. The FareCompare website offers some tips on finding them.

4. Last minute upgrades

On rare occasions, airlines release empty first-class seats at the gate for a relatively small upgrade cost. The carriers would rather make some money on this prime real estate than have it remain empty. Check with the airline reservations agent.

Tips 2-4 by Irene S. Levine
More tips from her post on the topic:

5. Bid for an upgrade

Bidding for an upgrade to business class is the latest and greatest way for anyone to try to upgrade their flight. If you have a little extra money and are willing to risk spending your flight in economy, take the chance and bid for an upgrade to business class on your next flight. It sure beats paying full price for a business class fare!!Here are  tips to help you bid for an upgrade to business class and a list of airlines that let you bid.

Bethaney Davies

One has to look at this with creativity and humor. And closing on that note, here’s Irene’s last tip:

“Let the flight attendant know if it is your centennial birthday and you have never flown first class, if your seat is completely broken (perhaps, without a back or operative seat belt), or if your seatmate appears to be suffering from typhoid or pneumonia. Maybe she will have pity on you and bring you forward.”

Photo from


  1. Great tips! I hadn’t previously heard of the bidding system, and will definitely delve further into FareCompare as my last overseas in cattle class was horrendous — and sleepless.

  2. Interesting post and all worth a try but these days first class is as full as the rest of the plane. Mostly with platinum/gold level corporate fliers. Explore every angle and always ask. You never know what good thing might happen.
    Thanks for these tips.

  3. I have pretty much despaired of ever being upgraded again. My best score was on a flight from Paris to Philadelphia some years ago. When we boarded, I knew one of the flight attendants from her former job. We went back to our seats from hell in economy (two little boys were sitting behind us with no parent kicking the backs of our seats before we even took off). Suddenly, a male flight attendant appeared to inform us that they had found our upgrade coupon. My husband started to say, “But, we didn’t have……” at which point a sharp jab in the ribs from my elbow helped him figure out the scenario. I don’t think this could happen today because based on the flights I’ve been on, first and business class are always full from paid or points upgrades.

  4. Karen,
    I guess you are telling me to get rid of my panama hat, Hawaiian shirt and beard. Hhmm. Can’t do it, as it is part of my brand. I do like your other options and will try them out. Thanks for sharing young lady!

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