How to try and get a flight upgrade for FREE!!!

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We all like something for free right? One of the most satisfying things that you can sometimes get for free these days is a free upgrade on your flight!! I quite often fly long haul and being stuck in economy for the duration is really no fun at all. A trip to Sydney from London in economy class is like a military exercise in sleep deprivation. You shuffle off the plane in Sydney looking like something out of a low grade zombie movie. Your ankles swell up, your backside goes numb, the food is average, the entertainment system is not wonderful and you would consider killing your own grandmother just to be able to lie down for a few hours.

Here are a few handy tips to try and find yourself down the pointy end of the plane.

  • Book with a travel agent. Travel agents can sometimes be a little more expensive than doing it direct through the airlines website. However you can 'suggest' to a travel agent that you make many flights a year and are always hopeful of finding one that provides excellent service. In todays lean times the travel agent will bend over backwards to help you. You need to get them to mark your booking with 'OSI' This stands for 'Other Significant Information' To an airline this indicates that you may be a VIP or a director of a big company. The Airline will be keen to impress you because if they think you have clout within your company they may win a contract for your companies account.
  • Book directly with the airline over the phone. There is always a chance of getting them to add 'OSI' to your booking. Write postcards whilst you are on holiday?? Tell the airline you are a 'freelance travel writer'. You won't be lying!!! And if they think you will write positive things about their airline it wont hurt your chances.
  • JOIN THE AIRLINES FREQUENT FLYER SCHEME!!! Personally I am a member of 7 different airlines schemes...I've only ever flown with 3 of the 7. Most airlines have them, they are usually free to join, you can apply online in minutes and you then get a frequent flyer number, and in some cases a little card. The theory is, if all other things are equal, an airline will upgrade someone who is in their frequent flyer scheme before someone who isn't. You can in some cases use frequent flyer points to upgrade ...although on short haul flights it's not really worth it.
  • Arrive early at check in. What better time to speak with the person on check in than before they have dealt with hoardes of stroppy customers, some of whom will have lost their passports, tickets or be 20 kg over the checked baggage allowance and blame the poor soul on check in for it all?? Catch the check in person while they are still in a reasonable mood and have not yet had to deal with lots of cranky customers.
  • Get to know the airline check in people you deal with regularly. Do you fly out of a certain airport regularly? All check in staff have names....often a 'Hi John, nice to see you again mate' to the check in bloke will go a long way. If they are able to you will be the first they think of to upgrade. They will appreciate your friendship, and hopefully will accommodate you accordingly!
  • Dress to impress. A mate of mine always turns up for check in with a smart suit and tie on, and has been lucky on several occassions. The airline will be more likely to upgrade you if you look the part. Leave the singlet and boardshorts packed in your carry on luggage!! Personally I think this is overdoing it a bit, who wants to fly for 23 hrs in a suit???! I find its best to wear a smart casual shirt, smart trousers and decent shoes. If it works and you get an upgrade THEN you can change into your singlet and boardshorts after check in!!!!
  • ASK!! If you dont ask, you dont get!! Don't come straight out with 'I want a free upgrade' as soon as you plonk your bag on the scales!! Make eye contact with the person on check in. Smile. Politely say 'Good Morning'. Make gentle conversation with them. Ask them if the flight is full. Be nice.Politely enquire as to whether the airline will be offering any upgrades today as you have always wanted one. If they say 'No chance buddy' or similar thank them for their help and don't push it or get upset. Ideally if they can't (or won't) upgrade you there and then ask them if they would be willing to mark your boarding pass with 'SFU' (Suitable For Upgrade).If they do make sure you are one of the last to board. This way when you are boarding the plane, the person on the final passport check before boarding they may change your economy pass for a business one if some business or first haven't shown up.
  • Choose a busy flight when you book. All airlines overbook anyway as lots of people dont turn up on time, or at all!! If however everyone does turn up the airline has a problem. More people than there are seats. If this happens the airline will have to refuse some people for travel. In Airline speak this is called getting 'Bumped'. If you are a solo traveller in economy then its quite likely you will be approached and asked if you mind giving up your seat. If you are in no real hurry to get to your destination then its not a big deal. Most airlines run 2 or 3 flights a day to popular destinations, so the chances are they will get you out on the next one anyway. The next one might be in 5 or 6 hours if you have booked their first flight of the day. The airline will make you a derisory offer initially. This will usually be an offer of a few meal vouchers to use at the airport. Ask them if thats their best offer. If they say yes, refuse!! If there are not many single travellers they will be desperate to get you off that flight!! This is when you are in a position to barter with them. Politely explain you really need to get to your destination on time. However for an improved offer (maybe a flight later that day in business) you would be willing to give your seat up. If that fails, offer to fly the next day....with an upgrade of course! The airline will then offer you meal vouchers plus a night in a local your free upgrade!!!!! RESULT!
  • If all else fails and you find yourself in cattle class, its packed out and your seat is broken...TELL THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT! If there is nowhere else for you to sit in economy and there is space in business they will move you there. Clearly no one condones deliberately breaking your seat in any way, that would be wrong. I was on Qantas once and sadly for one worked the other way. He was a member of the Wallabies Rugby Union Team, he broke his business class seat and was moved to economy between London and Bangkok!! Unlucky!!!! I would have laughed at him but he was an easy 120kg and built like a brick outhouse. So I didn't.


Remember.....if you do manage to get a free upgrade....don't brag about it to the person you end up sitting next to!!! They understandably will be pretty miffed to think that you got for free what they have had to pay big bucks for. They will write a letter of complaint to the airline and that will make it harder for all of us to get a freebie in the future!!!


Good luck!!!!

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