12 Ways To Bag A Free First Class Flight Upgrade
For most of us, first class will always just be a mystical place beyond a curtain. After all, first class seats can be shockingly expensive, and unless you’ve got a spare couple of thousand pounds lying around, there’s only one way you’ll be getting in, a free upgrade.
Airlines do give out free first class upgrades, but they can be very rare, so we’ve teamed up with one of the UK’s leading providers of cheap flights to put together these 12 tips to help you get ahead of the pack.
Fly at off-peak times
You’ve obviously got more chance of being bumped up to first class when there are less people travelling, so if you choose to fly at quiet times such as on a bank holiday or on a Sunday, it stands to reason that you’ll have more chance of an upgrade.
School holidays are also a popular time for upgrades to be handed out, but don’t expect to be given one on an early morning flight full of business people.
Your loyalty is crucial to the airlines, and they ultimately want you to fly with them again in the future.
If you join up to your airline’s loyalty programme, you’re automatically going to take priority over someone who doesn’t.
Even if you don’t actually fly with the airline that frequently, simply being a member will help, and they’re usually free.
If you do clock up a lot of points, you’re essentially royalty to the airline! Just bear in mind that you can’t upgrade all tickets, such as those purchased as part of a package, tickets not bought directly from the airline or some cheaper tickets.
The chances of there being seats available to give out as upgrades is very low, and if there are any spare seats going, there’ll likely only be a couple.
This means you’ll have to get to the airport super early so that you’re at the front of the queue, literally.
Of course, this is a slightly high risk tactic. If you get to the airport crazily early and don’t get offered an upgrade, you’re going to face a long trail around duty-free.
On the other hand, it can actually sometimes pay off to turn up late for check in.
There’s more chance that all of the economy seats have been taken at this point, and so you might just get put into a first class seat instead.
Again, this is a very risky move as you could wind up missing your flight altogether, so we don’t recommend this if you can’t afford to miss your flight.
This all depends on the member of desk staff that you deal with, so whoever it is, make sure you’re polite and friendly.
It might seem somewhat discriminatory, but you have to remember that you’re being upgraded into first class, which is likely filled with smartly dressed businesspeople.
For this reason, if you turn up dressed up in full-on holiday gear with t-shirt and flip flops, you’re less likely to fit in with the airline’s usual first-class clientele.
A smart casual outfit is more likely to see you get bumped up, so it’s worth bearing in mind.
This should really go for everyday, but you’d be amazed at how far a smile and a bit of manners can take you.
If you lose your rag with the check in staff, they may relent and put you on a first-class flight, but chances are that you’ll just come off as arrogant.
Airline staff are far more likely to upgrade you if you’re friendly and respectful to them.
They have to deal with a lot of customers in one shift, and having someone go out of their way to be nice can make a big difference.
Be upfront and ask
This one is a bit debateable, and as with a lot of these tips, may depend on the staff that you’re dealing with.
Some staff will outright say no, no matter how much you bat your eyelashes, as they have in fact sorted out all upgrades at least 24 hours before the flight.
Virgin Atlantic for example have a policy of not giving upgrades to anybody who requests one.
On the other hand, it can’t hurt to ask, but if you do decide to try it on, make sure you have a good reason.
Simply asking for the sake of it probably won’t get you anywhere, but if you have a reason such as if you’re pregnant, or perhaps on your honeymoon, you never know where it might lead you.
If you can’t wangle an upgrade, you may get a glass of champagne at least!
(Crazy as it may sound, people have been known to lie about being on their honeymoon, and some airlines will actually ask for your wedding documents to prove it!)
There are probably only going to be one or two seats available for upgrades at best, so the chances of getting the whole family bumped up are incredibly low.
Airlines will usually offer up any spare first-class places to single travellers first. You may still have a slim chance if you’re travelling with one other person, but there’s no chance that a group or family of three or more will be offered an upgrade unfortunately.
One way to perhaps get around this if you are travelling in a big group is to make your booking separately
Just make sure you’re prepared for a bit of jealousy if you’re the one who gets chosen for the upgrade!
Have a legitimate complaint
Don’t be shy if there’s something legitimately wrong with your seat. If your on-board entertainment system isn’t working properly, or perhaps your chair is stuck in an upright position, make sure you let a member of the cabin crew know.
While they’ll probably just move you into another standard seat, if there are none spare, they may just have to bump you up to first class.
It’s worth bearing in mind they probably won’t mention this when they move you. They’ll probably just ask if you don’t mind moving to another seat, before walking you up to first-class!
So next time you sit down on your flight, make sure you have a quick scan to check that everything’s in working order.
Bag a discount at the airport
It may not be free, but you can bag some pretty serious discounts at the check in desk on the day of departure.
If there’s a significant amount of spare room in first class for the airline to fill, they can sometimes offer an upgrade that would usually cost £2,000 at as little as £200 at the desk.
At the end of the day, if you’re not paying for an upgrade, you shouldn’t really be getting one, so bear this in mind when dealing with airport staff.
Being overly demanding, or expecting an upgrade is only going to irritate the check-in staff and make them more likely to give the upgrade to someone else.
Offer to switch flights
If your flight is overbooked and you’re in no hurry to get wherever you’re going, why not offer to take a later flight?
It may be a bit of an inconvenience, but chances are you might get put in a first class seat for being so helpful.
When these kind of deals get offered they often get snapped up pretty quickly, so it might be worth mentioning in advance that you would be happy to be bumped onto a later flight.
While these tips are worth bearing in mind, it’s still extremely rare to get a first class upgrade, and you shouldn’t rock up expecting to get one.
Having said this, knowing some of the quirks of the industry can be a great help, and you never know when you might strike lucky.