Dressing Well, Tipping in Chocolate and Other Tips on Getting Upgraded

how to get upgraded on a flight

For most of us, we’ll only find ourselves in front of the velvet ropes at the first class section of airplanes if we shell out lots of money or are frequent fliers. But is there another way to make it happen?

You’ll find plenty of tips and hacks on the Internet, mostly trying to get you to sign up for credit cards, but we asked the experts, frequent travelers and flight attendants, their take on getting upgraded.

We’re sharing the best of their tips on how to get upgraded on a flight, but keep in mind that all of these work best when flights are full, not empty.

Have a Frequent Flier Number

Before you leave for the airport and right after you book your flight, make sure to sign up for a frequent flier account with them. It won’t cost you anything, but will establish more brand loyalty than if it was your first and last time flying with this airline.

Also be mindful of which airline you choose, as this could play a role in whether or not you get upgraded. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever get upgraded on budget carriers since they nickel and dime you for everything.

business class varies
Getting upgraded on some flights is better than others. On some airlines it might just mean free drinks and better food; on others, it might mean lie-flat beds and free pajamas!

Travel Solo

This doesn’t mean that you always have to travel solo, although we encourage it, but if you’re booked with multiple people it’s highly unlikely that all of you, or even just one, will be upgraded.

If you’re flying on your own you’ll be available for upgrades so that they can make room for standby passengers. Traveling on your own also allows you to switch seats with others who want to sit together, which may cause you to be upgraded.

Be Flexible

Another important way to get upgraded is to be flexible with your travel schedule. Be willing to switch seats if necessary and don’t select your seats in advance. It can be a gamble, as you may end up at the very back near the bathrooms, but you also could be pleasantly surprised.

If you don’t have to arrive at your destination right away, you can volunteer to be bumped onto a later flight. At this point you can request that you also be upgraded for your later flight because of the inconvenience. An additional voucher may be pushing it, but can also be a perk.

Manners Matter

Being pushy won’t get you upgraded most of the time. I heard from a number of people that politeness matters when it comes to getting perks like upgrades on flights and hotels and entry into club lounges. Thanking the powerful gate agents and, as one person suggested, bribing them with coffee or chocolate, is one way to show your appreciation and maybe even get a new seat.

Dress the Part

While you may be most comfortable in those sweatpants and Uggs, you are less likely to be upgraded if you’re dressed like a slob. Instead, dress more professionally while still staying comfortable like in black leggings with a tunic and flats.

Short Flight Outfit
Dressing more professionally helps with getting upgraded.

This also might be an opportunity to swap out your backpack covered in patches with a solid colored duffel or suitcase. You’ll fit in better with the business travelers that frequent first and business classes. The Timbuk2 Aviator is a backpack that will probably work fine, but suitcases like those from Hartmann and Briggs and Riley are alternatives.

When in Doubt, Ask

You’ll never know until you ask! Be sure to inquire in advance of your flight, sometimes as early as a month out to be added to the upgrade list. Then bring it up again at the check in desk and again well before boarding at the gate. Plan for the worst, which is only coach, and also the best! You’ve got nothing to lose!

What Our Community Says:

We asked the question on Facebook if people ever got upgraded and how it happened, and the stories are pretty much across the board. While some relate to special circumstances (getting married, returning from deployment, etc.), others definitely reiterate the points above of dressing business casual, being flexible with flights, and just being cheerful.

how to get upgraded on a flight

Further Reading on How to Get Upgraded on a Flight:

Have you ever been upgraded on a flight? Share your story below!

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using them, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps to keep this site running – thank you!

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Lauren says

    These are great tips. I’ve only been upgraded once and it was on a business trip so I was definitely dressed the part. Usually when I fly I dress down, but I will have to start dressing nicer and cross my fingers for an upgrade!

    • Que says

      You gotta ask! I’ve worked in the airline industry for 12 years, and quiet passengers rarely get any perks. Airlines give away premium seating all the time, especially when trying to accommodate families who need to sit together. Also, if you hear your name paged make sure you respond. Often times the gate agent is trying to move your seat, most of the time it will be better than your original.

  2. Melody says

    I really don’t know if I could do all the asking and pretending. I could probably pull off the dressier outfit, as long as it was still comfy enough to sit in for hours. I’d love to be upgraded, that way I could suffer through altitude sickness in relative comfort. :/
    Friends of mine just recently got upgraded on their flight to their honeymoon.

    Following through on some of the links was interesting. Some of the tips don’t match up with the minimalist packing ideal. Carrying high end leather accessories vs carrying a backpack. I do know business/professional folks who use backpacks instead of briefcases or roller bags, simply for their versatility.

    • Brooke says

      I guess it just depends on how bad you want it and the opportunity cost versus just paying for upgrades, etc. In regards to wearing a specific outfit- you can always change (albeit not easily) to something more comfortable once on the plane! 🙂

  3. Deirdre says

    I was recently upgraded – and it included some of the tips mentioned above. The flight was nearly full, I was traveling alone and I am a frequent flyer member of the airline. I have never asked, and I never expected it As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize it until I got to the plane. The hostess greeted me and said, “Second aisle, turn left.” It didn’t register for a second – turn left? I looked at my boarding pass and what a pleasant surprise! It was a trans-Atlantic flight and the amenities were very nice, indeed.

  4. Sharon says

    Have over three million miles just on on Delta and upgrades come very rarely now. I always dress fashionably to travel feel I owe it to the other poor travelers that have to look at me! Also travel with my Louis Vuitton luggage hubby purchad last January in Paris as anniversary gift. Upgrades use to come more frequently to us million milers plus but not so much now since they find they can sell the seats rather than reward Diamond status clients. Sometimes it almost seems as if the agents resent the airline status and dress – who knows.

    Just spent 6k to fly self and spouse to Ireland in July and that is booking 5+ months ahead. of time for trip. To use miles 500,000k each ouch.

  5. Sorcha says

    I’m hoping to take a backpack on board (I’m backpacking but I’ll have a smaller backpack)- but still dress the part. Is it still possible to look casual business with a backpack?

    Thanks for the article!

  6. Garth says

    We were nearly upgraded after arriving early at Tokyo, they told us the plane was full and looking for people to take a different partner airline home. The airline noticed we had a frequent flyer card, and asked us if we would be prepared to fly home via Amsterdam with an upgrade, of course we said YES!! but sadly after the check in clerk checked with the alternative airline they couldnt guarantee an upgrade, so we passed on the offer, but I agree with you sign upto a frequent flyer programme!

  7. traveler1 says

    I got upgraded without meaning to one time: I had a tight connection but my assigned seat was at the back of the plane, so at the gate I asked if I could be moved closer to the front so that I could disembark faster. They were happy to accomodate my request, and to my surprise it was in first class. Yipee! Too bad it was for a one hour flight instead of the trans-pacific, but hey.

  8. Erika says

    Has this actually worked for you? As a flight attendant, I can truly say that we’d never give you an upgrade for wearing nice clothes or giving us treats (though we appreciate them and might trat you especially well) We could get in serious trouble giving upgrades to random people. There is a strict hierarchy that agents follow in upgrading passengers and if you get up front it is not likely because you were being nice it dressed the part. Upgrades happen, but they usually occur when coach is oversold and/or passengers need to be rerouted. I would never EVER ask for a free upgrade, because you won’t get one and usually just end up irking the crew. Signing up for loyalty programs is the way to go!

  9. Jan says

    I have been upgraded twice on long haul flights, and on both occasions it was without asking, and was a total surprise. First time, I was actually in my standard class seat and was asked to identify myself to a member of staff. Next time, I was given an upgrade at the check-in desk. I was not dressed in any special way, but I was travelling alone which probably helped. Otherwise none of the above seemed to apply to me. Just lucky I guess!

  10. K says

    So, I’m a flight attendant with a major U.S. Airline. I can tell you that NONE of these tips will help you get upgraded. First of all, it is incredibly rare that first class isn’t already full (especially if flying domestic). Second, there is a list of frequent fliers that are eligible for upgrade that every gate agent follows for upgrades. It’s a system of seniority and mileage, not of how nice you look. With that said, there are certain things that you CAN get from dressing nicely and having good manners. If you’re stuck in a middle seat and nicely ask to be moved to a window or aisle the gate agent or flight attendant will be much more inclined to orchestrate a seat change for you. If you are rude to us on the plane we probably won’t swing by to check on you as much, so if you want to keep the drinks coming BE NICE! And we always love it when a passenger brings on a little goodie bag of chocolates for us… that’ll typically score you a free drink or at least some very attentive service.

  11. Katrin says

    Interesting tips, and also interesting to read the flight crew’s view on it. I got upgraded just the other week, but that was due to rescheduling and the new flight was crowded. We didn’t even realise at first that we were in business class! we woild actually have been happier in standard, since we couldn’t sit close to each other.

  12. Lisa says

    I’ve been upgraded three times – once domestically, and twice internationally. All three times I was traveling solo, dressed nice (always do), super polite (Southern, it is a MUST), and either a frequent flier, or traveling on someone else’s FF miles. Personally, I think the FF miles was what tipped all of those in my favor. The real kicker? I was sick each and every time, and couldn’t have cared less where I sat!

  13. Al says

    Great suggestions I will be traveli Internationally for the first time in I couple of weeks we’ll see how it goes thanks.

  14. Gail says

    My only upgrade was from being willing to take a bump and later flight. Sooo nice! Just asking has never garnished me a first class seat but hope a new strategy will work on my next flight…..I am hosting FIVE other people so hoping that will be enough leverage (if a seat is available) by reminding them that it is because of ME, that these other five friends chose THEIR airline to fly with me. Soinds like good public relations for them!

  15. mary says

    Just once i got an upgrade for my husband. We were traveling and I booked my flight with miles and my husband’s was a paid work ticket. They only had first class seats available for the miles redemption (no economy) on the flight. When I got on, there was an empty seat beside me. After we took off and it remained empty, I asked the attendant if my husband could move up and she said it was against policy to, but she graciously moved him up. I wasn’t dressed up or anything, just polite and her being kind to another.

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