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travel experiences

Anyone who has flown first class knows how much more comfortable, roomy and enjoyable an airplane's priciest seats can be when compared to those in the economy cabin. But with money an issue on almost all business and pleasure trips, how can one get a first class seat without paying first class prices? The answer is a last-minute upgrade, and by following a few tips and guidelines you can increase your chances of turning your next airplane flight from crowded and cramped to classy and comfortable. Check out the following tips on how you can get an inexpensive or free bump from cattle class to business class or first class:

Sign up for e-mail offers and read your frequent flyer mail - Airlines often advertise upgrade specials this way.

Follow the frequent flier discussion boards - The frequent flier discussion boards are usually discussing the latest airline program news and changes that might affect your upgrade chances. You can also post questions to these boards and get specific answers to your questions and concerns.

Find a good travel agent - Many travel agencies receive complimentary upgrades from airlines as a reward for sending a lot of business their way.

Don't hesitate to ask - He who hesitates is lost, especially when it comes to getting airline upgrades. When you show up for your flight, walk right up to the airline's first class counter and ask about an upgrade. Learn about the upgrade policies, find out what the charge might be, and most importantly, get your name on the list. Seats in first or business class may be limited, so you'll want to sign up early. Some airlines upgrade you right away; others automatically upgrade you at a set amount of time before departure, yet others require you to call or logon to request the upgrades when the upgrade window opens.

Dress well - Many travellers dress down for maximum comfort in crowded cabins, but if you plan to ask for an upgrade, you should dress professionally and presentably. If you look the part, they'll be more apt to put you in the forward cabins.

Ask everyone you see - Be persistent in asking for an upgrade. When you book the flight, when you check in, when you've arrived at the gate, and when on the plane. Each of these people at these different points may just go ahead and upgrade you. However, be subtle and discreet. The agent probably won't upgrade you for free if other passengers are listening in on the conversation. When at the airport be sure to get on the upgrade 'Waitlist'. Often times you'll get upgraded when someone doesn't show up on time.

Be polite - Airline employees have stressful jobs, and the frequent delays and complications of air travel mean that they often see customer's worst sides. So if you're cheerful, polite and kind, you could make a quick ally of the very person who has the power to give you an upgrade. Conversely, if you're rude or terse, the employee may give the upgrade to someone else. If you fly a route regularly, get to know the people servicing these routes.

Be a frequent flier - Airlines are more apt to offer an upgrade to someone they see as a loyal customer, so it's in your best interest to stick with a major carrier and build up frequent flyer miles. Your frequent flier account could be your most effective tool in nabbing yourself a class upgrade.  These airline loyalty programs reward members with mileage bonuses and frequent fliers get more free upgrades, often pay less to buy upgrades, and get preferred treatment on standby upgrade lists. Once in a loyalty program make sure you purchase the upgradeable tickets. Some classes of tickets are upgradeable while others are not.

Avoid regular business hours - Saturdays, holidays, mid-day and late evenings are times when you won’t see as many business travellers. You'll have fewer competitors for first class seats.

Take morning flights - Many people save their precious few upgrade coupons for afternoon and evening flights to take advantage of a free dinner. Morning flights are usually less full, unless its a Monday morning.

Fly on planes with larger first class sections - The more first class seats on an airplane, the better your chances for upgrading. Get familiar with the aircraft and check the seat maps on airline and frequent traveller web sites. Monday morning or Thursday afternoons and evenings are the busiest times. Airline sites usually have a seat overview map so you can see which have larger first class cabins.

Take less crowded flights - This depends somewhat on how flexible your schedules are, but some flights are more desirable to business travellers. They tend to prefer the direct flights or those with shortest layovers and segments.

Avoid airline hub airports - Most frequent flyers live in hub cities or are connecting though a hub airport. The more you can avoid flying dominant airlines going in or out of their hub, the less competition you will have for a first class seat.

Fly at ‘reverse commute’ times - If you cannot avoid hubs, try the ‘reverse commute’. Business travelers may start their trips in the morning or evening, but will usually come home in the evening. On a trip from Heathrow to Amsterdam, for example, try to fly British Airways out of London in the morning and fly back in the morning again on KLM to minimize competition on both legs of the trip by avoiding peak travel times for British Airways frequent flyers based in London and KLM frequent flyers based in Amsterdam respectively.

Get voluntarily bumped - Those who volunteer to give up their seats in oversold situations not only get discounted tickets or other compensation, but will often end up in first class on the next flight out if cattle class is also oversold on that flight.


Blagging yourself an airline upgrade is all about getting on the right side of the check-in staff - assuming they haven't all walked out on a wildcat strike, of course. Travelling alone, dressing smartly, carrying a laptop and turning up three hours early can all work - as has the high-risk strategy of turning up 15 seconds before the flight leaves. Most importantly of all, smile, say please and don't take it personally if they say no. You can always try again on the return journey. 



 Enjoy your champagne!

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