May 25, 2011

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How to get a flight upgrade – our top tips

All of us love a freebie or a bargain and for travelers, the thrill of getting a free upgrade is always exciting. But how do you go about getting beyond the business class curtain? These are our top tips.

Free Upgrades
There is no such thing as a guaranteed upgrade unless you have purchased a specific flight ticket that offers one as part of the deal.

1. Always travel in smart clothing, either business wear or smart casual. Pitching up in trainers, sloppy jeans and a t shirt is not going to help you at all. You need to look the part for an upgrade from one cabin to another.

2. Check in early. If a cabin is overbooked they will move people early to avoid operational issues on the day and where possible check in on line as early as you can.

Arriving at the airport early to check in is one way of potentially getting a free upgrade

Arriving at the airport early to check in is one way of potentially getting a free upgrade

3. If you know someone who works for the airline or the ground handler, let them know you are traveling. They may be able to place notes in the booking that state you are suitable for an upgrade. Then, if the airline needs to move people you may be the lucky one picked out.

4. If you are traveling for a special occasion such as a 40th birthday, honeymoon or going away to get married then ensure that this note is placed into your booking. Either your travel agent, tour operator or airline can do this for you. The staff at the airport check in, boarding gate and on board will see it and they may decide to make the trip more special for you.

Traveling for a special occasion such as a honeymoon may lead to a free upgrade

Traveling for a special occasion such as a honeymoon may lead to a free upgrade

5. If you are a regular traveler, join the frequent flyer scheme. The higher the rating you have as a member the higher the chance of you being rewarded with an upgrade. And when flying, try and stick to one airline grouping to such as One World, Star Alliance or Sky Team to maximise your chances.

6. Never ask for an upgrade at check in – it doesn’t work and if you are in a group it will never work.  The airlines pick out single travelers or couples in general.

7. Book directly with the airline as opposed to an agent or tour operator – the airline knows more about you and is more likely to reward direct bookers.

8. Don’t pre-book meals or special assistance – it is too much hassle to move people when these items are already planned by the airline – so you will remain where you in the cabin you booked.

9. If travelling on a charter flight, the premium seats are sold and they tend to go very fast, so if you are interested then book your flight early and pay – there is practically no other way you can get these seats without paying, so you will be wasting your time trying to bag a freebie here.  This applies to companies such as Thomson Airways, Thomas Cook and Monarch for example.

10. And finally whatever you do always be polite, well mannered and cool and calm. Being chatty and friendly disposes staff to helping you after a long and arduous day dealing with passengers. A little charm can go a long way.

Paid for Upgrades
Shop, shop, shop around.  Check airline websites, travel agents and price comparison sites for discounted premium economy, business and first class tickets.  These are often sold at a discount, although with some strings, such as less flexibility. Tour operators also offer upgrades at low rates, especially on packages.

1. Use up the points you have from your frequent flyer cards. Some credit cards such as British Airway’s Amex card allow you to gain points on your general shopping that are converted to BA miles. I have saved up enough on my spending over four years for a First class return to Cape Town and have only made a couple of short haul flights – so points can come from shopping as well as flying.

2. In these difficult economic times, airlines are now pushing discounted upgrades once you have bought your flight ticket. There are lots of seats available and airlines are finding ways of replacing the business travelers who are traveling less.

However, one last word of caution – unless you are traveling on a scheduled carrier there will be no cabin to upgrade to. Some charters only have a premium cabin on long haul services and these value-for-money seats get booked way in advance. And for low cost cheap flights with Easyjet and Ryanair you have nowhere to go, unless you purchase early boarding options in an attempt to bag an emergency exit seat.

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