Five ways to boost your chance of a ‘free’ flight upgrade – but beware of ‘myths’

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Flight upgrades can occur for a number of reasons, and see some lucky passengers moved to a higher cabin. This luxurious treat is one often lusted after by passengers but rarely happens in the modern age of air travel.

Nicky Kelvin, head of The Points Guy UK (TPG UK), told that there are no “magic words” in gaining a free cabin upgrade when travelling overseas.

Though there are, of course, plenty of “myths” flying around.

Forums such as Reddit are dedicated to passengers and crew sharing stories on how they managed to secure a seat in first class, without shelling out for the seat.

However, Mr Kelvin says these tales are not always as common as people may have you believe.

He explained: “There are no magic words that will guarantee you an upgrade and it’s important to realise that upgrades are relatively rare. However, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of scoring one.”

Five ways you could boost your chances of a flight upgrade

Check-in online

Mr Kelvin recommends checking in online before heading to the airport for your flight, though this might contradict some “myths” frequently shared.

He told “There are myths that not checking in online and turning up late at the airport on a full flight means that airlines will upgrade you.

“That is a dangerous game to play, as you might just end up in the least desirable middle seat.

“British Airways actually prioritises those who have used online check-in — in other words, those who are definitely flying, so doing so on BA will increase your chances (ever so slightly).”

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Have status

One of the best ways to boost your chances of an upgrade is to be a frequent flier with a specific airline.

Having this type of customer “status” behind you can be beneficial when there is room for an upgrade onboard.

Mr Kelvin explained: “Having status with the airline, or the alliance they are part of, is the biggest factor that increases the chances of an upgrade.

“Being loyal to an airline or an alliance can really pay off.”

Busy Flights

Flight upgrades happen most frequently when certain cabins are over capacity, according to Mr Kelvin.

While this is largely out of passengers’ hands, those who find themselves on a popular route could be in luck.

Mr Kelvin said: “As outlined, airlines only upgrade passengers when they have to, so picking a particularly busy flight, combined with all the other factors, does improve your chances.

“Having said that, it can be a good tactic to pick empty flights in order to have an empty seat next to you — but upgrades will not happen on those flights. Using tools such as Expertflyer allows you to see how busy your upcoming flight is, or a historic flight at the same time so you can compare.”

Avoid ordering special meals

Special meals are a necessity for many travellers, particularly those with dietary requirements.

However, according to the travel expert, they could have a negative impact on the chances of being boosted up to business class.

Mr Kelvin explained: “This may not be an option depending on your dietary restrictions, but if you have ordered a special meal, don’t expect an airline to automatically upgrade you.

“That’s because they are unlikely to have the same special meal available in the higher class and usually don’t serve lower class meals in a higher cabin.”

Travel solo

Families and couples may not have the option to fly solo, but those who are jetting off on an adventure alone might find themselves in the running for an elevated seat.

Mr Kelvin said: “Generally speaking, airlines will not split up a booking. In other words, they won’t upgrade one person when two people are booked to travel together.”

He continued: “There will, of course, be instances when they will need to upgrade numerous passengers but generally speaking, your chances of being one of those lucky ones is reduced when travelling with others.”

The head of TPG UK pointed out, however, that as with any upgrade, your status as a flier is what is most important – even when flying solo.

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