How to Get an Upgrade to First Class

Two Methods:Methods With A Higher Success RateMethods With a Lower Success Rate

Have you always wanted to fly first class or business class, but just never had the money? Or maybe you got a huge bonus just before your vacation, and want to upgrade a flight already booked. Well, hang on to your carry-on: here are a few things you can do to get yourself placed into those plush, spacious seats!

Method 1
Methods With A Higher Success Rate

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    Buy an upgrade. This is by far the easiest, most sure-fire way to get an upgrade. However, unless you fly often with the airline and have earned elite status, it's also the most expensive way to enjoy the perks of first class.
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    Become a frequent flier. Airlines categorize their customers based on how often they fly—or more to the point, how much they spend!
    • At 50k miles a year, you are in the middle of the "elite" zone, a position that makes you important to the airline. You'll be rewarded with various perks along the way—from quick check-ins, to bonus miles, to first-class upgrades.
    • If you don't normally travel a lot for business or pleasure, consider "mileage running." This is the process of finding cheap, long flights and taking them whenever possible. The destination is not important—only the distance. A good rule of thumb for determining if a mileage run is worth it is if the price-per-mile cost is $.02 or below. Check out online resources such as Farecompare for prices and opportunities.[1]
    • You might also consider whether you fly frequently enough to maintain elite status.
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    Check in at the airport kiosk. Arrive at the airport a couple hours early, and check in using the airline's kiosk. You will be able to modify your seat assignment as available, and if there are any first-class seats available, you may be able to purchase an upgrade at a significantly reduced cost.
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    Check in early. When there is one upgrade available and two elite flyers are requesting it, all else being equal: the one who checks in first gets it. You must have elite status with the airline for this to work.
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    Get bumped! Take advantage of opportunities that arise during the normal course of travel. All airlines over-book flights, and sometimes, when they least expect it, everybody shows up for the flight. When that happens, they have to find people willing to be bumped from that flight. That could be you!
    • If the flight is very overbooked, your bargaining position is strong. Approach the gate agent, and be as genuinely charming and sympathetic as you can be. Ask them if they would consider rebooking you in return for an upgrade voucher in addition to whatever other incentives they might be offering.
    • This will be more likely to work if you don't have checked baggage, which would entail much more work on the part of the airlines in order to bump you.
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    Find discounted tickets. Some airlines have relaxed upgrade policies for full-fare coach tickets. You may also have friends who have upgrade vouchers they may be willing to sell.
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    Plan long-term. If you are a regular flier, are considering doing mileage runs, and are planning a big trip that you want to enjoy in first-class style, you can also purchase miles directly from the airlines.
    • Visit your airline's website, and locate the "Purchase Miles" page, generally located in the frequent-flier part of the site.
    • Enter your account number, and how many miles you wish to purchase.
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    Book directly with the airline. When you book directly with the airline, there is the possibility of also adding an OSI (Other Significant Information) notation to your record.
    • Based on that, ask about the possibility of an upgrade to first class. If you are a travel agent, travel writer, event planner, or captain of industry, it certainly won’t hurt your chances!
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    Buy a full fare coach ticket and ask for a first class seat. Many airlines have a fare code that automatically grants first class privileges, but you have to ask. Call the airline directly and ask them how much a coach class ticket with first class seating privilege will cost. This will be much less than a first class ticket. Be careful though, like most coach tickets it will probably be non-refundable.
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    Shop around. Reward airlines that have reasonable prices for business-class travel. As with any airline, if you fly frequently, they appreciate your business, and a struggling upstart might appreciate your business even more.

Method 2
Methods With a Lower Success Rate

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    Book with a Travel Agent. Agents are routinely allotted a certain number of upgrade vouchers. This will not come free but you can persuade your agent for a business class flight voucher if they have any available.
    • If you're not a frequent user of a particular travel agent, they have very little incentive to try to get you an upgrade. Whatever discretionary vouchers they may have will most certainly go to the people who have contributed the most to their agency.
    • Travel agents have much less input regarding your status now than they used to. Your seat assignments are done via computer now, and computers don't take into account notes that a travel agent may have added to your record. Computers are quite content to simply count the miles and use your earned status.
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    Use a mileage broker. Mileage brokers buy mileage from frequent fliers, and resell those miles to other travelers.
    • This is very risky. Airlines have very strict policies against buying frequent flier miles from a 3rd party. If they catch you doing this, you will likely lose your ticket, and you may also lose all your miles, earned or purchased.
    • As a result of strict policies, brokers are hard to come by.
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    Ask the ticket counter agent nicely. This will almost never work. In most cases, on most airlines, the ticket agent is not authorized to upgrade. Only the manager is, so if there is only one person at the ticketing counter, you are talking to them.
    • You will most likely need to use miles to get your upgrade. However, you might be able to ask the ticket counter agent to kindly add a code to your ticket. That signifies to the gate agent that you are potentially eligible for an upgrade.
    • You have a better chance with international airlines.
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    If you were late because of a partner airline, make sure the airline is aware of that: it is their fault and they need to fix it. Both airlines need to be on the same E-ticket number, so both airlines are responsible for getting you to your destination. If they can't get you to your destination on time, that's a great time to ask—as nicely as possible—for another flight, plus an upgrade voucher for your troubles.
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    If you happen to be a travel agent, show your Iata or ARC ID. Again, if and only if seats are available will an airline offer a free upgrade and even though a travel agent might have some pull (this pull ended in the late 90's), you always have to assume that frequent flyer status will help more than just travel agent status. If you have both, you will only improve your chances of an upgrade. It certainly does not hurt to try.
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    Ask a flight attendant for an upgrade if you see a seat available. Typically flight attendants never upgrade passengers and simply asking for an upgrade is not going to work. However, there are legitimate reasons why a flight attendant might upgrade you. Here are a few:
    • A problem with your seat. In some cases where your seat has malfunctioned and you cannot comfortably sit there, i.e. a seat-belt problem or the seat will not stay in the up position, the flight attendant will make an attempt to find you another seat. If no other seats are available in coach yet space is available in first, you may be moved to first class. However, this is a very rare occurrence, and you should never try to purposely break your seat. Also note that if there is an elite flier in coach, they may get the bump to first class, and you would take the elite member's old seat.
    • Choose Seats at the bulkhead, where families with children get seated. This can result in an upgrades if they need your seat, which they often do.
    • A problem with a fellow passenger. If by chance you are sitting next to a passenger and you have a legitimate complaint such as harassment, the flight attendant can, at their discretion, move you to another seat. If there are only seats available in first class, up you go!
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    Get to know the airline employees you deal with regularly. Do you fly in and out of a certain airport regularly? If so, getting to know the agents you deal with often yields rewards. When a delay occurs, you could be the first person they think of to upgrade, or at least put to on a better flight. They will appreciate your loyalty and friendship, and will accommodate you accordingly.
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    Look the part. Dress like a business executive and at the very least, business casual. This means no jeans, athletic shoes or wear or other very casual attire. Looking like a first class passenger helps. Airlines are more willing to upgrade passengers who look as though they will fit in with those who willingly paid the extra money. You may also be able to get a seat in business class.
    • Be aware that most upgrades are not based on looks, but on status. If you don't travel frequently but look like an MBA all-star, and the choice is between you and a sloppy-looking but extremely well-traveled NBA all-star, your Gucci's just won't count.


  • It's all about who you talk to and how you do it. Be polite and flexible.
  • Choose your purchase wisely. A coach seat may not be a horrible way to fly on a short trip. If you decide to purchase an upgrade, buy one for a longer flight when you can reap the rewards. A cross country flight will likely offer more services, food and drink options than a short flight with less staff, supplies or time. You'll also have a larger seat and more leg room when you really need to stretch out and be comfortable on your long flight.
  • Ticket agents do have some discretion in regards to class upgrades, and appreciate patience and understanding, especially during bad weather, or during especially stressful times- i.e. holidays, weekends, late nights, or while delays are occurring.
  • Unaccompanied minors may also get a first class seat if they are sick or very young.
  • To get people enticed into flying first class when the passenger is flying their airline for the first time, some airlines have been known to upgrade these passengers to First Class for no additional charge.
  • Visit frequent flyer forums—virtual communities of people who travel a lot. They can usually offer you tips and tricks that aren't that commonly known. Just remember to be polite and always search the forum before you post.
  • Get a frequent flyer card as soon as possible. In most major airlines, it's free and will only help you upgrade. You start to earn miles with your first flight! Remember that frequent flyer members can use their miles with other airlines too.
  • If you have high frequent flyer status with an airline, it's possible that you might gain equivalent status with another airline by telling the airline's phone agent and faxing in supporting materials.
  • Even if you get an upgrade, it will only be good for the actual seat. It will not get you into the first class lounge, a limo at the airport, or other possible features of a first class ticket you buy.


  • Don't be shocked if you have to stay in coach. This rarely works. You get what you paid for.
  • Never threaten them. It won't help your case. In fact, behaving in a pushy or aggressive manner often lowers your chances of upgrading, and increases your changes for being bumped, and even arrested.
  • Do not expect upgrades simply because your flight is delayed or canceled. Ticket agents are dealing with potentially hundreds of people affected by such delays, and are more likely to be responsive to those who are patient or themselves helpful. Assertiveness is good, but patience is better.
  • Don't be too pushy. This can frustrate crew members, booking agents, ticket counter agents and everyone around you.
  • Travel agent's upgrade vouchers might not be honored by the airline if the flight is over-booked. But the travel agent will insure you're booked on a flight.

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