On a long flight there is nothing worse than being crammed in narrow coach seating with no space to relax or get some work done. Whether it is first class or business class, it is no wonder these are the desired ways to fly for anyone who wants to pass their time on a flight in even a small amount of comfort.
Although upgrades do cost you something, whether it is in cash, frequent flier miles or elite status. You probably already have the ability to upgrade to a more comfortable means of travel, you just might not know it.
Most first-class upgrades are given to elite frequent fliers who receive them as complimentary perks on domestic routes. Even though paid and award upgrades do have priority, there often aren’t enough to fill all of the empty seats on a flight. All you need to do is choose the right flights.
First, try to use one airline for all of your travel, rather than spreading it out among several different ones. If this costs a little more, compare the price to what you might save in other benefits like upgrades, priority seat assignments and waived fees.
If you do plan to fly with an affiliated airline, remember that complimentary upgrades usually only go to members who have elite status with the operating carrier. For example, American Airlines will upgrade a member of its AAdvantage program over anyone from the Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club.
Upgrades can also be purchased at a discount in comparison to the regular cost of a first-class ticket. Some carriers offer this option at check-in or when you make your reservations online.
Others have a fixed price or auction system at the gate. Keep in mind that upgrade rules differ greatly between carriers, and you will be treated differently than if you had originally purchased a first-class ticket.
Carriers will also let you pay for a regular ticket and then upgrade it later using your frequent flier miles. However, many upgrades still require a co-pay, especially for the cheapest discount fares.
For example, United Airlines charges as much as 20,000 miles plus $500 each way for a business-class upgrade between North America and Europe. However, if you want to upgrade a partner flight, such as on Lufthansa, the co-pay requirement is dropped, though you will need to buy a full-fare ticket.
Of course, in some cases, asking nicely and being friendly gets you a long way in anything, this way of gaining an upgrade is still all about the luck of the draw. However, it never hurts to try this as well.