Monday, July 24, 2006

Top ten secrets to getting a free airline upgrade

I've not posted for a few days because I've spent most of the last week on a short business trip. I just got back yesterday from a long haul flight and was lucky enough to get a free upgrade (seat 1A if you must know - and yes the lobster dinner and vintage champagne, plus flat bed and fluffy duvet do make a flight seem more comfortable).

But I was watching people at both the check-in desk and the boarding gate trying to talk their way into free upgrades. Some succeeded; others, well, they crashed and burned. So here's a countdown of my top ten tips for getting a free upgrade:

10. Be a member of the airline's frequent flyer programme. And present your frequent flyer card to everyone (check-in staff, gate staff, cabin crew) you meet on your journey.

9. Be 'SFU' (suitable for upgrade) by dressing smartly. Many airlines want to retain the prestige of their upper classes. Dress for leisure and be prepared to stay in economy. Dress for business (down to your shoes and your carry-on luggage) and you'll maximise your chances.

8. Be unfailingly polite. Upgrades are totally discretionary so if you are at all rude or irritable, they will undoubtedly decide to leave you in cattle class.

7. Leave the kids behind. Airlines are loath to disturb the peace and quiet of their business travellers. If you've got screaming kids, you won't get upgraded.

6. Try to book a flight when the economy cabin is likely to be full. If economy's full and they need to bump people up, you'll have a better chance than if there are plenty of seats down the back.

5. Have a tiny amount of hand luggage. The airline staff won't want you disturbing the other premium passengers with a piece of hand baggage the size of a truck.

4. Try asking indirectly for an upgrade. For example, if you and your partner are sat separately, ask whether there might be room for you to sit together elsewhere - as spare seats together are often in a better class.

3. Try asking at the gate as opposed to the check-in desk. The ground staff at the boarding gate will have a better sense of how many free seats they have than the check-in staff.

2.Try asking a senior member of cabin crew once you are on board the aircraft - look for the different coloured tie or jacket they may be wearing to the other, more junior members of crew. This is the time you present your frequent flyer card if you have one.

1. Linger at the boarding gate until as late as humanly possible before getting on the plane. Staff are more likely to upgrade you if there aren't other passengers around who might overhear you getting a free upgrade and wanting one too.

And here's an extra tip:

0. Sleep with a member of cabin crew. Well, this is probably not something you can do as you step onto the plane and present your boarding card. But spouses, long-term partners, or even 'designated friends' of cabin crew always get treated better than mere mortals. And this isn't as hard as it sounds - British Airways alone has several thousand check-in staff and dispatchers plus over 30,000 cabin crew!

Good luck and let me know how you get on!