No, there’s no magic secret password, there’s no set of rules to follow, or tricks to scoring the glorious free upgrade. But there are a few things you can do, as I’ve been lucky enough to learn firsthand.
Show up early. And be nice.
If you’re one of the first ones to get checked in and then your flight gets delayed, chances are the flight attendants who helped you will remember you, and be sure to take care of you. They respect the fact you were early to check-in, and they’re much more likely to help you if you were kind and polite. You get more flies with honey than vinegar, and all that.
I always look at travel as somewhat of a business meeting with the world. You never know who you’re going to meet, and thus you should always be dressed your best. Sweatpants might be the normal uniform for the majority of travelers these days, but let’s face it, do you ever stop and think to yourself, “Wow, they look like somebody.” Chances are likely not. So dress the part. You want that upgrade, dress for it. When flight attendants are moving people around the cabin, if you’ve been nice and are well dressed, chances are way better that they’ll move you up to a better seat. It makes the airline look good if you look good.
Sit Up Front
When choosing your seats, sit as far in the front of the cabin as possible. On long haul flights they always upgrade people, there are always last minute seat chances, and people are moving around the cabin like it’s a game of musical chairs. If you’ve chosen a seat in the front row of the cabin, chances are pretty good you’re going to get bumped up at least to the back of the next cabin. Hey, I’m not complaining.
Ok, and now the last aren’t technically free, but hear me out…
Have a Game Plan
Have a lot of travel coming up? Be smart about it. Pick one airline, or one network of airlines, and fly them consistently. It pays to be loyal, even if it might cost you a little bit more money along the way. I’ve flown British Airways exclusively for the last decade, and I’ve come to know their wonderful service, and a few upgrades along the way. Oh hey! And it’s all because I made a point to find the one airline that I thought would serve me best long term, and it paid off.
Part 2 of this is also to get a Rewards Card. If you’re spending the money already you should be getting something back. Everyday purchases add up quickly to get you places, and as a bonus, you’ll get extra miles when you put that flight on your card. JetBlue is my favorite for this, and I’ve enjoyed a few free beach trips on the fly. Likewise, you can use those points to upgrade, saving bundles on an amazing seat.
This one might be the secret to it all. Whenever possible, book the Premium Economy seat, and sit back and totally enjoy it. Halfway between Business and Coach, it’s really all you need — comfier seat, usually better food (or just food period), and this gives you a head start on the free upgrade tips above. You’ll get more bonus points when you fly, and the better boarding experience is always worth it. The price differential often isn’t that great, so it’s a small splurge that has huge payback potential.