While everyone hopes to score a free flight upgrade, the truth is they usually come at “some” cost -- unless you happen to win the upgrade lottery on your flight. If you are curious how some travelers get the luxury of experiencing First and Business Class flights without directly booking them, here is a look at five ways to get a flight upgrade.
Either through special airline promotions or elite member gifts, purchasing an upgrade certificate is one way travelers can score an upgrade on their flights. The caveat with these is that upgrade certificates are usually only applicable to certain fare classes. This could mean you have to purchase a full-fare ticket and, depending on the route, it can be nearly as expensive as buying a business class seat outright. The best chance for utilizing upgrade certificates is often on business-related travel where a company is picking up the tab. Most companies book refundable tickets, which are a higher fare class.
Most airline carriers reward their most loyal flyers with complimentary upgrades on domestic flights. Elite tiers determine how many days ahead your upgrade can clear and, if you are flying into major hubs during peak business travel times, the chances may be slim you actually get the upgrade. Look for less popular routes and flights that might require longer travel times. If the upgrade is important, the extra hour or two of travel time will be worth it. Carriers like Delta and United continue to revise their frequent flyer programs. 2014 may reduce the number of elite members who only fly short-haul business routes, evening out the playing field a bit for upgrades.
The most obvious way to score a flight upgrade is the frustrating oversold flight. Upgrades are given when there are available business class and first class seats open, but there is still a methodology at play here. You know the elite members who score all the domestic flight upgrades? Carriers again reward their most loyal frequent flyers first with upgrades given out in order of status levels. Depending on the route, there are times where few frequent flyers are onboard and you can cross your fingers in hopes of receiving an upgrade.
Depending on the carrier, some airlines send last minute emails or offer upgrades when you are checking in. This is especially popular with airlines that have check-in kiosks, so look closely as you are navigating the screens and choosing or confirming your seat. Sometimes, the price to upgrade at check-in is half of the cost at the time of booking.
One of the best tricks in travel is the airline issued credit card. Use this card for everything – from simple necessities like gas to major purchases you plan to pay off right away. Many airlines offer bonus miles for designated restaurants and online merchants. You will be surprised how quickly these miles add up, especially with the large mileage bonus typically given at the time of application. Depending on the route and specific flight you are hoping to book, flexibility may result in business class seats similarly priced as miles needed for economy seats.
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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