Whilst rare, elusive free seat upgrades do still happen.

Follow these simple tips from travel experts to improve your chances of bagging a better seat. 

Loyalty rewards

Being a loyal customer is one of the best ways to get a free upgrade.

Airlines want to reward their frequent flyers so pick your preferred airline, join their loyalty program and build up your air miles. 

Sign up to a few different airline’s frequent flyers programmes to really maximise your chances. 

Don’t buy the cheapest ticket

Money is another factor airlines look at when deciding who to bump up to business class. 

If you book the cheapest seats in the end of season sale, or use low-fare finding websites then your chances of getting a seat upgrade are slim.

Passengers who book at higher prices or pay for added extras such as baggage or priority boarding are far more likely to win the golden ticket. 

If all else fails, check out Plusgrade – a new bidding platform used by airline giants Virgin Atlantic, Etihad and Singapore airlines – which puts premium seats up for auction a week before the flight’s departure date. 

Fly solo

After loyalty and money, flying solo is the next criteria airlines look for when dishing out seat upgrades.

Seat upgrades are given out sparingly and travellers who go it alone are more likely to be upgraded than couples, groups or families. 

If you are travelling with a group but still want a free upgrade, make sure you’ve got a separate booking to increase your chances. 

Chose your route carefully

Your route can play a big part in determining whether you’re eligible for that well-deserved seat upgrade.

Upgrades are usually offered for ‘operational reasons’ such as overbooking in economy class, so with some careful planning your seat upgrade odds are increased.

Travel fare experts from Skyscanner commented: “Travelling on a busy route to a major business destination – New York, say – at a time when business folk are not travelling but families are – weekends, bank holidays, summer time – will help your case. At such times economy is likely to be overbooked but business class is not”. 

Ask (nicely)

One of the simplest ways to get a free seat upgrade is to just ask.

Once you’ve made the decision to ask, you need to think about where and when: the check-in desk is a good place to start, but think of a (valid) reason and ask in a friendly, undeserving way with a cheeky grin for good measure. 

If you bottle it at the check-in desk, fear not because the flight attendant may also be the person to ask. Just make sure you pick the right time. 

The worst they can say is no after all. But, don’t expect success first time round. 

Seating problems

A broken TV, jammed seatbelt or wonky food tray could be a godsend when it comes to free upgrades. 

MarketWatch advises that if a genuine opportunity to complain crops up, get up and speak discreetly to the nearest flight attendant.

If there’s no spare space in your cabin, they might move you to the promised land: first class.

Keep your eagle eyes out for online deals

On the rare occasion when a business class flight is cheaper than an economy fare, snap it up quickly. 

Airline fares are usually decided by sophisticated computer algorithms, so cheaper business class flights may be an error.

Be aware that you run the risk of your seat being cancelled if the airline decide not to honour the deal. 


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