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10 tips to get a free upgrade to Business Class

12 August 2015

Contrary to popular belief, flying Business Class doesn’t have to be much more expensive than Economy Class. In fact, if you plan your trip in advance and know well how airlines’ policies work, there are odds that you get a free “upgrade” to Business, that is to say, that the airline changes your ticket from Tourist to Business without any additional expense on your part.

Even though each company follows its own rules, we have taken advice from airlines and travellers to come up with 10 commonly useful tips:

1. Sign up for loyalty programs

First of all, if you want your chances of getting a free upgrade improved, it is essential that you are a member of the frequent flyer program of the airline. So make sure you have the “points card” of the company you are going to fly with. The process is usually very simple, and all airlines will let you do it for free and through their websites.

2. Watch the program category

This comes as no surprise, but the higher the category of the frequent flyer program, the greater your chances to get an upgrade. In case of overbooking, which is a common situation in summer, airlines start transferring travellers to Business Class starting from the holders of the higher category cards (eg. Gold). However, the percentage of passengers that belong to this category is usually small.

3. Introduce your frequent flyer number on the ticket a few days before flying

It is important that you don’t wait until you get to the airport to note that you are a member of the frequent flyer program, and do it at the time of the purchase instead, at least 24 hours before the departure.

4. Check-in from home

If there is overbooking, there is an upgrade. How to be one of the lucky ones? Apart from following the tips above, it is important that you check-in from home about 24 hours before the departure, as soon as the airline allows it.

Those responsible for the flights usually know in advance which flights will fill up, and that’s why they start transferring passengers from one class to another before the departure. But passengers that didn’t check-in won’t be upgraded, as the airline can’t be sure whether they will fly.

Some companies offer upgrades at the moment of the online check-in at discounted prices (between 75 and 150 euros, depending on the flight), which can also be a good choice, even thought you’ll have to pay an extra fee.

5. Show a good attitude

If you are properly dress and according to what is expected at that cabin, it is 50% more likeable that you get a cortesy upgrade when you ask for it, according to some studies. Of course, good manners and education help too.

6. Travel alone (or act in the same way)

Even if you travel with somebody, it is interesting that you check-in for separate, as this will increase your chances of getting the upgrade. When 3 or more people check-in together, the upgrade becomes increasingly difficult, until it’s almost impossible.

7. Request the upgrade to the airline

This may seem obvious, but in some companies, especially in the US, it is important to ask if it is possible to get a “courtesy” (free) upgrade at the company desk. Some airlines, such as American, place a list of requests arranged by category of the loyalty program and by request order. In many European airlines, however, many upgrades are decided before the check-in at the airport.

8. Ask for it at work

If you fly on a business trip in Economy Class but your company is a major customer of a travel agency, you can try to make this request through the travel agency so that it gets to the airline. Loyalty programs for companies, such as Iberia Plus or Air France-KLM’ BlueBiz  are increasingly important when it comes to qualifying for such benefits.

9. Be active on the airline’s social networks

More and more airlines are monitoring customer satisfaction through social networks. But beware: it is not complaining about the airline’s services what works, but sharing positive experiences. Marketing departments may want to reward the brand prescribers.

10. Note if you have a physical ailment

If you have any health problems, especially muscular pain or broken bones, and tell it to the airline, it can improve your chances when it comes to opting for the upgrade.

In conclusion

Upgrades to Business Class happen more or less frequently depending on the route and airline, so the more you travel, the greater your chances will be. We hope that these 10 “white collar” strategies will help you to take advantage of the situation if the opportunity arises.

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