Flight upgrades are only getting more elusive—as airlines focus more on selling those business and first class seats, there are fewer left to give away. But that doesn’t mean snagging one is impossible. From surefire tactics to (strategic!) gambles, we’ve rounded up our top five ways to score a business- or first-class seat.
Airlines will often sell unfilled first class seats for a fraction of their original cost once it gets close to take-off, but they generally wait until the last possible second. Ask (politely!) just before you board if there are any free seats. If you’d pay for it otherwise, this tactic is a gamble, and therefore it’s best saved for short flights, where your seat isn’t going to make or break the trip.
Don’t start from the bottom
Depending on the route, most big airlines have several classes of service between true coach and first class (e.g., premium economy, “even more legroom,” business class). Rather than try to go from coach to business class, spring for a premium economy ticket initially—from there, you’ll be more likely to be bumped up to business or first class than your coach counterparts.
Fly from small airports
For long-haul flights (we’re talking 12+ hours) when you’re dreading the thought of sitting up in an economy seat, fly out of small international airports, like Oakland International Airport. Those flights are less in-demand than those leaving from airports like San Francisco, so your chances of getting bumped up are increased.
Your best bet for scoring an upgrade takes time: consistently fly with the same airline. It doesn’t matter how much you flirt with the flight attendant—when upgrades become available, air carriers always favor their most frequent customers. Register for the airline’s loyalty program to keep track of the miles you rack up.
Just buy a first class seat
Hear us out. Upgrades are becoming much less common. The trick is to use your miles strategically. Get a credit card that accrues miles so that you can use your points on a variety of carriers. Book one-way tickets for each leg of your trip, which tend to use up fewer miles than round trip tickets. The alternative is to use a credit card to buy miles, which airlines occasionally sell at a discount. Then, put those miles toward first class tickets.