How to get a free flight upgrade to business class

Getting a free hotel upgrade is one thing, but getting a free flight upgrade is the NEXT LEVEL. Whilst it’s a lot harder than it used to be, the good news is that it can still be done.

Better yet is that I’ve collected a load of real life experiences from Instagram to share the best ways for you to be living your business class dreams on a budget.

The basics to getting a free flight upgrade

First things first, it’s good to keep all of these things in mind to put you in the best position possible to nabbing that ultimate freebie.

Sign up to the airline's rewards programme

Even if it’s your first ever flight with them, it’s always worth creating an account with the airline to show that you’re at least interested in keeping loyal to them! You’ll often earn points or miles too and so this is a total no brainer.

Punt for long haul over short haul

Any free upgrade is a win but if you’re only flying a couple of hours, it’s likely that business class will be in a similar seat to economy – though with better service. Basically, if you’re gonna cash in all your effort, I’d wait until you were flying long haul where the upgrades could equal fancy amenity kits and lie flat seats!

Look presentable

We’ve all heard the rumour that if you’re looking sharp then you’ve got a better chance of being upgraded and whilst I don’t think you need to be rocking up in high heels or in a suit, making sure you’re looking like you’ve made an effort is key. Please note, my photo of me dressing up smart is ‘pending’ – but the above will do for now 😂

Don't expect an upgrade

Look, everyone wants a free upgrade and the truth is that most people don’t get them and so the best way to go into this is thinking you won’t get one but if any of the following do work for you, then what a wonderful bonus on top of the fact that you’re getting to go away too!

Your real life examples of getting free flight upgrades

I asked you on Instagram whether you’d had any success in getting a free flight upgrade recently and the great news is that lots of you had!

So here’s what has worked before and fingers crossed, may well work again!

Know someone who works for the airline

Yep, ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ works in aviation too. If your brother’s mother’s teacher’s nephew works for the airline you’re working for, hit them up!

Flew with a friend whose family friend is a pilot – she just name dropped!

We got upgraded to business when flying to India but that’s because my friend worked in the industry and totally wangled it.

And perhaps my favourite take on this hack…

Found the cabin manager on Grindr minutes before.

Get married!

It’s a classic for a reason and the good news for newlyweds is that I had a fair few people say that simply turning up in their state of wedded bliss was enough to win them a free upgrade.

Played the honeymoon card!

Those on their way to their own wedding had success too – so if you’re taking your wedding dress in tow, I’d definitely be making sure it was on show.

Flew to NYC to get hitched and the check in staff saw my dress and upgraded us!

Let your airline know that you're celebrating a special occasion

I actually think if the trip has been booked for any special occasion, it’s always worth letting someone know! I’d try and do this before you fly – so whether that’s through your travel agent or by emailing customer service at the airline, it’s always worth a punt.  Plus it’s less awkward than having to try and work it into conversation at the check in desk.

The check in lady had the same birthday as my sister whose 40th we were in NYC for!

I got upgraded because it was my 30th!

Emailed BA after we booked for our 5 year anniversary and were upgraded to premium economy!

Of course, you can still mention it on the day too but remember that check in staff will hear this sort of thing all the time so try to think how you could mention it naturally – a visual cue such as a birthday badge may be helpful too!

Just ask!

Now, this one comes with the caveat that check in staff must be sick to their back teeth of people asking and so if you decide to do so, do it after already being friendly, asking how they are and having everything you need for check in ready to go.

I simply go for a ‘do you know if there are any upgrades available today?’ and if there are, and the person I’m speaking to is being friendly, I may follow up with a cheeky ‘well if you are compiling a list of who to bump up, I’d love to be considered’. I then move the conversation on.

My family of 4 got upgraded on a flight to Orlando. My Dad just asked nicely!

Got a title? Let it be known!

If you’ve put in the graft to become a doctor, judge or have another fancy title, then let it be known on your booking! Of course, make sure it matches whatever you have on your passport.

I’ve been upgraded to business by having Dr on my ticket.

“Dr” on my boarding card – even though I was on a post-uni backpacking trip and hadn’t washed for 2 days!!

Be... tall!

There is hope for those long legged of you as it has been known for staff to take pity on particularly tall passengers who are in desperate need of a bit more space.

Check in staff took one look at me (tall) and my husband (very tall) and upgraded us to extra legroom seats.

We got the big leg room seats on a flight to the USA because the staff noticed that my other half is 6 ft 2 – and we were polite.

Be the first to check in - or the last

If a flight is overbooked, an airline may be looking to move people around and so there’s arguments for both checking in first and last. First, because they want to plan ahead and sort as soon as possible. Last if they’re waiting to see how many passengers show up, and you nudge them into being overbooked!

My family and I got upgraded from New York to London with Delta. They didn’t tell us but I think it was because we were the first to check in!

Free upgrade to Florida because they’d changed planes and we happened to have check in first.

I once got an upgrade by being super late checking in and almost missing the flight!

I worked for an airline for years and when the flights were oversold, we looked for solo travellers or the last people to check in – though this is risky as if the flight is over they could get bumped!

Be a solo traveller

One upgrade is easier than two and so travelling alone can mean you’re in a better position to be moved around should the airline need to bump anyone up. 

Twice, but only when I’ve been a solo traveller. It was also because I was being kind!

I collect BA Avios and travel alone quiet a lot – I think that helps!

I got upgraded to business when flying to Bali. They said it was because I was travelling solo and because I was part of their air miles loyalty scheme – they pick from that first.

Be on a busy flight

As you may have already caught onto, a big reason for people getting upgraded is when a flight is overbooked and so booking on a popular route during peak times may mean you get bumped up.

Recently got upgraded from Manchester to Istanbul because of overbooking on Turkish Airlines.

We got a free upgrade after our seats being overbooked – and being the nice people who didn’t scream at the agents.

Husband got bumped from premium economy to first due to overbooking when travelling from NYC. 

Overbooking is a completely normal industry practise by the way and is done because statistically not everyone will show up for their flight. When they do, it’s a case of moving people around or asking some passengers to move to another flight.

Be willing to get bumped to another flight

When staff are looking to move people to another flight, this could be your opportunity to make the most out of what could be quite a stressful situation for them. If not told up front, I’d kindly ask what the compensation would be for moving.

Our flight was overbooked and we offered to take the next one – we had to run to the gate but we got an upgrade!

They overbooked – we got the next flight instead, with an upgrade and with spending money too!

Travel with someone who's booked Business Class

If staff are looking for people to move, this could be a great way to get them to pick you!

Got upgraded at the check in desk checking in with a friend who was flying Business Class.

Have your flight cancelled

I mean, it’s not exactly a top tip is it but it is worth knowing this has been a reason that people have been upgraded in the past! I would say that this tends to be when you’re in the airport or int he air and your flight gets cancelled over when it gets cancelled in the run up to your journey.

Our connecting flight was cancelled. We were booked as premium economy and were upgraded to business class to compensate!

We got upgraded to first class on BA from London to Miami on American Airlines because our flight was cancelled. 

Look out for your airline staff and crew members

Simply looking out for your airline’s staff and crew members and making their life easier can sometimes go a long way!

I gave a fan to check in staff as the AC was down. My daughter and then I got a BA upgrade from Beijing to London!

Got a sneaky upgrade from premium economy to first flying to Las Vegas with British Airways for making room for a family to sit together.

Bring treats for the crew

Be it a big bar of chocolate or a bag of sweets, I’ve heard that bringing the crew a treat has worked a handful of times. James and I tried it on two Emirates flights – one to Dubai, another to Bangkok and it didn’t work BUT it did feel nice to give our crew a treat!

A friend of mine who works as crew said that Starbucks gift cards are a great one. I gave two $5 on a recent flight home from New York and whilst no upgrade, the crew absolutely loved them and looked after me really well.

I brought treats for the flight attendants!

Gave some UK chocolate to the crew. Our return flight was upgraded!

Something wrong? Let someone know

The really important thing here is how you convey that something is up. Be understanding – mistakes and mishaps can happen! – and give the airline an opportunity to fix the issue for you.

Our seats were split up on route to NYC and so I phoned up BA gutted. When went to board we had got a free upgrade!

My daughter was flying economy in Virgin from London to LA. Her TV wasn’t working and so they apologised and asked if she’d mind moving to Business Class!

Flying LA to Heathrow, my seat wouldn’t recline, my TV broke and I think the steward just felt sorry for me!

Don't have any special dietary requests

This one makes me a bit sad to write because I know that this simply isn’t a choice for many of the people who opt for a special meal, however if you don’t need a meal different from the norm, it may be best to keep with that as it may be a reason that you’re not chosen for an upgrade – simply as they won’t have food for you in the upgraded cabin.

Heard that you shouldn’t have special diet requests on your meal as that’s harder for the airline.

Fly in the cabin one below the cabin you want

I’ve been really interested to see that a lot of people who shared their experience got upgraded from Premium Economy or Economy Plus to Business Class – which makes sense as they’re moving travellers up one cabin category. Of course, it’s all a numbers game of who has booked what, but as Business Class can be a huge jump in price, it’s understandable that there may be more seats available there versus the more affordable Premium Economy.

They were overbooked in premium economy so I got upgraded to Business.

I’ve been upgraded 3 times with BA. Twice from economy to premium economy – and once from premium economy to business.

Simply be nice

This was the overwhelming response I got from people – and the underlying reason for many of the above reasons – that by simply being nice humans, people have been rewarded with a better seat.

I booked my BA flight over the phone and was having a lovely chat with the woman. At the end she told me she’d upgraded me and my husband to Business Class for being nice!

I was nice! The flight was delayed and I didn’t make a fuss.

Got upgraded to Club World on BA, London to Dubai. We dressed smart and were super nice to check in staff.

On a flight to New York for my daughter’s birthday, we were just friendly with the crew and then we had an upgrade on the flight home!

We got upgraded for being nice! Our party was late checking in and they just scooted us over to the first class desk.

Have a bit of luck!

Whilst it’s not one you can plan for, I did also want to share the numerous people who were upgraded for seemingly no rhyme or reason – so even if the above hasn’t worked, there may still be some hope!

We got upgraded from Premium Economy to Business Class from New York to London – I didn’t even ask for it!

Got upgraded to first on a trip to Orlando on a really early flight from Newcastle. I just got lucky!

Virgin are really good at it – best was Economy to Upper Class 1A at the gate!!

Upgraded to business from Gatwick to Antigua with BA. Didn’t even ask!

Checked in online then got upgraded at the check in desk to Business! It does happen!

Other low cost ways to get a flight upgrade

As well as complete freebies, there were a few of you who shared upgrades that became available by parting with some cash or points.

As well as complete freebies, there were a few of you who shared upgrades that became available by parting with some cash or points.

Virgin offered to upgrade us on our honeymoon for £230 each.

Points and miles are always the easiest way to ensure a lie flat bed for your next trip.

Not free but we checked in as soon as online check in opened on the KLM app and got an 80% discount on business class seats.

After hearing an upgrade from economy to premium was available on my Virgin flight to LA for £300, I asked if they were accepting points and they were! I used 27k points and paid £80 in taxes. It was the best flight ever and I did it again on the same flight a year later.

I once surprised James with a LIE FLAT Business Class seat in one of British Airways’ Club Suites and thanks to using Avios points, only paid £70 each!

A big thanks to everyone who submitted their experiences and I really hope it helps you get a free upgrade in the near future!

If you want to be involved in future travel discussions, make sure you come and follow on Instagram.

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