(picture: courtesy of Emirates)
You must have done it too – enviously scanned those privileged Business and First Class passengers as they stream down the specially designated ramp to board ‘their’ privileged part of the aircraft. It’s easy to imagine gold-plated taps in the loos, in-flight massages, ten-course degustations, vintage wines and more.
Sometimes us lowly Economy sorts are herded quickly through the lush paddocks of the pointy end, murmuring jealously as we’re elbowed aside so that the privileged few can hoist their Louis Vuitton cabin baggage (so much of it) into vast overhead lockers. No, that’s wrong too! It’s actually a bowing and scraping attendant who hefts things aloft for them.
Even worse is the fact that they don’t even look seriously well-off. It’s about then that yet another niggling thought arrives. Could it be (is it actually possible that) they simply received an upgrade.
It’s the U-word we all want to hear. Just occasionally it comes at the end of a nail-biting period when you have been told you are ’bumped’ – left off the flight altogether due to an overbooking glitch. It happened once to some US friends of ours returning home. The cutoff point fell amidst their group and it looked like their teenage daughter might have to stay behind. At the last minute she found herself bumped forwards. Into First Class.
There are other ways, but forget flattering the check-in attendant (or worse, abuse and threats). These people are generally not authorised to make changes in status, and will only do so if it suits the airline. There may be an exceptionally full economy section, for instance, and almost nothing at the front. It may even depend on whether enough meals have been loaded onboard for that sector.
Truth is, you have as much chance of this as winning Lotto, but it can happen, especially if you are a faithful Frequent Flier with the airline.
But here is some good news. You can actually use your loyalty points to ‘buy’ an upgrade. And it may not be as much as you think. Most airlines now will also let you pay on the spot at check-in. This may be just hundreds of dollars (instead of the original thousands) for Business Class on a Sydney-London flight. Enquire about the possibility of this when booking your Economy seat.
If you need other clues about securing an upgrade there are websites which give some hints. Many of their suggestions are pure common-sense: be polite, don’t attempt to smooth-talk the agent, and dress well. I know, it’s unfair. Millionaires can board the front-end as dressed-down as they like, but wannabe upgrades need shoes and socks, a jacket and clean attire at the very least.
Timing is important too. Come early, request an upgrade at check-in and you might get lucky. The person at the desk is less rushed then and they may have more flexibility. Plan to board the plane as late as you can, though. By then on-board seating glitches may have surfaced, and the easiest thing for staff to do, is to upgrade late passengers. That might well be you.
When booking, mention if you are a doctor, a minister of religion or if you work for a charitable or humanitarian organization. It’s not a shoe-in, but could help your case. Ask for a notation of this in the computer with your booking. A lone traveller also has more chance of an upgrade than does a group or a couple. Naturally.
Of course if you’ve had a dreadful connecting flight with the same airline it doesn’t hurt to make your complaint known. Calmly. The company may see an upgrade as a simple way to keep you their customer.
Nothing is assured in Airport-land, but who knows? Next time it might be you seated at the pointy-end accepting a glass of bubbly from the smiling attendant.
Have you ever been able to wrangle an upgrade? How did you do it? What airline? What was it like? Tell us here:
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