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14 of the best ways to score a flight upgrade

Sprawl out in first class. Use these tips on how to get upgraded on your next flight.

Updated

Fact checked
Airline stewardess serving food to passenger

It’s the dream to buy economy and get bumped up to first class absolutely free, but how do you make that dream a reality?

While there’s no hard and fast rule on how to score this holy grail, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of nabbing that premium economy, business or first class upgrade.

Here’s how:

1. Join the frequent flyer program. Many US airlines such as Delta, United or American Airlines let you trade in your hard-earned frequent flyer miles for upgrades.

2. Earn elite status. Reaching at least the first elite tier of an airline rewards program can get you a complimentary upgrade on most flights and on partner airlines within an alliance, such as Star Alliance, Oneworld Alliance or the SkyTeam. If you reach the top tier, you are often first on the upgrade wait list.

3. Travel with a companion who has elite status. One companion traveling on the same reservation as the elite member can often get a complimentary upgrade along with the elite member.

4. Get an airline cobranded credit card. Use it to reach elite status faster, and to earn more miles on purchases that can be redeemed for an upgrade. Compare your travel card options to find one that best fits your needs.

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
United℠ Explorer Card
60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants and at US supermarkets and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. Rates & fees
United Club℠ Infinite Card
100,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
4x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on travel and dining and 1x miles on all other purchases
$525
Get United Club membership with access for you and two guests at any United Club or Star Alliance lounge -- a value of up to $650 annually.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $1,000. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
$0
Earn valuable cash back on everyday purchases at gas stations, restaurants and Costco as well as eligible travel with no foreign fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

5. Download upgrade apps. Some apps notify you when a seat upgrade is available, while others let you bid for an upgrade. However, these are often limited to a single airline. For example, Seatboost app works only with Virgin America.

6. Forgo the special meal. These meals are linked to your seat number, so airlines generally don’t upgrade anyone who has nominated one. Instead, choose an onboard option.

7. Fly during quieter periods. Business flyers will fill up the business and first class seats during peak times. Fly during quieter periods to increase your chances of snatching up one of the spare seats on board.

8. Timing is everything. Being early or late both have advantages.

If you’re early, you could be the first offered an upgraded seat. If you’re late and haven’t been assigned a seat yet, there’s a chance the flight has been overbooked for your class and you could be bumped up. Of course, arriving late can be risky.

9. Make an impression. Playing to the emotional side of the person at the counter, or simply being nice and complimenting them can help you get an upgrade according to some. However, there’s no guarantee this will work.

10. Bump yourself off the plane. If the plane has been overbooked and you can sacrifice the waiting time, nominate yourself to be bumped off the plane on the provision that you get upgraded on the next flight.

11. Dress to impress. It can’t hurt to look like you belong in first class when at the airline counter.

12. Don’t let a delay get the better of you. Sometimes, you’ll automatically receive an upgraded ticket at the counter due to a delay.

13. Fly solo. Flying alone can increase your chances of getting an upgrade. Couples have lower chances, while families have almost nonexistent chances of getting an upgrade.

14. Use your status. People with titles like Dr. or Judge can sometimes be upgraded purely because of their status. The same goes for those with diplomatic passports.

Top deals for business and first class seats

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