10 Tips to Help You Upgrade Your Seat to First Class? Here We Go Again…

L et us start with the premise that — despite what seems to be another article appearing every day promising you tips, tricks and other pixie dust in which you too can score that elusive upgrade to a seat in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane — you have virtually no chance of getting that upgrade into the premium class cabin of an airplane.

Why do you think upgrades are so elusive?

Why Upgrades are Usually Not Possible Anymore

Before addressing the actual list, upgrades have generally become more difficult for most airline passengers — even if they have earned the highest tier of elite status in the frequent flier loyalty program of the airlines — but you do have a better chance of getting an upgrade if you have achieved the highest tier of elite status.

Airlines have consolidated flights overall as passenger traffic has increased — meaning fewer flights for more people. You will generally have more competition for that coveted upgrade to a better seat — if you qualify for it.

Some airplanes have been reconfigured to have fewer premium class seats in order to squeeze in more economy class seats to accommodate more customers — supposedly meaning more revenue for airlines.

The proliferation of the premium economy class cabin which more airlines have been adding to their aircraft fleets means that you will more likely be upgraded to one of these seats as opposed to being upgraded to a seat in either the business class or first class cabins.

Unless the upgrade is an operational one due to an overbooked flight or other factors, international flights are incredibly difficult on which to be granted an upgrade — unless you achieve top tier elite status in that frequent flier loyalty program, where your chances are better for upgrades; or you pay for the upgrade with either frequent flier loyalty program miles or money, of course.

10 Tips to Help You Upgrade Your Seat to First Class? Here We Go Again…

“Flying first class is a luxury, no doubt about it,” according to this article written by Julie Peirano for The Cheat Sheet, “but it’s often super expensive and not worth the money.”

I would agree with that statement.

“But, you’ll be happy to hear that, like most things, there are some loopholes you can use to your advantage.”

The initial agreement has deteriorated considerably at this point.

“When it comes to milking the system, Alex Matjanec, CEO of MyBankTracker, knows how it’s done, which is why we’re sharing his list of know-hows.”

I do not know about you; but I have never heard of either Alex Matjanec or MyBankTracker…

…but milking the system? Taking advantage of what is offered is one thing; but milking the system is another — implying a pseudo-synonym for the term hack, which thankfully was not used in the original article.

Here we go again: another so-called “expert” with advice — 10 tips to help you upgrade your seat if you want to fly as a passenger seated in the first class cabin.

1. Be Loyal to One Airline

The original article starts off with what is arguably the best advice for a chance to be seated in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane for a flight: concentrating on one frequent flier loyalty program is your best chance for an upgrade to the premium class cabin — but realize that doing so is significantly more difficult today than in years past due to a number of factors.

While concentrating on the frequent flier loyalty program of one airline is a good idea for the sake of attempting to secure an upgrade to a better seat, realize that your chances are still low — depending on the flight; the polices of the airline; and the time of day or year as several of many factors.

There is one note of consolation: while you may be relegated to a seat in the economy class cabin despite your best efforts, you have a better chance of staying out of the middle seat.

2. Arrive Late or Early

“Matjanec recommends arriving even earlier, allowing extra time for you to chat with the gate agent or customer service representative without a large crowd of frustrated passengers. During this time, you can chat casually and inquire about the status of any upgrade opportunities.”

That poor tidbit of advice assumes that there even is a gate agent available at the gate. Gate agents are overworked employees of airlines; and they have an abundance of responsibilities which may preclude them from arriving at the gate early enough to be schmoozed into offering you that upgrade. Sorry.

As for flights being overbooked, if the gate agent asks for volunteers to be “bumped” from the flight, that is when you arrive at the gate and convey your interest in taking a later flight. You can negotiate for an upgraded seat on a later flight, but although it is possible that your negotiations will be successful, do not expect it — especially if you have a lot of competition for being “bumped” from the flight. Airlines are tighter on controlling their seat inventory than ever; and for the reasons mentioned in the first tip of this article, chances are you will not get your upgrade. You might get a few frequent flier loyalty program miles thrown your way, though.

Despite Matjanec not recommending arriving too late, I would not even arrive late. It is simply not worth taking chances — especially with the current environment of long lines at airport security checkpoints.

3. Travel During Slow Times

In addition to the aforementioned consolidation, realize that the airline has the prerogative to cancel flights in advance — or have a special schedule — at slow times.

Realistically, your best bet of traveling during a slow time and securing an upgrade is if you are on a flight which departs at a very early hour on a Saturday or Sunday morning or on the morning of a major holiday such as Thanksgiving.

Overnight — or red-eye — flights have been increasingly popular in recent years, as have been flights which occur during the middle of the week.

Less popular airports can also give you a better chance of securing an upgrade aboard an airplane for a flight…

…and even then, your chances of getting that upgrade are next to impossible unless you had already earned some level of elite status with the frequent flier loyalty program of the airline operating the flight.

4. Complain About Something

“No one likes the guy who’s always complaining about something, but if you’re warranted in your feedback, taking the time to write the airline might pay off.”

Yes, complaining about something might secure you an upgrade — but do not count on it.

First, your feedback should be warranted. In other words, your complaint should be significant and justified enough to be granted an upgrade; but you will more likely get a bunch of frequent flier loyalty program miles or a voucher good towards the value of the airfare of a future flight rather than an upgrade.

Airlines know which customers complain too often — and I have heard straight from the mouth of one former airline executive in person about how a customer was fired by the airline.

Only complain — or, more euphemistically, offer constructive criticism — to the airline when you actually have something significant about which to complain…

…and if it is not too late to do so, voice your concerns to employees of an airline — such as a gate agent or member of a flight crew — as they have the authority to respond more favorably to your constructive criticism versus filing your thoughts to the airline after the fact, as by then, it could be too late depending on the circumstance.

Whatever you do, please do not complain solely for the purpose of attempting to score an upgrade. That is simply poor form.

5. Book Through the Official Internet Web Site of the Airline

“Sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, and Priceline are great for comparing prices, but not so great for actually booking your flight.” That is not necessarily true, as you have the potential to save money by booking your itineraries through those Internet travel agencies — especially if multiple airlines are involved.

When a problem does arise and you have booked through one of those Internet web sites, expect poor customer service, as representatives of the airline will typically refer you to the Internet travel agency, whose representatives may refer you back to the airline. I have played that ping-pong game in the past — and I felt like the ball being hit by the paddles.

Suffice to say that booking your reservation through the official Internet web site of the airline will not give you a better chance of securing an upgrade unless — you get the idea by now — you have already earned elite level status with the frequent flier loyalty program of the airline operating the flight.

6. Check Your E-mail Messages After Booking Your Flight

“Don’t ignore the follow-up emails after you’ve booked your flight and consider them unimportant. ‘The airline will know ahead of time whether the flight is overbooked, and will offer more and more aggressive discounts to those wishing to upgrade to first class via email,’ Matjanec said. ‘Of course the airline is unable to email customers who used a third-party travel booking site, so you’ll be one of a small minority of people receiving these emails for your specific flight. Regardless of who sits where, the airline has to take off on a set schedule, so the closer an overbooked flight gets to departure time, the more drastic discounts are applied to first-class upgrades.’”

With the exception of Etihad Airways, I have never received this e-mail message of which Matjanec speaks — and the offers for the upgrade were not worth the money to me.

Your mileage may vary.

7. Use a Travel Rewards Card            

For better or for worse, I have always eschewed credit cards which offer frequent flier loyalty program miles, as I would rather have a credit card which offers me cash back for my purchases…

…not to mention that I have never posted one affiliate link to a credit card in the ten years since The Gate was founded.


8. Telephone a Friend

“Friends and family benefits sure do have their perks, and deep discounts could be one of them you’ve not yet tapped into. ‘Employees of airlines receive great perks, including the ability to fly standby for free throughout the year and access to the airline’s passenger systems. If you don’t know someone who works for an airline, it’s time to make that friend.’ You never know, if you’ve found the right friend in the biz, they could help in getting you one of those coveted first-class seats, too.”

First, the friends whom I have with connections to airlines are not my friends because of their abilities to procure “great perks”; rather, they are my friends because they would be my friends anyway — regardless of their occupations. Please do not be a shallow person and try to be “friends” with someone simply because he or she works for an airline.

If Matjanec is referring to the procurement of what are known as buddy passes, I highly recommend that you please read these three articles before considering that option — if you actually have access to one:

9. Fly Solo

“It’s a no-brainer that flying by yourself makes you more nimble in terms of where the airline is able to move you on the aircraft. Trying to accommodate a family of 4 probably isn’t going to happen, but if you’ve got a preference and are traveling alone, it’s worth asking about an upgrade for any lingering seats that might still be available in first class.”

Well, you can ask, as I strongly believe that it never hurts to ask — but I also strongly believe in being realistic by maintaining perspective in life and adjusting your expectations.

I do agree that you have even less of a chance to be upgraded when traveling with other people rather than traveling by yourself — but do not expect your upgrade request to be fulfilled.

10. Fly on Your Birthday

“Don’t underestimate the power of a friendly conversation with a gate agent, flight attendant, or pilot. Whether you’re sitting next to them at the gate, or are at a stand-still as soon as you enter the plane during the boarding process, this is the perfect time to mention any sort of special occasion, like your birthday, anniversary, or graduation celebration.”


Yeah. Sure. Good luck with that one; and happy birthday.


Increasing the quantity of articles with erroneous — and sometimes downright ridiculous — information pertaining to snagging that upgrade by following a bunch of vapid tips does not mean that it will eventually be true; but at least the original article is not as inane as this article based on the original one by Nick Wharton and this article based on the original one by Andrew Medal.

To repeat what has already been said to conclude this article, upgrades have generally become more difficult for most airline passengers; but you do have a better chance of getting an upgrade if you have achieved the highest tier of elite status.

If you really want to sit in that seat in the premium class cabin, the best and most guaranteed way to do it is…

…wait for it…

pay for it — especially as there have been a plethora of transoceanic business class fares for slightly greater than $1,000.00 round trip between select airports in the United States and Europe…

some of which were available as late as earlier today.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “10 Tips to Help You Upgrade Your Seat to First Class? Here We Go Again…”

  1. A says:


    In fact, i got the upgrade offer email a few times from Qatar Airways and to be honest i used the opportunity since they provided good value.

  2. Dylan says:

    #10 actually is a thing for top level status holders on Cathay Pacific. But I completely agree, terrible advice from this so called “expert”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.