1. Check in really early or really last minute
It’s risky. Check in early and don’t get offered it and you have to kill time in the airport; check in last minute and miss the flight and you’ll be kicking yourself for being greedy. However; if you check in first and there are upgrades available on the flight they may offer you the upgrades as you’re the first to arrive. If the flight is overbooked and you’re late but there’s room in business class or above then they might let you on there for the same price. However this only works if you haven’t reserved your seat in economy class on the flight already, and the check in desk are feeling generous as they could also just point blank refuse you entry to the plane.
If you’re serious about trying to get a free upgrade then research your flight carefully. if you’re on a busy commuter flight at rush hour times the chances of you being given a space in business class are fairly low as in all likelihood they will be full. During school holidays economy class on flights to standard holiday locations are usually full but business class is fairly empty; if you’re travelling on these flights and you’re looking for an upgrade; there’s more of a chance you might get one. If you’ve paid a knockdown fare for the flight then it’s also unlikely you’ll be considered for an upgrade; flights can track where you’ve bought your ticket from and for how much, so if you’ve taken advantage of the last minute deal and got tickets to New York for 50 quid then it’s unlikely you’ll be a high priority for an upgrade. Travelling alone also means you’re more likely to be considered for an upgrade; they only need to find one seat in business class rather than two seated together.
So you arrive at the airport dressed as if you’ve just rolled out of bed (admittedly it might be 4 in the morning, but still…) If you’re looking for that upgrade then you need to look and act the part. If you look like you’re used to sitting in first class with the rest of them then you’re more likely to be considered for it; if you look like you’re not really bothered then airline staff will assume you’re not and might not even ask. Along the same lines of dressing the part is also acting the part; being polite and remembering your manners without being overbearing is important; no one likes rudeness or pushiness, especially not during boarding. Expressing too much emotion (i.e. being sad or angry) is unlikely to get you very far; it can create an awkward situation for everyone involved and airline staff might mark you out as a difficult customer. However; if the airline has made a mistake (and by mistake we mean an error which has created a big inconvenience) then you could be considered for an upgrade by making a little bit of a fuss and pointing out the error- this does not mean shouting, making a scene and threatening to give bad reviews on social networks/travel websites, but rather politely explaining the issue and how you feel the problem could be rectified or resolved. Demonstrating flexibility can also be rewarded; so if the flights overbooked and the airline is looking to move people on to the next flight, offering your seat may be rewarded by being given an upgrade. Finally, special meal requirements is a guaranteed way for you not to be bumped up into the next class; flights often don’t have spare meals for people who have specific dietary requirements so the likelihood is that they won’t have your meal equivalent in the other classes and so therefore you won’t get offered the upgrade.
If you know someone who works for the airline then this is probably the most surefire way to get yourself an upgrade. A lot of airline staff have the opportunity to put family or friends on to flyer lists which means that they can buy tickets for business and first class at a knockdown price. Even if you’re not on their list, if you can persuade them to put a good word in for you then you might find yourself on the upgrade list just by who you know. Another more likely way to get an upgrade is by using Frequent Flyer Schemes (obviously this only works if you are a frequent flyer and not just travelling once a year on your summer holidays). The schemes are often quite complicated to utilise (specifically so people have to pay more money) but even being a member of these schemes may give you an advantage as it demonstrates loyalty to the airline who may choose to reward their customers.
5. Use your title
Whether you’re a doctor, a judge or a diplomat, or maybe just a minor celebrity, using your title might just get you an upgrade. This has become less common in the last few years; however letting the airline know that you hold a title (okay, if you’re a diplomat you’re probably going to be travelling first class anyway) may put you in the running for an upgrade. If it’s on your passport then that’s great but letting the airline know ahead of time that you hold a title will put you in the front running; get your travel agent to give them a call and they might just offer an upgrade.