One of the most exciting experiences when traveling on business is a free uograde. Past are the days when companies would pay for business class or even first on very long haul flights, most business travel nowadays – at least at my level – happens in coach.
However, I had my fair share of upgrades on busy flights, as it recently happened on my way to Dubai and have learned a few tips that might be useful for fellow travellers to maximise chances for a free upgrade.
Of course, the first choice for free upgrades are always frequent flyers with the airline, so being members of their program is Tip #0: it’s free and takes only 5 minutes of your time. Believe me, you don’t know when flashing that card may make the difference, but when it does, boy, are you happy you invested those minutes.
Tip #1: travel alone
Airlines never upgrade passengers traveling with others – bear in mind overbooking rarely affects more than a handful of passengers, so any party with more than one member is automatically excluded from the lottery.
Tip #2: check in early, but not too much
Airlines resort to upgrades as a last measure (they’re expensive) so they will hope for no shows, and start upgrading people only when it’s obvious that they will be forced to. OTOH, if you check in at the last moment, chances are the lottery is drawn already: in my experience, the window of opportunity opens about 90 minutes before scheduled departure time and lasts about 45 mins, although of course timing may vary wildly due to a number of reasons.
Tip #3: look as if you’ll fit in
I always had the suspicion than in evaluating upgrade potentials, airline staff have a slight preference for people that may fit in with fellow business class passengers; so when I travel on business I try to look as if I’m doing just that: a garment bag, attire moderately business-like, computer are all details that tell the ground staff I’m a safe bet to bump up.
Tip #4: make choosing you the easy option
No dietary requirements, simple baggage, alert behaviour, traveling experience and good command of english are all pluses. This is especially true when the lottery happens AFTER they checked you in: airline reps will starts cruising the gate waiting area ogling candidates, and they would rather pick someone who “gets” the situation quickly without fuss and without a lot of explaining.
Tip #5: don’t ask
If you are lucky and do your homework right, it’ll happen on its own, but there’s not much else you can do to “help” your luck. Certainly behaving one of those obnoxious morons who wink at check-in clerks like sales conventioneers at waitresses won’t improve your chances. I hope.