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Published March 18th 2013
Try these tips the next time you fly
For several years I worked at Heathrow Airport in London for a large international airline. Here there were some questions that passengers would ask me everyday, such as "What do you mean I can't take 6 bags?", "What visa?" and of course, "Can I be upgraded to business class?"
Complimentary seat upgrades do happen but there are a few things to keep in mind and a few tips that could give you a better chance of getting closer to the front of the plane.
1. Better seats cost more - Airlines are a business, they need to make a profit and most of the profit comes from excess baggage and the high ticket price of business and first class seats. Airlines won't just upgrade you because you seem nice or it's your birthday. There has to be a business reason for it. The most common reason for doing upgrades is if the cabin that you are in has been oversold.
2. Over selling is your friend (sometimes) - Overselling flights is a common practice across the airline industry. What it means is the airline has sold more seats than there are actually available on the plane. If there are seats available in the next cabin passengers may be moved there. However this only works if the cabins above have free seats. If there is no where to be moved to it may mean that some passengers will not be able to travel on the flight. In this case they will be compensated and moved and rebooked, however it can be upsetting and is a good idea to check in online the day before if you can.
3. Don't expect first class if your ticket is for economy - Most long-haul aircraft now have 3 to 4 cabins; Economy, premium economy, business and maybe first class. If you are lucky enough to get an upgrade it is usually to the cabin above. Therefore if you have an economy ticket the most you should hope for is an upgrade to premium economy.
4. Join the airline's loyalty scheme - Before you travel sign up for the airline's frequent flyer or loyalty scheme, especially if you travel often. Airlines like to look after their regular customers. Most frequent flyer schemes will have different tiers, passengers on a higher tier will always be given preference for upgrades.
5. Look the part - Dress neatly, even though it has relaxed over the years many airlines still have a dress code for premium cabins. Ripped jeans, track suits and shirts with offensive slogans will not get you that good seat.
6. Be polite to the staff at check in - The check in agent does not usually have the power to give complimentary upgrades, (remember there has to be a business reason) this will be done by at a higher level. However, check in staff can put comments in the booking if they feel someone is suitable for an upgrade (or not suitable).
7. Don't order a special meal - On most airlines the different cabins have different meals. Special meals have to be arranged before the flight and the type you have requested may not have any extras in the cabin above you.
8. Mention if it's a special occasion/ event but don't lie - If it's an anniversary, honeymoon or your birthday tell the check in agent. Although remember that they are looking at your passport so saying that it's your birthday when its not can be embarrassing for everyone. Also be realistic, if you are travelling to somewhere like Maritus odds are that most of the plane is heading off on their honeymoon too.
9. Be gracious and behave - If you are lucky enough to get that upgrade, say thank you and be happy. Don't ask to change to a window seat and if the upgrade includes lounge access don't go too heavy on the champagne. Remember you did not pay for it and you can be moved back down for bad behaviour.
10. Sit back, realx and enjoy your trip - Even if you don't get the upgrade its worth a try, you never know your luck and hopefully these tips will help.