Get a Business Class Upgrade on Your Next Flight

Who doesn’t want to fly business class? Unlimited drinks, free food, spacious seats, and cozy accommodations make flying a joy rather than an uncomfortable annoyance. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to pay $1,000 or more for your seat, business class isn’t going to happen. It’s becoming more difficult and increasingly rarer to score a free upgrade–and deeply discounted business class fares are also few and far between.

Forget cashing in years of frequent flyer miles, sweet-talking your way into a better seat, or even being surprised with an on-the-spot upgrade The airlines caught on to all of these tricks, and they’ve put a stop to them.

Get-a-Business-Class-Upgrade-on-Your-Next-FlightYet there are still secret, sneaky ways to score a business-class upgrade. Airlines simply don’t advertise them. After all, the less people pay to sit in business class, the more money airlines lose.

Here’s how to get a business class upgrade without paying full price.

1. Wait It Out

Though it’s common knowledge that waiting until the last minute to book a flight sends fares skyrocketing by hundreds of dollars, the reverse is true if you’re looking for a deeply discounted (or free) business class ticket. The longer you wait, the bigger the deal could be.

According to Forbes, first-class tickets can drop to as little as $24 if you wait until the last minute. The trick is to buy an economy ticket well ahead of time, then keep an eye on your email. Airlines like American, Delta, and United will email economy passengers upgrade offers in the last days and hours before a flight’s departure–and that’s when upgraded seats are at rock-bottom prices.

2. Buy A More Expensive Seat

The next time you’re shopping for flights, don’t look for the lowest-priced seat. It sounds counterintuitive, especially if there are more affordable options available, but booking a more expensive seat puts you ahead of other passengers for an upgrade.

As Bloomberg News reports, airlines like Delta and United offer upgrades to business class based on two factors: status and ticket price. If you have high-level frequent flyer status, you’re the first in line to receive a free upgrade. Pay full price, or “full fare,” for your ticket, and you’re the next in line. Spend a little more (and don’t pay with any frequent flier miles), and you might receive a free upgrade if there are any openings in first or business class.

3. Book A Full Flight

Sure, airlines lower ticket prices when a flight isn’t filling up. They need to sell those seats, or they’ll lose money. Yet the same principle doesn’t apply to business class seats. More passengers will book economy than business or first class, meaning airlines have a better chance of filling the biggest section of the plane. There’s no incentive for them to lower prices, or offer free upgrades, if the plane itself isn’t packed.

SmartTravel suggests booking a flight that’s full for the best upgrade odds. Airlines often oversell flights by a few passengers, double-booking economy seats or allowing passengers to buy a ticket without an assigned seat. This means that, if there’s an open seat in business class, the airline has to upgrade you.

You can also volunteer to give up your seat. If the airline announces that someone needs to give up their seat, you’re guaranteed an upgrade (and some bonus cash up to $2,000) for offering to do so on either your original flight or another to your destination.

4. Search For 2-for-1 Sales

According to SmarterTravel, airlines sometimes offer special upgrade sales. When these rare sales appear, they’re a fantastic deal: you can book 2 seats in first or business class and pay the price of only one. You’ll need to check directly with the airline or the airline’s website to score these special prices.

Do keep in mind that these 2-for-1 sales require you to book two upgraded seats, so you will have to pay full price for one of those seats. Sometimes, though, these specially priced upgrades will be offered at the very last minute before a flight’s departure–depending on how may open business class seats there are, an airline sometimes offers 2-for-1 discounted upgrade fees.

5. Just Ask

Can’t find a great deal before your flight takes off? Ask the gate agent if there’s any way you can be upgraded while you’re waiting in the airport. If there are open seats that need to be filled, the gate agent has the authority to give them out. The upgrade could be free, or it could cost as little as $100. If you’re traveling for something special, like your wedding or honeymoon, your odds at a free upgrade are even better.

Both Conde Nast Traveler and Forbes say that, though it’s a long shot on some flights, asking offers great odds. In order to be granted an upgrade this way, there need to be open seats in business class and a short list of elite status travelers who want an upgrade. Status is always prioritized ahead of an average passenger’s ticket, so if you have any kind of status on an airline, you’re even more likely to get upgraded just for asking.

Enjoy Business Class Without Paying

Just because business class is the most expensive way to fly doesn’t mean you have to hand over $1,000 or more. You can enjoy the luxurious comforts of first class without blowing your entire vacation budget–you just need to try these tips.

Remember, the most important factor in scoring a free or low-cost upgrade on your next flight is doing research beforehand. If you know a flight is full, or you know how many business class seats are available, you’ll be in a better position to convince the airline you deserve one of those special spots.

Featured Tip

Don’t let your vacation days go to waste – make sure you travel! Only 23% of full-time employees use all of their days off each year, Forbes reports.