Want your flight upgraded? Follow these nine tips

Without paying through the nose, can you escape cramped seats, bad food and wailing babies?

Upgrade: Enter a world of champagne and calm and canapés and cutlery. Photograph: Getty Images/E+

A business class return flight from Dublin to Las Vegas with Aer Lingus will set you back more than four grand while if you want to pull out all the stops on a three-week trip down under by flying first class to Sydney and back from London with British Airways you can expect to shell out an eye-watering €13,500.

With price sky high, is it any wonder business-class flights are the preserve of the very well-heeled, while first-class travel is an exclusive zone for the Davos set, Lotto winners and tech wizards?

But what about the rest of us? If you’ve not featured on Ireland’s latest rich list, can you still get your hands on the golden ticket which allows you to turn left rather than right when you board along-haul flight?

Without paying through the nose, can you leave the cramped seats, crap food, and wailing babies behind and enter a world of champagne and calm and canapés and cutlery and seats that magically turn into beds?


Ask airline experts and they will most likely tell you that the short – and neither helpful nor fun – answer is no.

You will be told that in the 21st century, all the ruses we think might land an upgrade – wearing uncomfortable business suits, pretending to be just-married or just engaged, buying a cheap doctorate online so you can put the prefix Dr after your name, feigning illness or pregnancy – are useless.

And on many levels the experts are on the money.

There is little point in showing up in a tuxedo or a wedding dress at check-in and hoping to get bumped up because most upgrades – if they are happening – are decided at least 24 hours before a flight leaves. And frequently they are decided by computer algorithms, which really couldn’t give a rashers about your burgeoning romance or smart attire, even if they knew about it.

Ways to improve your upgrade chances on long-haul flights

Loyalty counts: The very first thing airlines look for if a flight is overbooked and upgrades are on the cards are frequent fliers – if the computer tells them you fly with them a lot and spend a lot of d money doing it, then you're in with a shout.

Money talks: It really matters how much you pay for your ticket. If you book a cheap-as-chips seat in a winter sale or through a low-fare-finding website, then forget about an upgrade. Passengers who have booked at a higher prices and paid extra for more flexible tickets will always be in the driving seat when it comes to the magical upgrade.

Fly solo: If you are a solo flyer then you might get lucky. After loyalty and cash, the next thing airlines look for are solo travellers . They might bump up one person – they're not going to upgrade you and all your family.

Timing matters: If you chose a route and a day of departure with care and skill and if you travel alone, then you improve (slightly) your chances getting bumped up. Travelling on a busy route to a major business destination – New York, say – at a time when the business folk are not travelling but families are – weekends, bank holidays, summer time – will help your case. At such times economy is likely to be overbooked but business class is not.

Ask nicely: If a flight is quiet, your chances of getting the nod are almost nonexistent. But if a flight is busy – and you will be able to easily suss this out when booking your seat online or at the airport – you may as well ask if an upgrade is possible. But do it nicely and not needily. Or imperiously. There is a balance to be struck. Ask about availability at check-in and then again at the gate. But again, do it in an affable way.

Dress well: You do stand a better chance if you are relatively smartly dressed and not wearing torn shorts and flip-flops.

Be famous: We are told it helps if you are, or at least share a name with, a celeb. According to Expedia, airline staff are as shallow and celebrity-obsessed as the rest of us and when they are going through flight lists looking for people to upgrade they will be drawn to names they recognise. So if you happen to be called Roy Keane or Saoirse Ronan you might get lucky. The rest of your life will be a curse, mind you.

Seating problem: Speaking of curses, if you get on the plane and are cursed with a broken television or a dodgy tray or a seat that that doesn't recline or something else, alert staff, nicely. You might get moved from the cheap seats.

Online sleuthing: Check out the secret flying deals website secretflying.com. It has a great if ever-so-slightly suspect "error fares" section, which points out mispriced fares with airlines all over the world. If often has business class return deals for a lot less than the regular prices. But it does come with the risk that your ticket will be cancelled if an airline decides not to honour a fare.