How to Get Picked for an Upgrade on a Flight

Try this trick to get more leg room without paying more money.

Traveling and technology. Flying at first class. Pretty young businees woman working on laptop computer while sitting in airplane.kudla/Shutterstock

Everyone who has ever flown coach knows what it feels like to walk down the aisle of the plane, past the roomy first-class seats and past the seats with extended leg room, all the way to the back. You envy the people that are going to have a more comfortable flight than you. But, on very rare occasions, airlines will call passengers at the gate and offer them an upgraded seat. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to get upgraded, you know how much nicer it makes your travels. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting picked and don’t worry, you won’t have to pretend that you’re on your honeymoon.

The travel expert for NerdWallet, Sara Rathner, says that flights are so often overbooked or full that just dressing up and being friendly to the gate agents isn’t going to get you an upgrade despite what some people might say. “You can increase your odds of an upgrade by flying one airline exclusively, and even signing up for that airline’s co-branded credit card because both allow you to rack up the qualifying miles needed to gain elite status.” The higher you move up in status, the more perks you get. Some of those perks include priority boarding, free checked bags, and seat upgrades. (Here’s why airlines never tell you how long flights really are.)

Even though you’re more likely to find better deals shopping around different airlines every time you fly, consistently booking with the same airline can save you money in the long run, especially if you’re a frequent flyer.

Extensive flyer Nick Brennan also agrees that loyalty to one airline has its perks. “If you’re loyal to one airline, then your loyalty is also recognized across that airline alliance when you travel on international flights,” he shares. “If there’s an operational reason to upgrade passengers (i.e. a delayed or cancelled flight), then your loyalty will be recognized before others who mix and match their flights and airlines and show no obvious loyalty.” (This is the one word you need to say to get your flight attendant to like you.)

Another tip Brennan has for scoring an upgrade on a flight is to be flexible. If you’re not in a rush to get anywhere and the weather is bad or your flight is overbooked, ask the gate agent what they can offer you if you’re willing to catch a different flight. With some negotiation, they can typically offer you a seat upgrade as well as cash.

Next, find out the secret phrases pilots say.

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