Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Airline Travel: How to get an upgrade

Dear Travel Guru,

My sister travels for work and she is always bragging about getting a flight or travel upgrade. Why and how is she able to do this?

Katlyn V. Dallas, TX

Dear Katlyn,

Airlines generally give passengers upgrades based on a few standard factors: seat availability, type of fare paid and frequent flier status. It is probably likely that your sister, because she travels frequently and for work, not only knows when to ask, but has a better chance since she is paying full-price and has frequent flier "status, " making her more eligible for the special treatment. But that doesn't mean you can't also take advantage of an upgrade once in a while.

So here is the ProTravel Gear official advice for getting a free (or at least affordable) upgrade on your next flight:

1) Be nice! Ask; never demand the upgrade. They gate attendant does not "owe" you anything and the more you badger and harass, the less likely they are to accommodate you. Be respectful and ask: "Am I eligible for an upgrade today?" If they say "no" -- they mean "no."

2) If your have a frequent-flier program membership, use it. Having the membership is good, but being an elite or top-tier member in the airline's frequent travel program will improve your chances even more. And if your points don't work for this flight, they can add up for the next one.

3) Take your time: board later. After the agent knows if the flight is full (or over-booked) or empty, they may look to, or be more willing to upgrade. So don't rush to be the first one on board unless you need the extra time with a child, or because of mobility restrictions.

4) Look good! Dress well, and you may up your odds of getting an upgrade a bit, but a sloppy appearance will definitely hurt your chances. Look like you should be in first class.

5) The early bird... Arrive to check-in early and request an upgrade there. If you book a flight that leaves early in the day and get to the check-in counter before the crowds arrive you will have less competition for the available upgrades--and you are more likely to catch an agent at the beginning of their shift when they may be in a more generous mood.

6) Timing is everything. Use your common sense and only ask if you can see that the agent is not super busy or having a bad day.

7) Use your frequent flier miles for an upgrade. Just because you have status does not mean you will get an upgrade. So if you've got miles to spare, use them to "buy" an upgrade. But save these extra miles if you are planning on a long or international flight, where the upgrade will be really worth it.

8) Consider how you buy your flight ticket. If you have to fly at the last-minute for work or an emergency, and must pay the full airfare anyhow, ask for a "Y-UP" fare. These are considered non-restricted fares and put you on the short list for an upgrade if one becomes available--(but remember... they are not always available).

9) Who are you? If you work for some types of business (i.e. if you are a minister or work for a humanitarian cause, or work for a company that gets special fares because of frequent flights) you may be given special consideration. But don't abuse this option. You can ask the agent to add an "OSI" (other significant information) message to your passenger record saying that you are the head of a Fortune 100 company, or other VIP.

10) Sometimes you have to pay to play. Sometimes, the simplest way to get an upgrade is to pay for it. Check for available upgrades when booking your flight or at check-in. You might be surprised at how little you'll have to pay to fly up-front. You can also take advantage of promotions that allow you to pay a little to get the upgrade. The airlines offer significant discounts on some routes, so check for these ahead of time.

Hopefully this information will get you that flight upgrade you are seeking.

Happy travels,

THE Travel Guru

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