15 Ways to Fly Like a VIP (Without Paying VIP Prices)

Frequent Flyer, Michael Freedman, never flies Coach. He’s agreed to share his most closely guarded upgrade secrets with us – don’t miss this!

Fancy cruising in First Class? Pay close attention to the upgrade advice of an airline expert and fly like a V.I.P!

Let me start by pointing this out – if you do not fly regularly, you are pretty much only going to be upgraded by fluke. Sorry.

Read on for my flight upgrade tips and tricks based on my own experiences as a frequent flyer.

1) Get Elite Status
Airlines are most likely to upgrade their frequent flyers (FF’s) above everyone else. Next priority goes to the FFs from members of their alliance. Get elite status (ie. gold, silver) on the airline you travel on the most or, at the very least, get it within the same alliance:

Easiest one to achieve in Star Alliance is BMI, which requires only 15,000 miles for silver and 38,000 for gold. This is useful because Star is a huge network with over 20 airlines.

Easiest in OneWorld is American Airlines. Call and ask to do the “status challenge”, where you only have to fly 10,000 miles on AA in a short period to get Platinum (OneWorld Sapphire).

2) Book in Premium Coach
You will almost NEVER be upgraded from Coach to Business Class if there is a Premium Coach cabin. A great way of increasing your chances of a ride in bizclass is to start by spending the extra for a seat in Premium Coach to start off with. These seats tend to only have a few rows, and if Coach is full, you’re likely to gain from the airplane game of musical chairs.

3) Travel at Peak Times
If the flight you are on is not full, your chances of an upgrade are pretty much nil. So try to book on oversold flights – airlines routinely sell up to 10% more tickets than they have seats for.

You may also find you can then volunteer for a juicy “bump”, where they pay you a pile of cash to wait for the following flight.

4) Travel Solo
It’s much easier to move one person in and out of cabins to fill space than two or more, especially as often they will nudge you up from Coach to Business, and perhaps some lucky guy in Business will in turn be nudged up to First.

5) Travel with a Frequent Flyer
Try flying with someone who has decent status – preferably have them put you on their booking. Though you may diminish THEIR chance of the upgrade for reasons above!

6) NEVER Order a Special Meal
You are 99% unlikely to be upgraded with a special meal because your meal cannot move with you, and the guy who gets your seat may not be a lacto-vegan!

7) Behave Nicely
Needless to say, do be polite, don’t dress like a bum. The airlines will want to maintain the impression that some people, at least, have paid full price for their seat.

8 ) Don’t Be Cheeky
This may sound surprising, but it is usually best NOT to ask for an upgrade. The airline staff hear it all the time and they’ll have a good idea from their systems who they are going to move.

Your best bet is usually to ask a related question such as “how full is the flight today?” or “could you help me to find a slightly better seat such as an exit row?”, and see if they get the hint.

Note:  there is a section on your passenger profile for comments, so if you act like a douche bag at check-in, you can expect the staff on board to treat you accordingly.

9)  Check in Late
Within the US it often seems to be the case that a late check-in can help you, as the cabin is more likely to have been filled. But don’t leave it too late or you’ll be stranded.

10) Prove Your Honeymoon Status
If you are on your honeymoon, bring evidence that you just got married. However, be aware that upgrades are NOT an entitlement in ANY circumstances, and nothing annoys check-in staff more than tight honeymooners who should have just PAID if that’s how they wanted to travel.

11) Ask Again at Boarding
The closer you get to boarding new opportunities open up. Often you can ask again at the lounge or gate if they can improve your seating on the plane – this takes advantage of any late comers who will have filled out your flight since check-in.

You may also be able upgrade by paying a small fee on board with some airlines.

12) Register Yourself as a Medic
If you’re a doctor, some airlines have a special program where you can volunteer to be called upon in emergencies. One example is Lufthansa, who will award you with extra FF miles, and, I am reliably told, an upgrade for pre-registered medics.

13) Pay for Some Perks
Part of the delight of Business Class travel is the premium check-in, extra baggage allowance, lounge access etc. If you’re upgraded on the day, you won’t get any of this stuff anyway, but you CAN get some of it by having the right American Express or Diners Club card or on some airlines (such as United), by paying a small extra fee to be treated as an elite FF as a one-off.

14) Ask for Upgrade Compensation
If you’re delayed on a flight, or are wronged some other way ie. lost luggage, no special meal then, especially with the American carriers, instead of taking cash compensation, consider asking for some complimentary upgrade vouchers.

For example, AA delayed me for four hours EACH WAY on a three hour US domestic flight, AND lost my luggage – I flew First Class from JFK to London by way of apology (about £3,000-worth of ticket)!

15) Book an -Up Ticket
There are some special tickets (often called Y-ups, K-ups or Q-ups) where you buy a flexible economy ticket and are magically upgraded on purchase. Ask a decent corporate travel agent about these, particularly prevalent in the US.

Have any of these tricks worked for you? Got any good upgrade stories? Post up your comments and let us know!

Don’t miss Michael’s second installment – 10 Easy Ways to Boost Your Frequent Flyer Status – coming soon!

If you liked this, you might also like: How I Almost Always Get a Flight Upgrade.

P.S. for bespoke advice on how to enhance your own frequent flyer status and how to get upgraded for cheap or free, contact Michael at michael@asquithconsulting.com.

7 thoughts on “15 Ways to Fly Like a VIP (Without Paying VIP Prices)”

  1. Are you suggesting we do #13 even if we don’t have a medical background…. ;)
    Very good tips – I definitely agree with the dress nicely tip – there will be no sweat pants getting upgraded unless you have paid for it.

  2. Hi Cailin,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. #13 applies to qualified doctors / medics only.

    Good luck putting my tips into practice!


  3. Nice tips Michael…

    I fly long haul to India a lot and these flights are always jam packed so I hardly ever get an upgrade…I’ll try these tips and I thought they make sense esp the special meal request is a handy tip.

    Ever since I started using Seatguru I have been able to pick the best seats so that’s another VIP flying tip :)

    I think I follow you guys but say hello to me at http:twitter.com/budgettraveller
    PS Is it just me, or does the bloke in the picture look a pretty good lookalike of Gael Garcia Bernal? :)

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