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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   2 min read

Why do you sign up for reward miles? Is it for the free ticket you hope you’ll be able to earn, the priority boarding, the upgrades? There used to be a lot of glamour for frequent flyers, but today, you’re just another airline passenger and you’re just as UN-likely to be upgraded as the next guy in line.

It’s true that maybe 20 years ago if you had a frequent flyer card and wore a nice suit, you had a pretty good chance of being upgraded at check in in the Economy class was overbooked or there was a free seat up in First class.

Today that’s a completely different story now that practically every traveller is a member of some sort of rewards program. Air miles are totally in. It’s not just that more passengers are members but airlines are also a lot stingier too and the prestige of being a member has lost its edge and value.

If you are a frequent flyer and you want an upgrade, you’re going to have to ask for it, very nicely. The lovely airline employees at check-in just don’t hand them out like candy. They’ll likely only give it to you if they see that Economy has been overbooked, otherwise you’re out of luck. Even so, you’re only likely to be upgraded if you’re really an elite member, typically business travellers with plenty of miles to spare.

Regular travellers have a very slim, extremely minute chance of getting a free upgrade at check in but it’s not impossible.

How to get an upgrade:

  • Collect as many air miles as you can, in whatever shape or form, and then book a First class or Business class seat. The easiest way to do this is get an airline credit card and swipe, swipe, swipe.
  • When you book your ticket either directly with the airline or with an agency, make an OSI (other special information) note on your booking. If you are a travel agent, travel writer, event planner, CEO, etc. you could very well get an upgrade if there’s room.
  • Sign up for airline newsletters and watch for frequent deals or bonus points. There are often specials that upgrade passengers to a higher status in the rewards program.
  • Volunteer to get “bumped” on an overbooked flight. Passengers that get bumped usually receive a free flight to use in the following year and some spending money. If you volunteer and you don’t need to get bumped an airline might upgrade you just for volunteering.
  • Dress like a business traveller. Image is everything and if you want to sit in First class you should look like a  first class passenger. This means no jeans, no running shoes, no jogging suits.
  • Buy it the upgrade yourself. If there is space, airlines will offer discounted upgrades at check-in which are a lot cheaper than booking a First class ticket in the first place.

If you are already a member of an airline rewards program check out Flying with your Miles, 10 tips to get the most out of your rewards program for more tips on how to score an upgrade.

Have you ever been upgraded for free? How did you do it?

Img: richardmoross / flickr cc

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