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How to Upgrade to First Class

Allison Joyce, Getty Images

Personally, I can’t think of a better authority to tell you how to get a free upgrade to First Class on an airline than someone who works for the airlines. According to a survey of 700 flight attendants, there is a way to get a free upgrade to business class or better, a lot of things have to be in your favor.

There are a bunch of things you can do to increase your chances of getting a free upgrade. Here are the top ten according to the survey.

  1. Be Friendly and Polite. 82% of cabin crew members agreed it makes a difference.
  2. Be a Member of the Airline’s Frequent Flyer Program. Obviously that’s one you have to deal with beforehand, but 80% said it gives you better odds of scoring a seat in first class.
  3. Travel Alone. Again, if you’re in a group, your chances aren’t very good. 72% of flight attendants said they’d be more likely to give a seat upgrade to someone who’s flying alone.
  4. Make Them Aware of an Injury. For example, if you go to the desk and tell them you sprained your ankle playing softball, they might take pity on you and give you an unfilled seat in business class, or just a free seat in coach that has more leg room.
  5. Don’t Dress Too Casual. 59% said that someone who’s dressed up is more likely to get an upgrade.
  6. Tell Them You’re On Your Honeymoon. 58% said it boosts your chances. But obviously it has to be believable. So if you’re not wearing rings or you’re headed somewhere that’s NOT a honeymoon destination, don’t bother.
  7. Know the Flight Attendants. Some people travel the same route for business over and over again. And a lot of those flights use the same crew members. If they remember you, 55% of them say they’re more likely to give you an upgrade.
  8. Travel During Non-Peak Hours. Or in other words, travel when the plane is less likely to be full. 47% of flight attendants said it boosts your chances.
  9. Come Up with a Good Sob Story. For example, maybe you’re headed to a funeral, or you just lost your job. Whatever it is, 35% admitted they’ll probably fall for it.
  10. Look Your Best. In addition to dressing up, 31% said that being a well-groomed, attractive passenger will increase your chances of getting upgraded to first class.

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