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So are there any tricks to getting upgraded from economy class? Most times there are no tricks of the trade, it is often by being entitled to an upgrade if you are a very frequent flyer with an upgrade-able fare, and once in a while it is a little bit of luck. A lot of the following are also contingent on luck as it isn't really possible to bet on which flights are going to be wildly over or under sold on any given day. That being stated, these are the top 10 ways to get upgraded that I see as an airline gate agent most often:
1. Being a top tier member of the airline's frequent flyer program, and be in possession of a valid upgrade certificate.
2. If you aren't a top tier member then travel with a top tier member of the airline's frequent flyer program, and be in possession of a valid upgrade certificate.
3. And again being a top tier frequent flyer member pays - if you are a top tier member of the airlines frequent flyer program then traveling on an oversold flight will lead to more potential for a courtesy upgrade.
4. If you are traveling on a full fare ticket and traveling on an oversold flight then you also have more potential for a courtesy upgrade.
5. If you travel on a very empty flight where weight and balance is an issue the airline may require that some passengers be upgraded (best to have a seat somewhere in the middle of an aircraft for this)
6. If you are a top tier member of a partner airline's frequent flyer such as oneworld or Star Alliance, and traveling on an oversold flight you will likely have more potential for a courtesy upgrade.
7. If a flight is oversold and you are an infrequent traveler on a cheap ticket, volunteer to give up your seat - more likely to get upgraded if not on your original flight, then the one you have been rebooked on.
8. Again, if a flight is oversold and you are traveling alone, then dress in business / casual business attire and sit off on your own, but in the sight line of the airline agent at the gate. Sometimes we need to upgrade a passenger or two at the very last minute, and a well-dressed, solo traveler is easier to upgrade than one wearing sweatpants and sneakers.
9. If you ultimately don't care where you sit on a flight then don't prebook your seat on an oversold flight, and check in closer to departure time. You may end up with a middle seat, or one up front. This is a really risky strategy, as gate agents will try and upgrade frequent flyers and higher priced ticket holders first.
10. A smile goes a long way. If you are nice as possible to the check-in and gate agents then sometimes if a flight is oversold and you just happen to be one of the nicest passengers that a check-in agent meets that day, they may put a comment on your passenger record such as "nice passenger if you need to upgrade".
NOT TO DO: Don't ask for an upgrade, especially if you aren't a frequent traveler on that particular airline. Airline agents tend to be agitated by this.
Do not badger the gate agent saying that check-in said to ask for an upgrade even though you are on a reduced fare, then going on board and badgering the flight attendants. This happened on a flight where I was the gate agent and the crew was getting fed up enough that two passengers were nearly kicked off the flight. It is better to assume that if your airfare does not entitle you to an upgrade, you probably aren't going to get one. It may happen every once in a while but not often enough to have surefire ways to get upgraded for free every time you travel.