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Business/first class Upgrade?

We were checking our flight the other day and found that our flight to Frankfurt is not completely full yet. There were only a few coach seats left. BUT, we saw that there were TONS of first/business class seats that were still empty. Does anyone know what the chances are of getting an upgrade when we check in if those seats are still open? Anyone know any tricks? We don't have frequent flier miles or anything. I was just hoping to smooth talk the agent at the counter! If anyone knows tips, please share! I'd LOVE to fly over in style for once!

Posted by
3580 posts

You probably have a better chance for upgrades if you belong to a frequent flyer club. Choose the airline you are most likely to use the most and join their club. I started being offered upgrades on United after I had racked up a bunch of FF miles and took one or two "free" flights.

Posted by
705 posts

Yes you do have a better chance if you are a frequent flyer member but upgrades are hard to get. I fly to Europe once a year and also US once a year and am on the top level of the FF programme - have been for 4 years - I have had one upgrade. I also have a friend who travels at least 6 overseas trips a year and she has had one in the last 2 years. Although there are a lot of business class seats available they may fill up. I fly business and never book more than 4 weeks before hand and find when I do get on the plane that business class is always full. Qantas is notorious for not upgrading but other airlines may be better. Just the luck of the draw.

Posted by
8997 posts

The "seat selector" feature of your airline's website, is not a good gage of how full/empty your plane is. If you see a a lot of "empty" seats it may just mean that that most of the seats haven't be assigned yet; even though tickets have been sold. Also, it's next to impossible to "smooth talk" an agent into an upgrade on a transatlantic flight. Those seats are worth $10,000-$20,000 a piece to the airline, any staff member caught doing that could loose their jobs.

Posted by
805 posts

Especially in premium cabins there are often seats left that cannot be reserved for various reasons (exit row, hold for potential VIPs, etc.) and so unless you want to fork up the $ or the miles, you're out of luck. However, if you are a premium member of that airline's FF club, you could get lucky (e.g. my dad was the highest level of Alaska's and so they upgraded us to first class on our way to Mexico) but don't count on it.

Posted by
6898 posts

We just recently flew to Frankfurt in business class on Lufthansa. There were a few empty seats. They didn't bring anybody forward on the 747 to fill the seats. I have tons of FF miles on United and they have never offered me an upgrade. I have a friend with 5 million FF miles on American. He's their #1 passenger out of San Francisco. He always books coach but they occasionally bump him up to business class or even 1st class. But, you can understand why. Without this kind of leverage, I wouldn't hold my breath for an upgrade.

Posted by
932 posts

Well, I'm glad I asked. I won't even ask now. Oh well, someday when I'm rich and famous I'll fly business class!

Posted by
769 posts

Actually - you can great decent deals in Lufthansa business - its close to double as coach - but they are special business deals usually from 2200-3200$ (vs 7800 full or 10,000 First) - If you ticket coach was 1600, and you can justify the extra $1000 - its nice once to go all business. But only under rare cases do regular coach get upgraded - usually by luck (late customers, etc) and often on partial flights. I think the domestic flights are diff than international. The days of 1/2 empty internation planes are probably gone with higher costs - they want full planes - but it never hurts to ask if you arrive early. (you canalways ask for an exit row - which while high-traffic - has more room!

Posted by
658 posts

I work for an airline and I also write the automation that decides who gets upgrades. This will probably take 2 post but here goes. First post - how the sytstem works. We grade our passengers in order of priority for upgrades. #1 - an international VIP - if Robert De Niro has booked himself an economy you can bet we will upgrade him to first class. #2 - a national VIP or director of another airline - we may need their help at some future time. #3 - a gold card member of our frequent flyers programme - they spend a lot of money with us #4 - a gold card member of a rival airline - we will try and impress them so much they switch to us #5 - a silver or blue card member of our own FF programme #6 - a passenger we have seriously inconvenienced or who may have a potential compensation claim against us #7 - a passenger who has been mildly inconvenienced by us #8 - staff of our own airline travelling on business for the company #9 - our staff not on business #10 - other airline staff.

Posted by
658 posts

Now here is how YOU can get an upgrade. #1 - if the flight you are on is overbooked and they as for passengers to step down from the flight, volunteer yourself and ask for an upgrade as part of the compensation package - this really works. #2 - if you have a frequent flyer card - show it, it helps. #3 - if you have been inconvenienced by the airline to such an extent that they admit they are SERIOUSLY at fault waive all claims for an upgrade #4 if you have had any kind of inconvenience ask for an upgrade - it might work, but probably not.

We don't give upgrades lightly, it costs us money and word gets around.

Never say - Do you know who I am ? It NEVER works. If you want an upgrade - look like you belong in first class. Power dressing can work. Never wear denim if you want an upgrade. One other thing, it pays to have a cultured acccent or be well spoken, politics asside - Bill and Hillary Clinton have this down pat - look and speak like them and it may just make a difference.

Posted by
970 posts

I blundered into a first class upgrade on my first transatlantic flight, back in the mid-'80's.

Don't recall the airline, but I was booked coach from JFK to Heathrow on a 747. The aircraft had mechanical problems. The airline put us on a 747SP, which is used on long routes and has fewer seats. Passengers were bounced based on their check-in time. For whatever reason, I was bounced into a front row window seat in first class.

Posted by
91 posts

What good does upgrading Robert De Niro do an airline? I highly doubt he’d even be flying coach anyway. God forbid. It’s obviously not for PR reasons because someone like that expects to be treated that way and will think no different of an airline for upgrading them.

I will never understand the idea of showering gifts and privileges upon those who have everything. What a silly, silly world.

My advice- you mine as well just ask…you might get lucky…and if the answer is no then while you are sitting in your small little coach seat eating a cold egg sandwich just remember that you are all getting to your destination at the same time. Only difference is that you’ve paid a whole house payment less than those drinking champagne. Who’s smarter? I don’t think I have to tell you…

Posted by
1315 posts

Gwen, while I agree with you that Robert De Niro would never book coach class, I suspect it still is for PR reasons...imagine the headlines if ABC Airline DIDN'T upgrade an international VIP. Very embarrassing.

Al, thanks for that illuminating breakdown of the system. #1 seems to be the way to go for us regular Joes and Janes...too bad my schedule is too tight to allow giving up my seat.

Out of curiosity, how good are your chances of getting an upgrade if the airline involuntarily bumps you?

Posted by
932 posts

Thanks Al! And you've re-confirmed my thoughts that I won't get an upgrade! #1, we JUST opened a frequent flier account with them, so we have 0 points! #2, I HOPE we aren't bumped from the flight or at all inconvienced. We want this to be a smooth flight. And like one of you said, we're on our way to the same place as the people up front and at the same time. I just wanted a bigger seat! That's truly the only reason... I'll be so excited that we're headed to Europe that I don't mind riding coach. I just thought it would be a fun experience to feel like a rich person for 8 hours! By the way, I hope I never remind anyone of Hilary Clinton! Even if it gets me to first class!!! God help me if I do. And I'm NOT dressing up for an 8 hour flight. I'll be in track pants! Oh well...

Posted by
658 posts

I used Robert De Niro as a name we would all recognise. This story is true but it's not a RDN story. At least one megga star always books himself into economy. He knows that his presence in economy will cause such a scramble for autographs, photographs etc. that we absolutely have to put him in first or the aircraft would never get off the ground.

Posted by
658 posts

Amy - if you are ever involuntary bumped off a flight absolutely insist on an upgrade as part of the compensation package. It's the one time all the cards are stacked in your favour.

Posted by
932 posts

Al, I'll definitely keep that in mind for the future. I don't foresee us being bumped off this flight because we booked our flights last October and we've had our seat assignment since that time... (Am I right?) Plus, we definitely won't be giving up our seats or else we'll be paying penalties on the apartment we rented for the night we are supposed to arrive in Europe... I really appreciate the advice!

Posted by
45 posts

Amy-
I agree with Al on the points he mentioned about getting upgraded due to inconvenience. I was traveling with a group of 7 from Johannesburg to London non stop on British Airways, then to the states. We were asked if it was imperative if we got to London on that flight or can we wait til the next day. We said we could wait. As an incentive- although we did ask about the incentives before we agreed, the airline paid for our hotel rooms, we all received a hefty voucher, and went from coach to business class- a very nice improvement- the next day.
Another trick I learned from other people I know, get to the airport early and casually ask if the flight is fully booked or oversold. If you're traveling with a group and are willing to split up and not sit next to each other on the flight, the airlines may bump you up to business or first class in order to have a full flight, not have to pay for extras, as what happened in my case. It never hurts to ask, the worst they could say is no.

Posted by
8997 posts

It's completely at the discretion of the airline who they decide to bump. Doesn't matter how far in advance you booked or if you already have a seat assignment. But getting to the airport early and/or printing your boarding pass via the web site can significantly reduce you chances. Those who arrive at the airport at the last minute are easy targets.

Posted by
2048 posts

And then there is just "luck"

A few years ago I was flying back from CDG on Delta. I had my seat assignment card for my exit row seat. Got on and there was a man in my seat. I fly a lot and I don't deal with this. I just punch the FA call button LOL! The FA shows up and I show her my boarding pass. Man in my seat pulls his boarding pass out and then begins to "berate" the FA. Going ON AND ON about how much he flies DL, how much he spent on this ticket etc.... He tells her we will NOT move!

FA disappears. Waves me up to her in the galley area. Gives me my "new boarding" pass. BUSINESS!!! If HALF of what jerk said was true then he probably should have "outranked" me on the upgrade list.

Posted by
4555 posts

Carol....that's not "luck"....that's because you were nice! There's an old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease....but some times, those squeaky wheels come off!

Posted by
74 posts

Hubby is a top ranked FF with a major airline. He always gets upgraded on that airline. He dresses in jeans and motorcycle boots, but carries a nice laptop bag. He sometimes gets upgraded on their partner airlines, but not often. Here's his results:
Full international economy fare on major airline- yes. Full international fare on partner airline- maybe. All domestic flights on major- yes. Domestic flights on partner- no way. And discount international- no way from anybody. On our last over the ocean flight, the front plane was being sold at $250 a seat and being snapped up. No freebies that day LOL!

Posted by
59 posts

On my flight from SLC to Denver last year, I had a seat in coach plus (United's version of business, I guess) and at the airport they offered me a first class ticket for $75. I should have kept my original seat. The whole section was empty and I could have had 3 seats to myself instead of a seat in very crowded first class. Domestic first class is often not that big a deal.

Are you talking about a free upgrade? I've never seen that happen unless for the circumstances that Al outlined.

Posted by
1818 posts

Here's my story: One year ago I was flying United from Denver to London for a sales meeting. I had a connecting flight through Chicago. When I got to the gate, they announced they were looking for volunteers to give up their seats. I did not volunteer (had to get to the meeting on time!)

When I got to my coach seat and got settled, almost immediately a gentleman from United approached me and told me that he had "a different seat for me" I knew immediately that I was moving to Business class- and that is what happened.

Keep in mind when this happened, I was "Premier Executive" on United...one "class" below the most FF.

United will offer seats to it's best customers when they need to - to accomodate other fliers on their planes. When I moved to Business, they moved a family of 3 into First Class. They moved passengers around to allow as many on the plan as possible.

I asked for Business upgrade on the way home, but no way! There were seats avail in coach, so I stayed there!

Posted by
4 posts

You should always ask! You likely won't get one for free but there is a good chance that you will be able to purchase an upgrade for a nominal fee. You can now check in 24-36 hours in advance online and in some cases, the airline will ask if you want to purchase a first class ugrade at the time you check in if seats are available. This means that you have the best chance if you check in the very first minute that seats are available. If it doesn't, check-in online anyway and then call the airline to inquire about purchasing an upgrade. If that doesn't work, get to the airport early and ask the counter clerk. On my last BA transatlantic flight I got a first class upgrade for 300.00 and it was worth every penny. Good luck and enjoy your trip.

Posted by
769 posts

i just asked on my return home on Swiss from CH - and mentioned they had moved non FF folks to business on the way over. The nice lady said as long as there were a few seats in coach - they didnt do free upgrades. That was for sold out only (or the higher end FF folks). I decided to wait and use the miles I had for another free flight soon! but it didnt hurt to ask politely!

Posted by
16 posts

I just went through all of this with my FF club. I fly Cathay Pacific to the east alot and as such belong to Asia miles. With Cathay Asia miles works great. Call ahead and find out which flight seats are available, book the seats with your provider and call Asia miles with the ticket number...British Air on the other had is an evil dirty snivilling pile. They have an 4 tier system and as I have learned short of buying a 4k World traveller plus ticket their economy class isn't upgradeable at all. I*ts all a lovely scam with BA and this is absolutely the last flight with them for me.

Posted by
103 posts

Now all this is so interesting.. When we boarded Lufthansa at LAX last June, we inquired at the desk if we could upgrade. "Of course," they replied. "We have availabilty". The only thing missing was the extra money we DIDN'T have to do so... I know that in the future I will sell body parts if necessary to go business class.. Even though Lufthansa offers the most TLC of any airline I've ever flown.. .I was cramped and miserable and hateful and sore when we finally landed 11 hrs. later.. I'm only 5'2" and 115 lbs.. cannot imagine how someone with real legs does it!!Yes.. we got up and walked " ( 'scuze me.. pardon me..oops there.. sorry) alot but it's still tight quarters...UPGRADE IF YOU CAN!! ciao..

Posted by
54 posts

Just for fun I called Lufhansa to see what the price of an upgrade from economy to business class for my mother and I when we fly out next week....$11,000!!!! I guess we will be staying back in the economy section. :(

Posted by
3551 posts

We just came back from Munich on Lufthansa and while I can't tell you how to get to business class w/o paying I can offer suggestions on how to get a good economy class seat. Request seats toward front of plane (where there is generally more leg room)and if config of plane is right request seats on side of plane or 2 aisle seats. Our experience is that Lufthansa has a whole lot more leg room anyway over other international US airlines. And Lufts food is so much better with free cocktails even for economy.
enjoy your trip.

Posted by
93 posts

I gotta share my story...

I booked a flight from San Francisco to Twin Cities on Hotwire. Two of my girlfriends booked the same flight. We paid about $210.00 each for the flight.

On our way there, I told them I had a coupon for the parking, but that if the long term parking was full, we'd get to park in the closer short term parking. It was full and we got "upgraded" parking. I commented "I sure hope that works on the plane, too!"

Well, we got to the door of the plane and I had a seat way up in front (now I know it was probably first class!!!). My 2 friends were seated in the middle section with 1 guy between them. We asked the FA if there was a way we could sit together. He looked at our passes, walked over the that guy and led him away - up to the front - to my first class seat.

Then, he seated us together and as we were each standing in front of our seats, we were turning around in circles...cont...

Posted by
769 posts

Lufthansa has special business fares in the 2600-3000 range from west coast to Germany. This was compared to the 1200-1600 economy. They post seasonal specials the season or 2 before (Summer at end of winter, spring specials in oct/nov/dec etc).

im 6'3 and find the coach seats tight (hey you 5'2 folks - you think you have it rought! :)

I did find the Lufthansa Boeings a BIT roomier in coach than the Swiss Airbus - despite the "Recarro" seats (like in fancy Audi RS!) SO either I have to use miles or pay close to double the coach fare - but their business is THE nicest (maybe after SingaporeAir)... fancy seats and great food and service... the lounge was nice at the air port too. So get a card, get miles, and upgrade for free when you can - or else use points up from econ!

Posted by
93 posts

...looking around. We sat down and noticed that we had extending foot rests...and side-head rests...and our own flip-up tv screens. We were GIDDY (although still quiet) with laughter!

You see, we were all new-ish Moms going to a really fun convention w/o our families. That alone was blissful!

Anyway, when we were offered drinks and they came in real cups, we were even more giddy. We looked around and noticed that there were different looking seats behind us. And in front of us were a bunch more seats.

It them occured to us that we must be in business class. I don't think any of us had ever even seen business class before.

When the FA came near, we asked her "um...are we in business class?" She looked at us like we were crazy and said "You don't know? Yes - and these tickets are expensive". We then told her we got our tickets for $210 from Hotwire and she said "well, we're not making any money off of you."

So we were giddy the whole time, enjoying our...

Posted by
93 posts

...meal with real silverware (except the knife, of course). We had to change planes somewhere and at the check in counter there was some guy berating the FAs there. I made a funny comment after he left, we all chatted a bit and they upgraded us to first class. But this plane was much smaller, so first class was the first 3 rows - nothing special at all - but we can still say we were upgraded to 1st class.

The way home was a different story. We were late getting up, missed our plane and they had to put us on another plane. One of the guys checking us in noticed what kind of ticket we had and he put us in the VERY LAST ROW of seats on the way home. The FA on the plane felt very sorry for us and one of the FAs told us to ask for some other kind of seat - it was still coach, but toward the front more - with more room.

I'm hoping to get bumped or upgraded on my upcoming trip - I don't have a tight schedule and I'll be alone, so...good luck to me and us all! :O)

Posted by
1353 posts

ScrapperKimmy,

I agree with the other poster that part of it is luck, but it also really depends on the airline. I was flying back from Venice with my son who was military - had been injured and they were allowing him to fly back to Hawaii with me to recuperate. He is 6'6" and had a broken femur Our first flight Between Venice and Frankfurt was on Lufthansa - they very kindly upgraded us so my son would have room for his leg. They even allowed us to spend our layover in the first class lounge. Our second flight was on United. That was a very different story. They did put is in bulkhead seats, but there was a free seat in 1st class just in front of us. There was a problem with the engine and we sat on the runway for 2 hours before taking off - made the total flight time 9 hours. My son was in excruciating pain, but even though I practically begged they refused to allow him to sit in the 1st class seat. They told me that seat was worth $$$ and they couldn't allow it.

Posted by
8997 posts

A couple of years ago I was sanding in line to check in for a flight on Continental from Newark to Gatwick. In front of me were two very attractive 20 somthg sisters. One of the sisters told the agent that it was her birthday and they wanted to upgraded to first class for free. The ticket agent laughed and said they only way they were getting in to 1st was by paying $15,000 each. The girls wouldn't take "no" for an answer and a supervisor had to called; again they were told there are no free upgrades. They eventually gave up and took their coach boarding passes. A few hours later as the plane was boarding, the siblings were again in front of me; as we made our way through the first class cabin, they approached two businessmen and said in a very pushy tone "switch with us-it my birthday!". Just like that no "please" or anything else charming! Without hesitation the men got and exchanged passes and went to coach. I don't know what the morale of the story is, I just like telling it!

Posted by
103 posts

M.
The moral of the story is easy..the early bird might get the worm.. but the 20 something attractive sisters get the seats!!

Posted by
16 posts

I really dont think that upgrades are luck. Many airlines have FF systems that work and reward passengers for their loyalty. Often those airlines that treat FF's well are in the top tier, Cathay, Singapore etc. Strangely enough most of the ones I have flown that are like this fly to the Far east. US airlines, Canadian airlines and European airlines simply dont measure up. It may well be that the far east is a more lucrative market and allows a bit of room to give service. I know for me if Cathay or Singapore fly there I will choose them above all others. After this last experience with BA I might just choose a slow boat over BA.

Posted by
808 posts

Thanks, Al, for your knowledgeable advise! Regarding complimentary upgrades, yes, there is something to be said for code of dress.

As an Incharge Flight Attendant, I would think twice about bringing a sloppily clad passenger from Economy to First Class. That is reality.

A similar topic was discussed earlier today on "Dressing for Flights"(?) or something similar. I took alot of heat for my honesty. It's actually rather comical to read the flaming I took from one poster! Check it out!

Posted by
808 posts

Interesting story, ScrapperKimmyD!

Flight Crew offer complimentary upgrades for a whole variety of reasons. And to be completely honest, most of the time, this is done only as a last resort. It seems everyone these days are trying their luck at getting a comp upgrade...F/A's are asked this soo often! We're supposed to check availability and let you know that we accept all major credit cards. The demand for on board upgrades has turned into a profitable marketing tool. So no one be too surprised if this is the response you get. Sorry...Company policy, I'm afraid.

BTW, Flight Attendants don't operate the check-in counter. They are Passenger Service Agents. The two have very different roles.
I'm also sorry to hear that the F/A said something to ScrapperKimmyD like "well, we're not making any money off you" because she said she booked through whoever. Very unprofessional. A passenger is a passenger and a bum in a seat is a bum in a seat and good pay in our pockets. We're not supposed to discuss revenue or non-revenue. And for all they know, anyone could be a "Secret Shopper" evaluating Inflight Service or an Inflight Safety Inspector or VIP!

Posted by
93 posts

Yes, I did think that was probably not the response she SHOULD have given me. But, as I was saying before, we were so giddy we just.did.not.care. We were having a (quietly) GREAT time! :)

Posted by
4 posts

FYI - Continental has great 50-day advance fares for BusinessFirst service to Europe.

Also, if you have a party of 2, the rear 2-seat section at the back of the 777 is very comfortable and the aisle seat has oodles of legroom due to the curvature of the plane. Good for the overnight Atlantic trip. Check out seatmap.com

Posted by
808 posts

Just a comment about the story as told by Carol from Atlanta.
When you arrive at your assigned seat to find an unassigned passenger in your assigned seat, you should absolutely press the F/A Call Button and have the crew resolve the issue. It's easier on all concerned if you let us resolve the issue rather than passengers duking it out and then calling us to referee.

Attitude is everything. If you work with the crew, they will work with you. In this situation, as described, it is a common resolution to upgrade the passenger inconvenienced, if seats are available. IME, we are more inclined to not only offer you another perhaps better seat, but an upgrade, if we are approached with respect and appreciation. In this case, rank doesn't usually come into play. Doesn't matter how many points, how often they fly or who they know or work for...If you're in the wrong seat and won't move, no one will reward that behavior! But believe me, they do try...And we see through it very quickly!

Posted by
196 posts

I'm still hoping/dreaming of a repeat of this business class upgrade: we arrived way early at Heathrow--no lines at the BA counter--so I chatted w/ the ticket agent, asked about getting window seats(no), kept chatting about Scotland (her home) and her trips to the US. When we were ready to board, the gate agent pulled us aside---brief moment of panic---and very quietly apologized that there were no window seats available, but would it be OK if we had center seats in business class. It was divine! He gave no reason, but I'm sure it was the ticket agent who sent a message to the gate desk.