Who wouldn’t want to fly in business class? You get priority check-in, lounge access, extra legroom, better in-flight meals, and generous baggage allowances. It’s like asking someone if they want spa-like pampering or spine-damaging discomfort.

But paying for first and business class tickets can feel like a massive pain in the back, and securing an upgrade can be an even bigger pain in the back!

Luckily, you’ve discovered the ultimate guide on how to upgrade your plain economy seat to a business-class experience. It demands a bit of know-how and pre-planning to successfully achieve, but we break down how to improve your odds of getting that upgrade. 

Don’t want to deal with the hassle of upgrading? Simply buy a discounted business class ticket by giving an expert at Business Class Experts a call. Our insider connections allow us to find business and first-class tickets at a fraction of face value. Skip the upgrade and secure your premium seat today! 

Can You Upgrade Your Ticket to Business Class? 

The truth is, not always. The ability to upgrade depends on the airline, fare class, and availability. Before you buy an economy or premium economy class ticket with the intention of upgrading, be sure you are aware of the subtleties. 

Many airlines only allow upgrade options for fliers with full-fare tickets. That means booking basic economy fare seals your fate of staying in economy class. Furthermore, if you’re looking to climb into first class from economy, your chances are slim as most airlines only allow a single cabin upgrade.

It’s best to start with a standard ticket in the class just below to secure the best odds of an upgrade to a premium cabin.

There’s no secret to uncovering the possibility of landing an upgrade award, and there are a few ways to determine if the opportunity is available. First, call the airline and ask. Should premium cabins be full, there is no option for upgrades.

Another option is to log into the airline’s website using your booking number. Attempting to change your seat assignment will alert you to any available seats in any class, and the inability to change seats might indicate a full flight. A full economy but empty business or first-class seats could mean a stronger possibility for a last-minute upgrade.

Checking within 24 hours of your flight will give you the most up-to-date information about how full the aircraft will be. Flexibility will afford you some negotiating power on overbooked flights. Offering to take the next flight can land you an award ticket for a free upgrade.

Common Reasons Your Upgrade Request is Denied

Although there is a system in place to allow passengers to upgrade from economy seats to a higher-tier business class or first-class ticket, there are still some reasons your request could end up denied.

  • Lack of elite status – Carriers like American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, and Emirates use frequent flyer perks programs that require gold, platinum, or diamond status to secure upgrades.
  • Delayed flights – Airlines require passengers to get new first and business-class tickets when receiving a flight upgrade. If a flight is behind schedule, crews may forego upgrades to compensate for lost time.
  • Not enough meal accommodations – International flights have set numbers of meals for each class. Airlines might be reluctant to upgrade if long-haul flights are short on meals.
  • Layovers and connections – Connecting flights with various fare classes can cause upgrade troubles. What Lufthansa considers an upgradable leg may be ineligible through Cathay.
  • Travel companions – Booking as a group or as a family could limit your upgrade options, as airlines first consider solo travelers for upgrades.
  • Ineligible class codes – Not all fare classes are equal. A business class ticket could be a C, D, or J — each representing an insider code that tells airline officials how a passenger acquired their ticket. Discounted or special award tickets carry codes that make them ineligible for seat upgrades. 

How To Successfully Achieve a Business Class Upgrade

All these restrictions may seem like you have a better chance of winning the lottery than landing an upgraded ticket. Don’t stop reading now; we’ll show you how to improve those odds and get your hands on a coveted golden ticket.

Last-Minute Upgrade at the Airport

Life changes like the seasons, and even if all the signs point to a full flight with no possibility of an upgrade, there could always be a last-minute upgrade opportunity. Another passenger could be delayed, detained, or canceled their flight. Or, a business class seat could open up due to an upgrade higher up the chain.

Additionally, flight attendants may need to balance the load or accommodate another passenger’s needs, freeing up space in premium cabins. It never hurts to ask; the worse that could happen is you get a “no.” But being polite, respectful, and not overly assertive will receive a kinder response.

Advanced Upgrade Requests 

In recent years, airlines poured countless dollars into frequent flyer, loyalty, and mileage programs, such as Star Alliance, to attract repeat passengers. Common perks offered through these programs include upgrade vouchers and advanced upgrade requests.

These advanced upgrade requests exchange miles or miles and upgrade fees to secure spots on the upgrade board up to 72 hours before departure. Some airlines even partner with credit card companies, like American Express, to offer cardholders bonus intro miles to further gain loyalty.

Passengers using advanced upgrade requests to exchange miles or points can request upgrades starting 24 hours before boarding, depending on fare class and ticket price. Airlines unable to fulfill the upgrade request often refund miles and fees, but not always. You can find more info on various airline advanced upgrade policies below:

While an advanced upgrade request can feel more like a sure thing than a shot in the dark, it can be a costly method of achieving upgrades. If an upgrade to business class is a nicety to have and not a need to have, it’s better to wait until you get to the gate to try your luck.

Additional Tips for Getting an Upgrade to Business Class 

Landing an upgrade is more challenging as airlines move to win over loyal passengers. Despite the murky waters, here are a few additional tips that, while not a guarantee, can undoubtedly help you in your quest.

  • Arrive early and let gate attendants know you’re interested in an upgrade.
  • Listen carefully for announcements.
  • Arrive late, after the plane has started boarding (but not at the absolute last minute). That’s when seating rearrangements are most likely to happen.  
  • Become a card-carrying loyalty member. Airlines reward loyalty members before the fair-weather flyer.
  • Book your flight during off-peak seasons, when business class is less likely to be full.
  • Be willing to take the next flight in exchange for an upgrade.
  • Fly red-eye flights when air traffic is low.
  • Avoid flying from international airports, when possible, and travel from smaller, regional airports.
  • Be polite to airline staff. You catch more bees with honey, and rudeness gets you nowhere.

At the end of the day, there’s only one sure way to end up in business or first class — by purchasing a ticket for that class. While we’re not saying to never try to get an upgrade, we’re saying skip the gamble and partner with Business Class Experts instead.

Business Class Experts has a long history of unlocking discounted tickets for business and first-class cabins. You can purchase business class tickets at a fraction of direct airline pricing, making the upgrade request obsolete. Give us a call today to book your next flight!

Find the Best Deal with Business Class Experts

Passengers looking to upgrade from economy to business or first class need a world of requirements to fall into place. Between fare codes and loyalty programs, you can work the system to improve your odds of a class bump. 

Requesting an upgrade is no longer the easy process it once was, but then again, what in the airline industry is. Actually, finding affordable airfare in premium cabins is. Business Class Experts uncovers ticket prices not publicly available to save you massive amounts of money. Call or click now to connect with an expert and secure your business class ticket! 

Find Out if an Upgrade is Possible

If business class for the flight you’re on is full, you won’t be able to upgrade. It’s fairly simple to find out. The most straightforward way is to call and ask. While they won’t give you specifics, most airlines will tell you if there are business class seats available, and whether economy is full.

Another way to find out is by logging into the airline website with your booking number. Try to change your seat assignment, and you’ll be able to see any available seats on the plane. 

If economy seats are full and business class seats are not, you have a much better chance at scoring a cheap, last-minute upgrade. 

To evaluate your chances of an upgrade, check your flight 24 hours before departure to find out how full it is. If your flight is overbooked and you’re can be flexible, it’s the perfect time to negotiate for an upgrade on a later flight.

Last-minute Upgrade to Business Class at the Airport

Even if your research shows that the flight is full, ask at the gate. Things happen. People miss their flights for a lot of reasons. They may change bookings at the last minute, get held up by traffic, weather, or security, or an emergency might arise. Business class travelers may upgrade to the first class cabin, leaving a spot in business class.

Airline attendants may need to rearrange passengers to accommodate special needs passengers, seat children with their parents, or alleviate overcrowding in the cheap seats. If the airline has a problem that needs to be solved, consider it an opportunity. Most people don’t even know to ask. 

Tips For A Last Minute Upgrade

  • Arrive early and let gate attendants know you’re interested in an upgrade.
  • Listen carefully for announcements
  • OR arrive late, after the plane has started boarding (but not at the VERY last minute). That’s when seating problems are most apparent. 
  • You’ll have a much better shot if you’re a club member with accumulated frequent flier miles, but membership is not a requirement to get a seat upgrade.
  • Book your flight at off-peak times, when business class is less likely to be full.
  • Be willing to take the next flight in exchange for an upgrade.

Upgrading Your Flight in Advance

If you’re a frequent flyer signed up for the airline’s member program, they may send you offers in advance of your flight. You may be invited to bid on upgrades or offered special deals to upgrade using cash or miles. 

Some airlines build upgrade bids into their process. They clearly outline the rules and you don’t have to wait for an offer, you can bid on any flight up to 72 hours before departure. Bidding is most commonly found on international flights.

Here are a few airlines with defined bidding procedures:

Almost all airlines have an established bid minimum (usually $100 – $150). A good rule of thumb for bidding is to figure out the difference between the cost of your ticket and the cost of an upgraded ticket and bid 20% to 40% of the difference. There’s no guarantee you’ll win your bid, but if you get lucky it’s an upgrade at significant savings.

It’s worth noting that the major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Delta and United, don’t accept upgrade bids. Only one American carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, lets you bid for first class seat upgrades.

So Which is Cheaper: Advance or Last-Minute?


The bottom line: if a business class upgrade is available at check-in, it’s usually because the airline has a problem it is desperate to solve. They are overbooked and may have to bump unwilling passengers (which can lead to really bad PR), a weather delay has made a mess of their flight schedule, or they are having trouble seating a family group together.

And there you are, friendly, polite, nicely dressed, with your credit card in hand, willing to pay a nominal price to score a business class seat at a basement-bargain price. 

Realistically, it’s a gamble and getting upgraded to business class at the airport is pretty rare. If luxury and extra legroom is really important to you, book it in advance. However, if you’re perfectly willing to fly economy class, and willing to roll the dice, a last-minute upgrade can be the cheapest option. You may even get lucky and score a free upgrade.

Finding the Best Deal

Are you a get-it-done and end the worry kind of person? Your best bet to secure your seat early is to put a Businessclassexperts.com expert on the case. Because we work with the airlines, we have access to airfare deals the public never gets to see. Getting the best deal can be the easiest thing you do to prepare for your trip. Just give us a call!