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Emirates first class suite with virtual windows and inspiration kit

First class air travel is a luxury usually reserved for the rich, but there are ways to experience all the perks without breaking the bank. The privacy, extra legroom, excellent menu selections, and personal pampering make a long international flight experience seem more like a day spent in an upscale hotel than on a crowded economy flight.

Don’t Fall for an Upgrade Scam

Before we go into what you should do, let’s talk about what not to do. There are tons of sites online that will sell you unused miles, which they claim you can redeem for upgrades, free airline tickets, and other perks. They buy these points from businesses or frequent travelers who rack up more points than they can use. Sounds legit, right?

Thing is, it’s against airline rules to buy and sell points, and in some cases against the law. Here’s what British Airways has to say about it:

“Any purported purchase, sale, transfer, unauthorised use (including bartering), procurement or redemption of Avios points issued or awarded to another person or any other use of Avios points contrary to these Terms and Conditions will constitute a fundamental breach by the Member of these Terms and Conditions and the Conditions of Use.”

The terms of service goes on to say that using purchased miles is a fraud and/or misconduct and if you’re caught, you’ll lose your Avios points, any reward certificates, your member status, possibly your co-branded credit card, and you may be criminally prosecuted.

Bottom line: stay away from mileage brokers. You might get away with it, but it’s not worth the gamble. 

10 Legal Tips to Get Upgraded to First Class

Who doesn’t want a great flight deal or a free upgrade from an economy or business class ticket to a premium cabin? To leave behind the cramped quarters of the cheap seats and fly like royalty, stretched out in your oversized comfy seat with your feet up, sipping champagne, sampling an exotic caviar menu (or enjoying a juicy burger – in first class, you get what you want).

It may sound like a dream, but moving to the front of the plane happens more often than you think. The key to taking advantage of all the amazing perks of a first-class upgrade without paying the full cost is in the details. There’s no guarantee, but these tips will help you score the luxury flight of your dreams.

American Airlines lie-flat first-class seats

1. Earn Airline Elite Status

Major airlines value loyalty. Frequent flyers earn special treatment simply by virtue of being good customers. Many airlines are part of an alliance, a network of airlines that agree to honor each other’s customers with connecting flights, shared lounges, and other cooperative engagements. For example, American Airlines and British Airways are members of the OneWorld Alliance, along with 11 other airlines. Other airline alliance groups include Sky Team Alliance and Star Alliance.

If you exclusively fly on airlines within an alliance, your loyalty may be rewarded. If there’s an upgrade to be assigned, the staff will consider the best customers first. When you’ve put in enough miles to earn elite status, your airline of choice offers you perks, including upgrade vouchers for a better seat.

Airline loyalty programs:

2. Redeem Miles and Points

Miles and points can be used to buy upgrades, and if you’re a frequent flyer with the same airline, you can redeem your points at partner airlines within the same alliance. 

Pro tip: Boost your points with loyalty programs, qualified credit card purchases, and by using airline shopping portals: 

3. Volunteer to be bumped on overbooked flights 

If you’re willing to be bumped to the next available flight, airlines will often upgrade, offer a refund, or issue vouchers for a future flight. In the waiting area, take a look around. Is every seat filled? If so, let the staff know you’re amenable to bump to the next flight if extra considerations are offered.

4. Use an airline-branded credit card

Not all Airline-branded credit cards will help you get an upgraded seat. They do often come with benefits, though, like free checked luggage, access to lounges, and priority seating. Some offer upgrades under certain circumstances. Before you choose an airline-branded card, read the fine print and understand exactly what you’re getting. 

Branded credit card offers:

Pro tip: Even cards that are not branded may offer mileage perks, like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

5. Buy a last-minute upgrade

If they have the room in first class and economy or business is crowded, airlines will offer heavily discounted upgrades. For international flights, on off-peak times, you may be able to score a luxe business class or first class seat for just a few hundred bucks on the day of departure…and all you have to do is ask a gate agent before you board.

United Airlines customer service agent

6. Follow The Crowds

Fly during the busiest times/dates for family travel, and the slowest times for business travel, when seats in first class are more likely to be empty. The more crowded economy class is, the better chance you have of an upgrade. The flight might be overbooked or they may have an unexpected situation, such as screaming, squirming toddlers. It’s always a gamble. You may be stuck with your seat assignment and your unruly seatmate, or a kind attendant may take pity on you and move you to an empty first-class seat.

7. Fly With a Generous Elite Friend

If you’re not an elite member, and your flight companion is, they may be able to upgrade at the gate and use their upgrade certificates to bring you along for the ride. Some airlines offer free upgrades for traveling companions on the same reservation, and in some cases, you can use a friend’s upgrade certificate even if you’re not traveling together. 

8. Travel Alone

Traveling in a group is definitely more fun, but there’s more likely to be one seat empty in first class than several empty seats. Your chances of an upgrade are already pretty slim, so adding another person to the equation further lowers your odds. If you do travel with other people and would happily abandon them in economy for the fine wines and culinary delights of first class accommodations, book your flights separately. Should the opportunity arise, the flight attendant will be looking for solo bookings.

9. Dress Well and Be Nice

It may sound like old-fashioned advice, but airline attendants are human beings. A friendly, polite, well-dressed person is still more likely to earn the goodwill of the crew. It makes total sense. Flight attendants would not want to disturb first class passengers with a loud, rude person dressed in sweatpants and a torn tee-shirt, would they?

From the person at the check-in desk to the flight attendant serving coffee, airline employees have thankless jobs. They have to deal with disrespectful passengers, drunken idiots, screaming children, vomit, anxiety, aggression, inappropriate behavior, sexual harassment, and people who simply make them nervous on a daily basis. People who are polite, friendly, and even helpful stand out. Be the person who volunteers to switch seats so a parent can sit with their child or the person who helps someone else with their luggage. 

You may not see a return for every small act of kindness, but it makes for a more pleasant flight for everyone, and you never know when they’ll be looking to fill an empty first class seat with a person who won’t be disruptive.

10. Guaranteed Success

Getting upgraded to first class requires a lot of diligence and even more luck. The only 100% guaranteed way to fly in upgraded luxury is to buy a ticket. Our Business Class Experts know all the tips and tricks to get you the best first class deal available – without jumping through any hoops. Getting a discounted airfare is just like a free upgrade. We’ll do the legwork to find the best fares on the best airlines on your schedule. Call us today to start planning your trip!