How Easy Are Free Flight Upgrades To Get? Experts Explain

Pretty professional woman drinking champagne on board private jet.
Steve Debenport / Getty Images/iStockphoto

First-class tickets can get really pricey — especially as flight prices overall have increased. But you may be able to travel hack your way to a free upgrade if you do some strategic planning. While the only foolproof way to get a first-class seat is to purchase it in advance, these tips and tricks can sometimes land you in the front of the plane.

Here’s a look at the best ways to get free flight upgrades, according to travel experts.

Join Frequent Flyer Programs

If you fly frequently and are a loyal customer of one particular airline, you may get rewarded with free upgrades.

“As a loyal customer, I am always given priority when the airline needs to upgrade a passenger because of overbooking in economy class,” said professional travel blogger Kevin Mercier. “In addition, the airline rewards me for my loyalty with free upgrade vouchers, usually twice a year.”

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Open an Airline Credit Card

In addition to joining a loyalty program, consider opening an airline credit card to up your chances of getting a free flight upgrade.

“Becoming a cardholder with the airline provides more goodwill and likelihood that you will get the seat upgrade compared to other customers,” said Laurén Green, founder of the travel blog Wander With Wren. “I have shown my card to ask for seat upgrades.”

Dress in Business Attire

Although you may typically fly in your comfiest clothes, this might be holding you back from scoring an upgrade.

“I’ve received many upgrades when I am dressed professionally and inquire about seats that are available in business class at the gate prior to departure,” Green said. “Like it or not, a professional appearance does help convince gate agents to help you upgrade to another seat.”

Use Credit Card Points

If you have a travel rewards card, consider cashing your points in for first-class seats.

“You can often use your points to book free or discounted seat upgrades,” said Matt James, founder of the travel information site “This is a great way to get a little extra bang for your buck.”

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Fly During Off-Peak Times

“If you’re flexible with your travel dates, flying during off-peak times can often get you a free seat upgrade,” James said. “This is because airlines often have more empty seats during these times and are more likely to upgrade passengers to fill them.”

Be Friendly to the Staff

Kindness can go a long way when you’re trying to score a free upgrade.

“Being friendly and polite to the airline staff can often lead to getting a free seat upgrade,” James said. “If you make a good impression, they may be more likely to hook you up!”

Check Your Employee Perks

Some companies partner with certain airlines, and if this is the case for you, you may be able to move up to first class for free.

“I work for a large tech company that partners with several airlines to provide employees various perks,” said Jessica Schmit, co-founder of the travel blog Uprooted Traveler. “I’ve been upgraded to first class twice, just for signing up for a free program through my employer.”

Volunteer To Give Up Your Seat on an Overbooked Flight

Especially during busy travel times, airlines may overbook flights and seek out volunteers to get on the next available flight out. If you’re willing to deal with this inconvenience, you may be rewarded for your patience.

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“They are likely to compensate you and give you a free upgrade too,” said Jennifer Gregory, founder of the travel site Vegas Food & Fun.

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