Ditch These Travel Myths If You're Looking For A Free Airline Upgrade

Long-haul, short-haul, morning, or late-night flights; there's no arguing that flying first or business class is guaranteed to be more comfortable than economy. If you feel a short walk of shame as you pass passengers at the front of the plane and often wonder, "How did they afford that upgrade?" you've probably conjured up a few ideas. Should you flirt with a flight attendant or gate agent and smooth talk your way to a nicer airline class? Should you politely ask an airline staff member if they can simply hand over a free upgrade? They've got to have some power to give out freebies, right? You might want to think again about some of these outdated myths but fear not.

Some of the more successful ways to get bumped up to a higher class when flying aren't quite as movie-like as using your good looks and charms to win over a gate agent. Daydreams aside, if you are looking to fly anything but economy for your next trip, follow these tips and tools for your best shot.

The myths to ditch

Let's start with one of the most popular theories regarding "free" upgrades: generally speaking, staff cannot give away free upgrades with no reasoning behind it. Not only can staff get punished for "theft," but most airlines have the same goal in mind: profit. Instead, when there are available seats left in business or first class, airlines will likely give them out to select passengers under specific criteria. At the top of that criteria list is those who are loyal to said airline, and have earned a status with them or their alliance. Examples of this include members of Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus members who have utilized the airlines enough to earn silver, gold, or platinum status.

Another outdated theory is passengers who rely on their good looks and charming personality to win over gate agents. Bat your eyelashes all you want; it's probably not going to happen. As mentioned above, it's rare for airline staff to risk their jobs simply to give you a free upgrade because they think you're cute. If a flight is overbooked, you might get a free upgrade, but don't arrive to the airport thinking you're going to smooth-talk your way into a better seat.

The rules to live by instead

We've covered some of the biggest myths behind upgrades, so, what can passengers actually do to increase the likelihood of getting bumped up? Simply put, the best way to get an upgrade is pay for it or earn it. If the price tag seems too steep at the time of your booking, it can sometimes pay off to wait it out. When business class doesn't sell out, many airlines offer a "bidding" program. With bidding programs, economy passengers can "bid" a monetary amount to get upgraded for a lesser price than the original selling price. Airlines will typically let you know if you're bid is high, medium, or low, in comparison to what they expect to sell the ticket for. Passengers choose a monetary amount to bid and enter their card information. Your card won't be charged unless you have the winning bid, in which case, your card will automatically be charged to the amount you bid, and your ticket will automatically be upgraded. This is a great hack to fly business class at a discounted rate.

Another surefire way to be eligible for an upgrade is to use points and/or miles. If you have an airline preference, it's worth it to stick to that airline and their alliance members, because airlines love loyalty. You'll be at the top of the upgrade list if you have a track record of supporting a particular airline.