Mastering Upgrades

Mastering Upgrades 2016-01-31T19:41:55-08:00

Dear Joel,

First of all my compliments on an excellent book, just finished reading it and it’s great.

As a matter of fact there only seemed to be two copies left in the entire Greater London, at least according to the bookshop, and I bought one of them.

Just a few questions that crossed my mind while reading the book.

At check-in, what can the check-in agent actually see on the computer screen, like profile and flight history?

I read in the book that the best way to get free upgrades is to fly as much business class as possible. I try to upgrade sometimes using upgrade vouchers, then does my flight history show the ticket I paid for (economy) or the class I flew (business) so it looks like I actually bought one of those really expensive tickets?

Could be good to know.

In the book it says it is generally better to go for an empty flight rather than a full one in order to get upgrades, wouldn’t it be better to do the opposite?
The chance of getting a free upgrade must be better if the flight is full and maybe overbooked and somebody has to be bumped.

If the flight is only half-full there is actually no reason why the airline should give complimentary upgrades.

Maybe it works differently in the US.

What are the chances to get free upgrade on US domestic flights? I have Star Alliance silver status with SAS and in the US I would fly United (also Star Alliance).

As far as I understand they are happy to upgrade their own loyal customers, but what about travelers from other programs within the alliance?

Otherwise your tips seem to work well.

So far I have received two free upgrades within Europe and one Transatlantic upgrade to economy plus on United, all as a basic member. Hopefully I will be even more successful with my new silver-card.

Thanks in advance


Answered by The Penny Pincher

Hi Jacob,

Thank you very much for your kind words. It’s great to hear the upgrading success of others. I am confident that your “Silver Status” will yield a number of rewards including access to the front of the plane.

As for your excellent questions:

Usually, an airline representative will pull up an abbreviated version of your record which details information concerning your current reservation, elite status, and fare basis. Each airline has its own proprietary systems but in most instances an agent can review your past flight history which will show the class of service you have flown. Some airlines track the fare paid as well as your lifetime expenditures. I suggest telling the agent that you make a habit of flying first class when you’re trying to negotiate an upgrade.

Your second question is one jump ahead of me. My new book being released in May (Penny Pincher II) discusses what you rightly point out. In my first book I suggested that it is wise to seek upgrades on flights that primarily cater to leisure travelers, traveling coach, such as, flights between LAX or NYC to Miami, that hook up with a cruise ship or almost any flight to Las Vegas. Recently, I have also been recommending that any full flight presents a good upgrading opportunity with one caveat: many full flights are not only filled with leisure travelers, there is a strong likelihood that many business and elite travelers on the flight will be competing with you for those prized first-class seats.

Keep in mind that the most compelling reason for an airline to upgrade someone is to maintain their loyalty. For example, the other day I was on a flight from Atlanta to Hawaii, which connected in Salt Lake City. Flying from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, I asked my seatmate if he was upgraded for the flight to Hawaii. He was not. I went on to advise him to ask for an upgrade in Salt Lake City. By stressing his elite status and the fact that he was in first class from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, he got the upgrade.

The biggest benefit of alliances such as the Star Alliance is that the upgrading opportunities extend within the partnership. I usually try to book my ticket with my primary provider and get them to upgrade me, although sometimes, I find that the partner airlines treat me more generously than my primary airline. Often, it comes down to the individual that you are working with.

Once again thank you for your kind praise and excellent questions.

Good luck with your upgrading success—I think you’re off to a great start.

All the best,