When your small business is on a budget, booking business-class airline tickets is most likely not an option. But there's one way to enjoy all those perks without shelling out: by scoring a complimentary upgrade.
How do you do that? Here are nine ways to boost your chances of getting a free upgrade during your next business trip:
1. Ask the ticket counter agent. Most of the time the agent is not authorized to bump you up to a better seat, unless you are a frequent flyer, in which case you still will most likely need to use your miles. However, what he or she can do is add a code that signifies to the gate agent that you are eligible for an upgrade, increasing your chances at the gate.
2. Book with a travel agent. Booking with a travel agent means that it's possible for him or her to mark your reservation with a comment such as OSI (Other Significant Information). This can be used to distinguish you as a VIP or CEO, significantly increasing your chances of an upgrade. Airlines are always trying to win business away from their competitors, especially if there’s a chance of acquiring a company account.
3. Check in early. If you are an elite or frequent flyer member, make sure to check in early to increase your chances of getting moved to business class. When there is one upgrade available and two frequent flyer members want it, the one that checks in first will win the better seat.
4. Volunteer to get "bumped" from an overbooked flight. If you’re not in a huge hurry and don’t mind offering to get bumped, this move increases your chances of getting an upgrade. If you do get pushed to the next flight, you will usually get a free trip to use within a year, and in some cases, spending cash. If you end up getting on your original flight, the airline might upgrade you for your willingness to help out.
5. Ask a flight attendant for an upgrade if you see a seat available. Usually just asking a flight attendant for an upgrade won’t work, but there are a couple of cases where your chances largely increase. If economy class has been overbooked and there are seats in business, make sure you’re quick to offer (this helps when you’re sitting in the first couple of rows). You might also get an upgrade if there is a problem with your seat or your neighboring passenger.
6. Become a member of your airline's frequent flyer program. Once you’re a frequent flier, your chances of getting an upgrade are much better. The good seats are saved for elite members, so it helps to stick with an airline and work your way up. Also consider joining the frequent flyer clubs of the smaller airlines. Competing against the masses who join Lufthansa or Delta is harder than when you’re looking to get a better seat with a smaller airline.
7. Avoid flying from your carrier's main hub if it is a large airport. It’s really hard to get an upgrade on a Lufthansa flight when you’re flying out of Frankfurt, since it’s much more likely you will be up against the serious VIPs. Flying out of a smaller hub will boost your chances.
8. Try to book a flight that’s likely to have a large upper-class section. Wide-body aircrafts like the Boeing 777 have a lot of first and business class seats that might be available. You can check on their status a couple of days before you fly by doing a pretend booking on the airline’s site. The more seats, the better the chance of successfully using all the tricks above.
9. Look like you should get an upgrade. To fly business, you need to look business. If you’re wearing jeans, sneakers, or a sweatsuit, the flight attendants are not likely to see you as someone that really should be in business class. Make sure you dress the part.