1. HOLD AN ELITE STATUS
INFO This one’s a no-brainer. Airlines prioritise top-tier members when it comes to perks, particularly members of their own frequent flyer programmes.
Take Cathay Pacific (CX) for instance. While this hasn't been confirmed "officially", according to the popular internet forum Flyertalk a general rule of thumb for the upgrade pecking order is as follows:
- VIP (Heads of state, government officials, celebrities...)
- Marco Polo Diamond Plus
- Marco Polo Diamond
- Marco Polo Gold
- CX management staff on travel duty
- Oneworld Emerald
- CX staff on duty nominees, other airline staff nominees, CX staff on personal travel
- Oneworld Sapphire
- Marco Polo Silver
- Oneworld Ruby
- Marco Polo Green
- Asia Miles
- Non status
If you're an elite member of another airline's FFP, consider contacting the airline that you're flying with to request a status match. This is actually becoming more common as airline's compete for business and a quick way to jump to the front of the queue.
2. BOOK A BUSY FLIGHT
INFO All airlines's know that there’s usually a number of no-shows for a flight, therefore many carriers tend to oversell seats (particularly in coach). However, this becomes a problem on occasions where everybody decides to fly. When this happens, airlines will often try to solve the problem via “operational upgrades”, (also known as “op-ups”) to make room for everyone. Of course if you carry status with the airline, your chances of acquiring an op-up are likely to be higher.
To check the load factor of a flight when booking, either check the seatplans on the airline's website, or monitor the fare pricing. Generally, the more expensive a flight is, the more full it is.
3. BE AWARE OF BOOKING CODES
Everyone knows you can use miles to upgrade, but one should be aware that specific booking classes denote whether an upgrade is possible. This is different to travel classes such as economy, business and first. Booking codes come in the form of a single alphabet, and indicate things like the mileage that the travelling passenger will receive, along with the cancellation/refund policies, and whether upgrades by air miles are possible.
For example, Singapore Airlines’ economy class has three different subclasses – Sweet Deals (Q), Flexi Saver (W) and Flexi (E). The cheapest fares – Sweet Deals and Flexi Saver being ineligible for miles upgrades.
Business trips, however, are often arranged last minute, meaning companies are sometimes forced to book their employees onto a higher booking class and this is a great opportunity to use miles to bump yourself up to the next class.
4. BID FOR AN UPGRADE
Some airlines have introduced online upgrade auction services that allow passengers to bid for an upgrade to the next cabin class at reduced prices.
Cathay Pacific for instance introduced its “Enhance” service last year, which enables passengers holding a flight ticket with the fare classes W, R, E, Y, B, H, K, M, L and V to bid for upgrades.
Eligible customers are directed to the Enhance webpage and asked to submit an offer within an indicated price range. Bidders need to choose a payment option and enter credit/debit card information before participating. Cathay Pacific will then inform both successful and unsuccessful bidders with notifications of the results by email two days before departure. Payment will be deducted from the successful bidder's credit/debit card and a new electronic ticket will be provided.
5. GENERAL TIPS
AVOID TRAVELLING WITH BUSINESS TRAVELLERS
As most of us know, business travellers travel often and most likely hold top tier frequent flyer status that make them ever so appealing to airlines that are choosing passengers for op-ups (see point 2). For the casual vacationers, there’s practically no hope of scoring an upgrade instead of a business traveller. Therefore, choosing off-peak flights, such as midweek will help to increase your chances.
There's no harm checking with the attendant at the check-in counter about the possibility of an upgrade. Sure, you might get denied, but there's also a chance that a winning smile could win them over!
CHECK YOUR EMAILS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE
Some carriers may send emails offering last minute upgrades for reduced prices. Be sure to check your inbox regularly so you don't miss out!
OFFER YOUR SEAT TO SOMEONE ELSE
In the event of overbooking, airlines sometimes ask if you'd be willing to give up your seat for another on a later flight, usually with some form of compensation. If you're happy to do so, make sure to ask the airline to throw in an upgrade for doing so.