Ah, first class. We've all experienced this, walking off a long haul flight, you get lead through the business or first class section of the plane, and marvelled at the bigger (and reclining!) seats, complimentary (and now empty!) champagne flutes and futuristic digital entertainment systems. You've just spent eight hours in a cramped, stuffy, noisy and uncomfortable cabin, only for the airline staff to rub your face in the luxury you could have enjoyed, had you been able to spring for a seat worth thousands of pounds in cost.
But surely there is a way to reach that promised land of infinite legroom, hot towels and seats that somehow morph into king size beds, without having to take out a second mortgage? It's much more difficult to blag a flight upgrade today than it was years back, check-in staff have become a lot more savvy (the old 'we're on our honeymoon' line isn't as fool proof as it used to be) and some budget airlines have done away with business or first class altogether. With that in mind, we've pulled together the ultimate list of upgrade blagging tactics!
• Pick you flight wisely - upgrades are most common on flights that have large business/first class sections (do some research into aircraft seat ratios), and especially when these sections are likely to be empty. Flights over school holidays, in the summer and around Christmas/New Year tend to be quieter for business travellers, and busier in economy which will boost your chances of a free upgrade. Similarly, flights that depart early in the morning or late in the evening will be busier with business travellers, so try and fly during the day.
• Frequent flyer miles/club - there are lots of clubs or memberships you can be a part of, not to mention frequent flyer miles which may even bring down the overall cost of your flight. The more of these that you can be a part of, the more experienced a traveller you will be perceived as, thus increasing your chances of an upgrade.
• The loyal customer - as above, if you can show loyalty to a specific airline, this will improve your chances of a free upgrade. Be prepared to pay a little more for your seat - full economy, unrestricted fares are likely to be noticed by your airline, rather than a discounted or 'special offer' ticket.
• Use your title - if you have a specialist title (Dr/Professor/Reverend etc.) then use it when booking (as well as at check-in!). We're not suggesting that you include all of your post-nominal letters ("Passenger Name: Mr John Smith BSc in English with Hons HNCert MComp"), but if you can present yourself in a professional (and semi-important!) manner, that will give you a slight advantage.
• Arrive early - everyone complains about being asked to arrive at the airport two or three hours before departure, but if you want that elusive upgrade then be prepared to be first in the queue. You will not be only person who is planning to ask for a complimentary seat in first or business class, so the best you can do is be the first!
• Or, arrive late - 'overbooking' (or 'oversubscription' as the airlines like to call it!) is common within the travel industry. Airlines will sell more seats for a flight than are actually available on the aircraft, due to a percentage of no-shows or late cancellations that occur - depending on flight route and time of the year, overbooking can be as high as 40%!
When flights are overbooked, the airlines have the unenviable task of offloading passengers onto alternative or later flights, sometimes causing an overnight delay. After making an initial plea for volunteers which is unlikely to result in many raised hands, the airlines will start to offer incentives - airport vouchers, flight vouchers/credits and sometimes (when they are especially desperate) cash. If your travel plans are flexible, why not volunteer to be offloaded, if the airline can promise you a complimentary first class seat on a later flight?
• Be single - sorry, if you're a family of four looking for an upgrade you have little or no chance - children are rarely welcome in first class! Single travellers have the best chance nabbing a spare seat in first or business class.
• Or, be a couple - the stereotype of a newly married couple jetting off on their honeymoon isn't the guaranteed upgrader that it perhaps used to be, but it still can't hurt to drop-in this old favourite. Approach a female check-in assistant, be affectionate with each other and mention the word 'honeymoon' - for best results you could even try and present a marriage certificate (I know, that sounds extreme, but there are plenty of fakers out there sadly!) or even go direct to the airport from the service in wedding gown and tuxedo!
• Dress smart - granted, a tuxedo is perhaps a little on the formal side, but make sure you look smart and presentable if you're pitching for an upgrade. That means casual suit jackets, shirts and smart shoes, fellas.
• The experienced traveller - during check-in, delicately drop in that you're a regular flier and that your last flight was a fantastic business class experience from a rival airline. If you've got real bottle, go one step further and mention that you're actually a travel correspondent for a broadsheet newspaper!
• Be a celebrity - following on from the above (and only if your confidence level is sky high), casually mention that you're flying to Los Angeles to film a part in a movie. Big sunglasses and a fashionable look are also recommended, as is the line, "I can't wait to get through to duty free, where the paparazzi can't stalk me!"
• Special occasion - if you're not a newlywed (or you're not claiming to be!) then there are still plenty of other special occasions that you could be on your way to, that might work in your favour. You could be visiting your son in Australia, which will be the first time you've seen him in six years, for instance?
• Accident or injury - if you've recently had some kind of physical trauma or injury, why not mention this at check-in? Slings and casts work especially well!! - We don't recommend you try and fake this one!
• Sympathy - if you're at the airport to catch a connecting flight and you happen to have had a nightmare journey so far (the previous flight was delayed, you've missed a connecting flight, lost your suitcase etc.), gently let the check-in attendant know. They might feel so sorry for you that you get that free upgrade!
• The gift of the gab - if you're confident of your chatting-up and charming abilities, there's nothing wrong with trying to talk you way into an upgrade. Be friendly, polite and happy - the staff will have most likely been sat at their desk for several hours, they'll be bored and will have been moaned at by a large amount of other travellers. If you can be the spark that cheers them up and makes them smile, you might just earn yourself a first class seat.
• Just ask - if you don't ask you don't get. A clever way of approaching this is to ask how much an upgrade to first class would cost, and when you receive the inevitably expensive answer, act disappointed and then cheekily ask if there are any spare seats for free!
On the plane:
• Be flexible - if you're already on board the aircraft and in your economy seat then a first class upgrade is feeling pretty unlikely at this stage. However, if you're asked by a flight attendant if you wouldn't mind moving seats to perhaps accommodate a family who would like to sit together, or a nervous flyer who would like to sit in an aisle seat, you have a great opportunity to ask if there are any spare seats in first class! "Why yes, I'd be happy to uproot and move all of my belongings to an alternative seat, how about seat 1A in first class?"
• Complain - if you encounter a technical problem in your seat (the recline is faulty, the entertainment system has failed) then bring it to the attention of the flight attendants - they might offer you an upgrade or you could delicately suggest one as above!
Follow Simon Goddard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JustTheFlight