6 Tricks To Get Upgraded To First Class

This post was originally published on January 16, 2015.
You’re packed, dressed to kill, and ready for your dream vacation, but of course your seat on the plane is between the screaming toddler and the snoring guy who won’t share the armrest. It happens to the best of us, and no amount of wine or soundproof headphones can dull that kind of misery. Thankfully, we found a solution: Get bumped up to first class.
We know it’s outrageously expensive, and we’re not suggesting you pay for it yourself. Instead, we collected tricks from travel professionals and frequent fliers to getting upgraded for free. Click through to say goodbye to coach and hello to hot blankets, warm nuts, and cold, bottomless mimosas.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“Join any airline's loyalty program and fly with them repeatedly,” says Ashley Muir Bruhn, founder of lifestyle and travel blog Hither and Thither. And, if given the opportunity, get the airline credit card.

“The last time I was bumped up, I had just switched to an airline credit card, so I was automatically first in line for all available upgrades.” Since the gate attendant registers almost all upgrades electronically, it makes sense for your account to reflect a consistent relationship with the airline.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Because airline professionals know that anyone paying for the first-class experience isn’t looking to sit with a slob, Aubrey Daquinag of travel and fashion blog The Love Assembly suggests that you “dress neatly in 'smart casual' attire. You’ll have better chances than if you're wearing flip-flops, tracksuit pants, or your PJs. It is business class, after all.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“When approaching a gate agent, it’s all about the attitude,” says Wendy, an American Airlines flight attendant of 18 years. “I would always try to offer a coffee or say, 'I know you have a thankless job,' followed by an 'I just wanted to say that I sincerely wish you a great day.'” You should do this anyway, without any hope of an upgrade, because it creates good karma and because people who service cranky travelers all day long need a lift…but also, because “you may be surprised by your new seat assignment.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Chances are, switching seats (within your same cabin class) isn’t going to make a difference to you, but it might really help someone else. Pauline Egge, founder of travel blog Petite Passport, suggests offering to switch “if you notice someone that needs it” — a mother who was separated from her child, for example, because of seat unavailability — “and the flight attendants will notice.” And, may do you a solid.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Victoria Kasidas, one of several honeymooners we interviewed, remembered her trip to Puerto Rico with her new husband. “We were waiting in line for our flight, and I didn’t think we were being that obvious, but the gate attendants asked if we were newlyweds and immediately offered an upgrade!” Don’t go crazy with the PDA, but it can’t hurt to plant a hint that it’s a romantic trip à deux.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Last but not least, keep in mind that if you’ve been on a delayed flight and missed a connection, or if your plane was overbooked and you weren’t allowed to board, many airlines will make up for it with a seat in first or business class on your rescheduled flight. Most inconvenienced travelers are a nightmare to deal with, so staying cool under pressure makes everyone’s life easier — and trust us, that tends to pay off.
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