Get upgraded to Business Class for Free

October 24, 2015

The notorious FREE business class upgrade was something I always dreamed of! After thousands and thousands of miles and trips around the world I started to wonder why I was never upgraded for free while flying?

There are a few ways to get upgraded to business class for free and it has happened to me on two of my international flights.

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Let’s start by going over the types of tickets, since this is extremely important and there is a lot of confusion in the area. Practically every domestic flight has Economy (aka coach) and Business Class, but it gets more complicated when flying international and changes depending on the particular airline.

Most flights tickets are in this order from cheapest to most expensive: Discount Economy-Economy-Premium Economy-Business Class- First Class

Discount Economy: Normally the cheap rates you find on Expedia, Kayak or other sites. 99.9% of the time these tickets will not be eligible for an upgrade

Economy: Normal seats, nothing special and the tickets prices are not discounted. Still a chance for an upgrade

Premium Economy: Usually boasts more legroom or some other features for a bit more expensive price. Upgrade is more likely compared to normal economy.

Business Class: Those amazingly huge seats you see while walking to Economy. The international seats normally recline into a bed of some sort and the service and food is way better compared to economy. Normally they serve top notch alcohol and gourmet food.

Cathay Pacific Business Class

First Class: This is the “crème de la crème” and differs significantly depending on the airline. These seats are outrageously more expensive. They are in some ways similar to business, but normally it’s just a lot more attention to details. The first class service offers the nicest food, entertainment and normally the seats transform into lie flat beds.

So how do you get upgraded to business or first class for free? There are actually a lot of scenarios, but I’ll go over the most common.

Upgrade with Your Status: A lot of airlines offer status upgrades to their top tier members for free. Basically you get put on a list and depending on a number of factors (availability, other passengers statuses, etc.) you will then get upgraded to the class ahead of you if it is available.

Upgrade with Miles: Most airlines allow you to use miles to upgrade your ticket. So normally you can upgrade from economy to business for free by using a chunk of your frequent flier miles.

Unfortunately, these are two of the only surefire ways to get upgraded for free. Luckily, there are a few other ways to get upgraded and this is how I got upgraded on my international flights on Korean Air and Cathay Pacific.

Book a full Fare or Premium Economy: Normally these are the only tickets eligible for upgrades. When I flew from Bangkok->Seoul and Seoul->Hong Kong I was upgraded for free since I had booked a full fare on Korean Air and on Cathay Pacific, I booked a Premium Economy ticket using miles. The Cathay Pacific Business Class is world-renowned and you can read my review here.

Register for the airline’s Frequent Flier program: This helps, but still doesn’t guarantee an upgrade. It shows the company and agent you are invested in their membership program and can help get you a potential upgrade.

Get Bumped off or Re-routed: A lot of times airlines will ask members to volunteer to give up their seat on overbooked flights. Normally this results in a flight voucher and rebooking your flight. But sometimes they will fly you business class.

Just Ask for It: It doesn’t hurt to ask. Most of the times they will say no and there are annoying ways to ask agents. There is pretty much NO way you’ll get upgraded from discount economy to business. I would normally start by asking if I can get an exit aisle seat, if this isn’t available I would ask, “Is my ticket eligible for an upgrade?” Smile, look charming and it just might work. 80% of the time I end up getting at least an exit aisle seat and on long flights this is basically the best you can get in economy. (Most of the times tickets are eligible for upgrades with miles or by paying cash)

Have you been upgraded for free? How did it happen for you? Leave a comment below!

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