How to Get Upgraded to First Class

How to Get Upgraded to First Class
Latest posts by Joe Elvin (see all)

Did you know it’s possible to get upgraded to a first-class flight without paying an extra penny? There’s no guaranteed method to getting a free upgrade, but there are several steps you can take to significantly boost your chances of grabbing that free first-class seat. I’ve been traveling around the world and have visited more than 35 countries working as a freelance writer – and have encountered many tourists and travelers who have shared their stories of being upgraded on flights. 

Having experimented with some of these methods for how to get upgraded to first class myself, I’m in a great position to tell you which are worth trying.

The Bottom Line

The best ways to improve your odds of being upgraded to first class include turning up early to check in and being registered for frequent flyer programs and promotional emails. Being polite to the air staff definitely helps and maybe you might even consider bringing them a small gift.

Why Is It Worth Trying To Upgrade For A First Class Flight?

Traveling in first class is undoubtedly a luxurious experience in the sky, starting with the speed with which you’ll board and leave the plane. Even before the plane takes off, you’ll already be enjoying the warm attention and welcome of the flight attendants, who will be very aware of you and anticipate your needs.

And what about the comfort of the seats and the quality of the food that is sometimes prepared by chefs with Michelin stars? With all this attention, your trip will be far more pleasant if you attempt to upgrade to first-class seats.

The cost is sometimes more than 10x higher than the tourist or economic class, but it’s also possible to upgrade for free. It’s surely worth a try, then. The services you’ll actually get in first class depending on the airline, the travel time, and the destination, so it’s worth looking for more information before you book the ticket.

With each airline, you can expect basic upgrades, such as extra legroom, faster service, and more basic facilities. However, many airlines try to add their own unique benefits to appeal more to the first-class traveler.

For example, Etihad Airways offers a personal air vent, a personal mini-bar, and a boutique wine list, with suggestions for which bottle matches which meal.

With Emirates, you can let yourself be pampered by its comfortable leather seats in the style of the Mercedes brand, while enjoying an exquisite glass of wine. If that were not enough, you can enjoy two spas with showers and floor heating. Meanwhile, in addition to its luxurious and comfortable seats, Air France will pamper you with its gourmet food, carefully prepared and selected by Chefs such as Joël Robuchon, Guy Martin or Régis Marcon.

What Are The Different Types Of Flights?

Flying Classes

It’s not always easy to understand the different types of plane tickets on offer from the various airlines these days. Delta Air Lines offers as many as SIX tiers of onboard service – and there are several others that complicate things to a similar level.

With that said, there are three core flight types you can choose from when traveling by plane.

These are: 

  • Economy or Tourist Class: These tickets have the highest demand due to the affordable prices, but are limited in terms of amenities. You can expect simple seats, sometimes with reduced space. For short or regional trips, you may not even have charge connectors or food. For longer trips, you’ll have some entertainment and food options once or twice at specific times.
  • Business Class or Executive Class: You’ll have a more comfortable trip with some amenities similar to those of first class. You’ll have more comfortable and spacious seats that can often be transformed into a bed. What’s more, you’ll be able to use the VIP lounges to wait for your flight, which may include showers for you to freshen up before taking your flight. You can expect the food to be of higher quality than the economy class.
  • First Class: The most pleasant and luxurious category where you’ll enjoy greater comfort and privacy in the sky thanks to its classy cabins, as well as the personalized attention of the staff on board.  You’ll have access to all premium services, such as the use of VIP lounges, bars, and restaurants. On top of that, you’ll have the freedom to decide when to take your food, even before taking off, so you can have a pleasant and long nap during your flight.

How To Get Upgraded To First Class: The Most Important Factors For Success

It’s not ever guaranteed that you’ll get upgraded to a first-class flight for free. The most common scenario when this happens is when airlines have oversold flight tickets. Although it is not something common, the airline will have to assign you a new seat when this happens.

Here are some more strategies for you to adopt to ensure you are the one chosen for an upgrade when this happens 

Choose The Back Seats On The Plane

If you’re able to select your own seat during an advanced check-in, choose the back ones. The location of these seats is the least preferred by travelers, as it often requires more time to get on and off from here. 

Sometimes when the flight is not full, the airline will have to relocate the passengers to distribute the weight. If this is the case, choosing a back seat may increase your chances of being upgraded to first class. 

Arrive Just On Time Or Very Early

Arrive Just On Time Or Very Early

If you want to ask about the possibility of an upgrade, it’s usually best to arrive very early. That way, you get the opportunity ahead of other passengers. You’ll usually have to wait for the answer, but if you’re super-early, the airline staff will have time to make this inquiry. Sometimes, the upgrade may not be free, but it could be available for a minimal fee compared to the original cost.

A riskier option is to arrive and check in as late as possible. In such cases, the economy seats could be full, leaving only the premium seats available. Honestly, while this will help increase your chances, the stress or the hassle of arriving incredibly early or super-late isn’t worth the potential of maybe getting upgraded.  

Use The Frequent Flyer Program With Your Credit Card

These loyalty programs will give you access to various benefits offered by airlines, even if you don’t travel that much. From the first purchase, you’ll already be accumulating miles that can give you that desired upgrade to first class or even a free flight.

Some credit cards have frequent flyer programs attached to them – and if you’re clever and disciplined with your spending – you can rack up the points really quickly.  For example, blogger and travel writer Mateo Kepnes managed to get a trip from New York to Australia with his credit card’s frequent flyer program, paying only $40 of tax.  

The Power Of Kindness

The Power Of Kindness

A little kindness can go a long way. Many airline staff have told stories of how customers successfully earned themselves an upgrade with polite behavior, or even by bringing small gifts like a coffee or some chocolates for the boarding agent. Although this does not guarantee your upgrade, it may be worth a try.

Are You a Frequent Flyer?

Without a doubt, this is the most effective way to get an upgrade to first class. Since airline loyalty programs sometimes allow this type of change to keep their most loyal customers happy. It may not be the most economical way, but if you travel frequently either for pleasure or work, surely this option is for you.

It’s also possible to use your loyalty points to upgrade from economy seats to first class, although this might not classify as a free upgrade in your mind.

Have Friends Who Work For The Airline

If you have a friend or family member who works for the airline, these are good friends to have! Do not hesitate to take advantage of this contact if you have one. Perhaps it is not morally correct, but it is not illegal either. Usually, they’ll be able to help you out with first-class upgrades.  

Register For Promotional Emails From The Airline

Once you’re registered, pay attention to your email a few hours before your flight takes off. Some airlines usually offer excellent prices to upgrade to first class.  It is not free, but it comes at a lower cost. It is also possible that you’ll be offered a business class seat for the same price that you purchased.



Ultimately, you’re not going to be offered the opportunity to upgrade to first class for free unless you ask. Manners are key, whereas entitlement could likely get you pushed back.

If you’ve been inconvenienced by the airline somehow, that could serve as a reason to ask. Alternatively, you could mention that you’re aware first-class upgrades are sometimes available and make up some other reason why you thought you’d ask. Perhaps you’re celebrating or commiserating about something, for example.

Either way, you’re not going to an upgrade magically handed to you. You’ll have to ask for it.

Cross Your Fingers And Hope For The Best

Sometimes, it’s simply the luck of the draw. The information isn’t widely available about who is chosen for a first-class upgrade, but if you are lucky, congratulations!

The Advantages Of Trying To Get Upgraded To First Class For Free

  • Your trip will be more comfortable and pleasant;
  • The boarding process will be much faster;
  • You’ll have better quality food during the flight and without a stipulated eating schedule;
  • You’ll have more privacy and tranquillity;
  • If your trip is for several hours, you’ll be more comfortable and fresher by the time you arrive at your destination.

The Disadvantages Of Trying To Get Upgraded To First Class For Free

  • You’ll not always be successful in moving up for free, so perhaps you’ll suffer an awkward moment of rejection (but it doesn’t hurt to ask).

What Are The Best Airlines For Trying To Get Upgraded To First Class?

Copa Airlines

Some time ago, it was relatively easier to get an upgrade to first class; with the passage of time and the increase in travelers, airlines have limited this possibility a little more. In the case of Iberia and its Iberia Plus program for frequent flyers, it allows the customer to exchange their Avios for the difference in prices. If you are registered on its offers page, you may find an opportunity to upgrade at a lower cost.

Copa Airlines sometimes offers auctions where you register the amount you are willing to pay for an upgrade. Sometimes, you’ll land a great deal! 

Delta Airlines offers the possibility of using your Airmiles to upgrade to first class through its application. If you regularly fly with Delta, do not hesitate to take advantage of this facility.

If you have the ‘Flying Blue’ membership, you can be more successful in getting an upgrade on Air France and KLM.


Question: Is First Class Only For The Rich And Famous?

Answer: No, it’s well known that the cost of these seats is higher. However, they’re not impossible for regular Joes to access, especially if they’re savvy enough to grab a free upgrade.

Question: If I Go To First Class, Do I Have To Pay The Cost Of The Seat?

Answer: It’s possible to grab a free upgrade if the airlines oversold the flight. However, in some cases, you’ll be able to upgrade regardless, albeit for a smaller fee than normal.

Question: Do I Need To Travel A Lot Before Requesting An Upgrade To First Class?

Answer: Not necessarily, although many frequent flyer schemes will provide you with more opportunities to snag a free or more affordable upgrade.

How to Get Upgraded to First Class: Final Thoughts

Even if you try all of these ideas in the article, you may still not achieve your free first-class upgrade. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained – and you have nothing to lose by asking. It’s possible to live a life of luxury if only for a few hours in the sky, and these tips will increase the chances of this happening.