Travel SOS: Is there any way to get a free upgrade?

Val wants to know if there are any tricks to getting free upgrades.

Can you get free upgrades?

Val has always wanted to sit at the pointy end of the plane but has always had a tight budget when she travels. She’s asked us if there’s any way she can get a free upgrade.


Q. Val
Every time I fly I walk past the good seats at the front of the plane and dream of sitting there myself one day. I’m on a part-Age Pension, but I visit my daughter in Cairns once or twice a year. Sometimes she pays for my ticket and sometimes we split it. What I’m saying is I’ll probably never be able to afford one of the good seats. But you always have good tips on getting upgrades and I read your article about bidding for them. I’m wondering if there’s any way you can get a free upgrade?

A. This is a question we’re often asked, which is why we’ve written about the many ways you can get upgrades. SJ’s tips on getting free upgrades include simple suggestions such as asking nicely (you’d be surprised how far this can get you with the right person on the line or behind the desk), claiming special circumstances, such as fear of flying or just being nice to the person with whom you’re checking in.

If you’re flying to Cairns a couple of times a year, you may have points building up – enough to get an upgrade to premium economy or maybe even business class. I suggest checking your points balance, logging onto an airline’s website and going through the process of booking a ticket. You’ll then have the option of using points to upgrade, which could get you a free bump or at least one at a very low cost.

Amelia also has her take on landing flight upgrades. Some of her tips include offering to be bumped, flying in the low season or flaunting a special occasion, among others.

Another interesting strategy is one I came across recently. It’s not exactly for upgraded seats, although you could still swing one with this tactic. In her article How to get the good seat without paying up, writer Erica Ho claims that by resisting the urge to choose a seat when you book your ticket, you’re actually improving your chance of getting a seat up the front of the plane.

She says: “For this trick to work effectively as possible, there should be extremely limited availability in terms of free seating. The fewer seats there are and the crappier the seats are, the better. It’s a good thing planes fly close to full these days, eh?

“Let me explain. By picking a seat, most people fail to realise several things: Passengers are not obligated to pay for a premium seat if there are no more free seats left on the plane. The airline still has to seat you. Second, seat maps are misleading because there are usually people on the flight who don’t have a seat assignment yet. Odds are good that seats will fill up quickly by the time the plane leaves the ground.

“Third, the seats in the front of the cabin are usually reserved until the very last minute. Gate agents will dip into this bucket to seat passengers if there are no other options left on the plane. They can’t charge you for something you didn’t ‘want’. That’s where the magic of not picking a seat comes into play: as people check-in, they’ll just grab any remaining seat. With luck, the gate agent will run out of normal seats and push you up front.”

While I can’t personally vouch for this tactic, it sounds as if Ms Ho has had success with it. My tip is book a seat as close to the front as possible, then, if seats are spare upon take-off, ask your flight attendant nicely if you could perhaps take one of those seats. It’s worked for me twice. You never know if you don’t ask!

If you have a Travel SOS question, send it to and we’ll do our best to answer it for you, or find someone who can.

Do you have any tips for getting upgrades? Why not share them with our members?



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13th Oct 2018
Flight crew give themselves the best seats.
The better seats are disportionately expensive. It's not that they are unaffordable so much as a waste of money on a short trip.
A few people are suggesting its better to buy two adjoining economy class seats and enjoy the space as the food on a short trip is irrelevant and these days pretty horrible.
15th Oct 2018
The flight crew have their own seating and it's nowhere near the best seats on the plane. They're usually right at the back, or if you're on a larger plane, possibly at the front. Their seats fold up so they're nothing like the 'normal' seats the passengers get.

13th Oct 2018
An hour or two on a plane who cares where they sit. Just take cheapest offer. International flights are a whole different kettle of fish.
13th Oct 2018
I would think Ms Ho refers to US airlines or Asian, I don't think these tricks really work with virgin or quaintarse! You see, they tend to look after their frequent flyers first like Gold and Platinum and rightfully so as they are playing to keep the airline going.
I'm gold and always ask for an upgrade, seldom get one though as has previously been said, airframes tend to be full nowadays. I use my points to upgrade to the pointy end.
I think if you ask for an upgrade on jetstar they gonna put you next to the toilet lol.
13th Oct 2018
Don't know where you get your info from on crew Rosret, they too will only get an upgrade if there are seats free, though they are favoured if the are free seat on the day! And who would begrudge them? They work their butts off on most flights and put up with some pretty nasty people on the way!
14th Oct 2018
This would never apply on international flights. Getting a free upgrade on the likes of Emirates, Etihad, Qantas, Virgin in the realms of dreams. Also, if you are travelling with a partner, if you don't book your seat, you run a big risk of being split up. However seat booking, particularly on long haul flights, brings problems of its own. All the good seats are very quickly snapped up, at a price of course. This particularly applies to the front seat where traditionally parents with young kids sit. So, instead of these roomier seats being available for parents with toddlers and babies, parents with these kids are being placed throughout the plane, with discomfort for the parents and fellow travellers. In August I endured a fourteen hour flight with a two year old girl behind me, who screamed most of the way, in a major tantrum because she couldn't get down. This little girl was so bad that it brought flight attendants and a flight officer to speak with the mother on several occasions because of the complaints.

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