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One of the biggest complaints I seem to hear from airline loyalty program elite members is the lack of getting flight upgrades – or the frustration of not getting one. While these upgrades are by no means a guarantee, there are several strategies you can use to increase your odds.
1. Choose the Right Program
While this one isn’t an option for everyone, you can increase your upgrade odds simply by flying with a loyalty program that doesn’t give out the upgrades as freely. Currently, American Airlines is the only legacy US carrier that still charges a fee for mid and lower tier elites to upgrade. It’s not unlikely to see only a few folks on an upgrade list, since the folks on that list (aside from top tier Executive Platinums) have chosen that they want and value that upgrade and are willing to pay a fee (assuming the flight is beyond 500 miles). For them, they’ll pay a small $30 “sticker” fee for every 500-mile segment of their trip. It’s not uncommon to see only several elites on the list, whereas with Delta and United, over 50+ some odd members. MJ on Travel has had a great experience with the American system as an Advantage Gold.
2. Fly at Odd Times
Because no one in their right mind purposely chooses a 6am flight…
Choose a flight where not a lot of people will be on it – that’s usually flights before 6:30a, and those after 8p. Think of the commuter schedule and the working day – when people need to land and get to their meetings, and when their meetings finish up and they’ll want to get home. Flying at these “off” hours increases your chances at an upgrade.
3. Fly on the Right Days
Generally, Monday mornings are a killer for upgrades – it’s tough, even as a top-tier. Generally Thursday evenings are also tough since consultants are flying back home. Wednesday seem to generally be “dead,” so a hump-day flight may prove successful on the upgrade list. Friday’s seem to be fairly decent for availability, despite it being an obvious end-of-work-week day. Saturdays and Sundays are of course less-business heavy, though a Sunday evening route can sometimes be crowded as folks look to start their week early.
4. Fly Out of Odd Airports
Your chances of securing an upgrade from Washington DC Reagan to Dallas are hit or miss on American, especially depending on the day. Instead, try Washington Dulles or Baltimore – two “off” airports that generally have less elites, and less competition for seats. Keep in mind, though, that both of these airports (and several examples around the country) have less flights in and out of them on the respective carrier, so availability can be slim in that regard.
Baltimore/BWI is generally great for upgrades!
5. Watch Availability
While not too scientific, it’s worth looking at the availability of seats for sale.
Take this Dallas to Boston flight, for example. 7 seats (at minimum – the system only displays a max of 7) are still available for sale in First Class (“F7”), and 7 (at minimum) award upgrade seats are available, too (using miles/cash co-pay). Upgrade odds are pretty good with these numbers, so if you’re booking a last minute flight, if you see high numbers, it may look good for your chances.
It’s also worth looking at the seating map – even if it only shows 2 seats available for sale, you may still see 4 open for seating, indicating a possible upgrade opportunity depending on where you are on the list.
6. Look at Economy Seats
Another trick is to look at the economy class seat selection and which seats are taken. Try it out for yourself – it works wonders for me.
Jamie Larounis, The Forward Cabin | July 14, 2016
Jamie Larounis is an avid traveler, blogger and miles/points educator. Traveling well over 100,000 miles a year and staying in hotels for over 100 nights, he leverages miles, points and other deals to fly in first class cabins, and stay in 5-star hotels. His blog, The Forward Cabin, shares his experiences, musings, reviews, tips, tricks, resources and industry news with you, the fellow traveler. Today, in addition to writing The Forward Cabin, Jamie also supports the Frequent Traveler University, a Frequent Traveler Education Foundation project, as a member of their organizing staff where he’s spoken in-depth on the loyalty programs and operations of Amtrak and American Airlines. You’ll also find Jamie as an expert award trip booker with Award Magic, helping clients to redeem frequent flyer miles across a wide variety of reward programs and airlines. Among several media spotlights, he’s spoken at the New York Times Travel Show, written for InsideFlyer, Road Warrior Voices/USA Today, 1000TravelTips.com, the official content platform for the Travel and Adventure Shows, and makes regular guest appearances as a featured expert discussing the travel industry on FOX News.