Tricks to get a free upgrade

seats5We received several questions from readers that have one thing in common: they pertain to the relationship of airlines and their customers.

The most frequently asked question is: “How can I score an upgrade?” This suggests that what flyers desire most is an upgrade to first class. Small wonder that quite a few readers ask our opinion about tips they have read or heard for a free upgrade.

Today, this kind of tips is usually worthless. Airlines have learned to make money by nickel-and-diming their customers and by limiting capacity so as to keep fares high. Free upgrades do not fit in this picture.

Interestingly, upgrades are free for carriers. If you get an upgrade, it hardly affects the carrier’s cost. For a normal business it would be a golden opportunity to build a relationship with their customers and foster their loyalty by offering free upgrades.

Not so with airlines. They consider empty first class seats an opportunity to sell those seats at the last minute - even after departure - at discounted prices to passengers who are crammed in coach with no personal space. Although hardly any passengers buy it, it explains why airlines are so reluctant to give free upgrades to their most loyal customers.

seats4Yet, questions about free upgrades abound. For example, a reader asks whether chatting with a gate agent could help scoring an upgrade as he had read elsewhere. Another reader heard that flying during the middle of the week and during dawn or dusk would substantially increase the odds of an upgrade because there are more empty seats in first class on those flights.

Yet another reader has read that by booking through the airline’s website he would be recognized and treated as a loyal customer. And there is the reader who asks whether it is true that it is better to arrive late at the airport. This would increase the chance to be bumped to a later flight, which gives you the chance to ask for an upgrade to make up for the inconvenience.

The latter trick is really far-fetched, just a fantasy of a writer who aims at entertaining readers as opposed to informing them. Forget those ‘tricks’ as they do not work out. Airlines are no longer interested in loyal customers anyway. Rather, they are interested in customers paying high fares and fees for whatever as long as they do it in real money.

Forget loyalty programs. They do not offer substantial benefits, but try to lure you into paying higher fares than you can get at other airlines. You are better off if you simply purchase the best deal regardless of the airline. Most travelers understand this as they are not loyal to an airline.

Related: “Travelers are not loyal to airlines

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