How to get a business flight upgrade

Which frequent flyer doesn’t dream of getting upgraded to business class or even, whisper it, first? It’s just a step through the curtain, but a world away, where the passengers all seem to be a little bit more successful, or at least more relaxed and pampered.

There are, thankfully, a few steps you can take to increase your chances of pulling off the hallowed upgrade and wallow in the luxury of a flat bed.

Start with the basics

We put a shout-out on Twitter to find out how our followers have wangled an upgrade. For
@andyeganuk, the answer is quite simple:"Polite, charming and devilishly good looks..."

Of course, not everyone can boast devilishly good looks, but being polite and charming - while smiling and making few demands of airline staff - is a good place to start.


The next simplest technique is to just be bold, a bit cheeky even, and ask for an upgrade, hoping you get lucky.

Travel blogger Matthew Klint relates how this worked when he was due to travel with his uncle and brother on an Emirates flight from Melbourne to Auckland.

At the check-in desk, he simply asked the airline agent if it was possible to buy an upgrade to business class. The agent consulted with her supervisor then returned with three business class boarding passes, free of charge.

Pay to better your chances

If your employer is willing to fork out a bit more for your flight, say to go from economy class to premium economy, it’ll boost your odds of getting an upgrade, according to travel booking site Momondo.

Also, join a loyalty programme, sticking with one airline or group of affiliated airlines if possible. If an airline has overbooked, as a loyal customer you’ll stand a better chance of an upgrade.

Be flexible

In 2017, Money Saving Expert polled its users who'd flown in the last two years and found that 14% of them had been upgraded for free, without having significant status with a frequent flyer scheme.

Its poll revealed that one of the best ways to get an upgrade is by being as flexible as you can: if the plane is overbooked, and the airline asks for volunteers to take a late flight, then agree to it and you might get lucky.

Squeeze your contacts

Sadly, as a time-poor business traveller, you might not have the luxury of being able to take a later flight.

So consider one of the other common techniques identified by Money Saving Expert’s survey: rack your brains for anyone you know who works for the airline - whether it’s a friend, family member or business contact - and call in a favour from them. They just may be able to use their insider savvy to get you upgraded.

Go solo and smart

Here’s a commonly cited tip that’s perfect for business travellers: dress the part. You’re unlikely to be travelling in shorts and flip flops if you’re flying for work, and more likely to be decked in smart business attire, so this plays to your strengths.

Also, you may well be to be travelling alone, again boosting your chances of getting upgraded.

A different sort of upgrade

Entrepreneur, author and frequent flyer Peter Shankman has a unique take on flight upgrades and how to get them.

The first thing he does on stepping on board a plane is to the find the lead flight attendant. He hands them a family-sized bag of M&Ms, for sharing with their stressed and harassed co-workers. He then just takes his seat.

This small gesture reminds the cabin crew that not all passengers are there to make their lives difficult. Their spirits are lifted, Peter says, which in turn makes for a better experience for the passengers too. As a result, “Every single person on the airplane with me gets to enjoy an upgrade to a better travel experience, as well,” he says.

So, this isn’t a seat upgrade, but a big mood upgrade for everyone on the plane. Go Peter!

With the FairFX Expense Card and Platform you can spend for free in the UK and get great rates overseas. You can also keep track of staff spending with ease.

FairFX Expense Card and Platform

Back to Blog