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Insider tips: how to get a free upgrade on a flight

Desperate for that free Etihad upgrade? Or want to know how to get cheap business class flights? We've got Skyscanner's insider tips and tricks to secure yourself a cheap - or even better - free upgrade on your next flight.


1. Travel off peak

Skyscanner Graphic Designer, Clare McMonagle, thinks you’ve got a slightly better chance of getting a free flight upgrade to business if you book a flight on a public holiday when business people are less likely to take to the skies.

The more empty seats in business or first class, the better chance you have of being bumped up from economy. Check out a full list of the UAE National and Public holidays here to get planning!

2. Spend lots of money

If you’re buying a lot of baggage – because you’re giving up the expatriate life and returning home, for example – you might be in with a better chance of getting a free upgrade. You have to speculate to accumulate!

3. Be loyal to the airline

Even if you’re on the lowest level of an airline’s loyalty program you’ll still be ahead of those people who aren’t members when it comes to a free flight  upgrade. You have a much better chance of ever being upgraded if your name is in the system.

4. Arrive early for the flight

If there’s just a couple of empty seats in business class you will maximize your chances of getting one of them if you check in as early as possible (we’re talking with hours and hours to spare here, not half an hour!). It could mean you have an awfully long time to kill in duty free (there are worst places to be stuck right?) but it might just mean you secure the only two empty seats in business or first class.

5. Arrive late for your flight

Or you could do the opposite! if you don’t reserve your seat and you arrive late there’s a chance the flight could be overbooked. If this is the case there’s also a chance you might be upgraded. But by late we don’t mean so late that the check-in desk has closed (that equals no flight, let alone no upgrade!) or the passengers ahead of you in the queue may have already been bumped up a class.

6. Check your email

Some of the UAE’s airlines (including Emirates and Etihad) send out offers allowing you to essentially bid for an upgrade. If you’re happy to splash a bit of cash, you might just get an upgrade for a fraction of the cost of the original ticket. It’s important to make sure the offer emails don’t land in your junk folder though, otherwise you’ll miss your cheap upgrade completely!

Read more: How to get the best flight deals from your nearest airport ✈️

7. Get (politely) mad

If your flight has been overbooked and you feel you’re being messed around (especially if they’ve overbooked your connecting flight too) there’s no harm in kicking up a bit of a fuss. Don’t lose your temper (especially if you’re in the UAE), but make a strong case about why you deserve to be treated better (again, being a member of the loyalty program would help) and any wider impact this may have on your plans in the final destination.

8. Get sad

If getting mad doesn’t work, you could try getting sad instead. If the check-in clerk seems sympathetic, don’t be afraid to bring out your inner drama queen!

Don't be afraid to show an airline that they have let you down

9. Get a diplomatic passport

Ok, we admit this isn’t a particularly easy way to get a free upgrade… But if you have a diplomatic passport, then use it!

10. Supersize yourself

If you’re on the larger end of the weighing scales it won’t do your health any good but it might bag you an upgrade. Tika Larasati, Influencer Marketing Manager at Skyscanner says her ‘somewhat oversize’ ex-husband was often upgraded  while she remained in economy.

11. Be nice

If there’s a problem with the seating on the plane (a family are separated, or a single mom or dad needs the bassinet seat but is stuck at the back of the plane) there’s no harm in stepping forward to help if you can. You never know, offering to swap with someone else could see you being rewarded with a seat further towards the front of the plane as a thank you for your kindness! And, even if your new seat isn’t any better, you’ll feel pretty pleased with yourself for being a little selfless…

12. Dress up

You don’t need to be wearing your super fancy bespoke suit, but you’ll definitely count yourself out of an upgrade if you’re wearing sweatpants and a pullover. You can always carry some comfier clothes in your hand luggage and just change on the plane if your smart appearance wins you the upgrade!

13. Use your charm

It pays to be nice so whenever possible, make friends with the cabin crew. It might not secure you an upgrade but it could get you a couple of extra drinks or snacks.

14. Have friends in high places

If you’re living in the UAE there’s a likely chance you know someone who works for an airline. And if you do, take advantage of the fact they likely get free upgrades for family/friends!

Asking friends in the airline industry for an upgrade might

 This article was adapted from an article written by Laura Gavin for

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Skyscanner is the world’s travel search engine, helping your money go further on flights, hotels and car rental.

*Updated August 2019. Information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.