9 Surprisingly Easy Ways To Score Free Airline Upgrades

Upgrade your travel status with these under-the-radar strategies.

luggage with airplane flying at back
Updated May 28, 2024
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Some folks find air travel to be a bit of a chore. In many cases, seats are too stiff, legroom is scant, and you might have to fight for an armrest.

Seat upgrades can help a lot, but many people worry about the expense. However, some lucky travelers get free upgrades — and you can be among them.

If you're trying to step up your travel game, check out these things you can do to get a nicer, plusher seat without breaking the bank.

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Use airline credit card perks

Ivan Kruk/Adobe man booking airline tickets with passport

Most major airlines also offer their own credit card, allowing users to rack up airline rewards that can sometimes be used for free seat upgrades.

If you use your airline credit card to pay for groceries, gas, clothing, and more, you might be able to travel first class using credit card points without spending additional money.

Volunteer for seat changes

NicoElNino/Adobe family walking through airport with luggage

There are a variety of scenarios in which a flight attendant might ask someone to volunteer to switch their seat. Perhaps a family wants to sit together, or a couple doesn't want to be separated.

Some people are irritated by such requests, but others view them as opportunities for a free upgrade. In many situations, the flight attendants may bump you up a class or two as a thank you.

Remain flexible with your flight schedule

Jag_cz/Adobe commercial airplane flying above clouds

Similarly, if you’re willing to be flexible about when you depart, you might be able to snag a better seat. Many airlines overbook their flights to ensure that every seat is full. However, this can backfire, resulting in an overbooked plane.

If this happens on your flight, the gate attendant might ask someone to volunteer to give up their seat on the plane. They may offer to reschedule your flight, offering a free future ticket — and possibly a nicer seat on your next flight.

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Book emptier flights

REDPIXEL/Adobe man booking flight using laptop

Free upgrades often come down to luck and circumstance. However, there are a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favor.

For example, you’re more likely to get bumped up on an emptier flight. If the plane is completely full, upgrades simply won’t be an option. However, if there’s some wiggle room, you may get lucky and earn a gratis upgrade.

Get to your gate early

ArtushFoto/Adobe travelers walking in vienna airport terminal

Another way to increase the chances of getting a nicer seat is to get to your gate early.

Once the gate agent knows how many people will actually be on the flight, they can start calculating how many passengers can get free upgrades.

Getting to the gate ahead of everyone else might boost your odds of scoring the upgrade.

Befriend the gate agent

pressmaster/Adobe man getting boarding pass from counter

It never hurts to chat with the gate agent. While many people think it’s the flight attendants who bump you up, they might not have the authority to change your ticket or seat in all situations.

So, getting to know your gate agent a bit before boarding might offer you better odds of getting a freebie.

Use social media

Aleksei/Adobe social media apps on iphone

Don’t overlook the power of social media when it comes to getting sweet deals, discounts, and even flight upgrades.

For example, Virgin Atlantic hosted a social media competition where travelers were asked to share their best requests. The most creative entry earned upgrades on their ticket.

Make the most of loyalty programs

Song_about_summer/Adobe businessman in airport lounge with luggage

Loyalty programs are a great way to get discounted or free flights, in-flight luxuries such as complimentary drinks, and free upgrades.

Not all loyalty programs have upgrades available, but some prioritize them. For example, American Airlines’ AAdvantage program offers automatic complimentary upgrades to status members when such opportunities are available.

Just ask

Quality Stock Arts/Adobe happy hostess at airline counter

Finally, consider simply asking the gate agent if any upgrades are available and if you can receive them. The worst they can do is say “no,” and they just might agree to the request.

So, if you want to save money on travel by getting a free upgrade instead of paying for one, remember that it never hurts to ask.

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Want to earn cash back on your everyday purchases without using a credit card? With the Discover®️ Cashback Debit Checking account (member FDIC), you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month!1

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Bottom line

JenkoAtaman/Adobe woman at airport window with suitcase

While none of the above methods guarantees a seat upgrade, they certainly don’t hurt your odds of landing such a freebie.

At the end of the day, some strategic planning and a friendly attitude can go a long way toward getting you a nicer seat while also allowing you to keep more money in your wallet.

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Bank of <span class='whitespace-nowrap'>America<sup>®</sup></span> Travel Rewards credit card
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Intro Offer

Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

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Lucy Clark

Lucy Clark has considerable experience writing about real estate, as well as homes and gardens, home value, and more. She is savvy and resourceful, and she aims to ensure others can be, as well.