Travel + Leisure is a magazine that I enjoy. But its latest tip on how to score a “free” first class upgrade is nothing short of absurd.
Another Misleading How To Get A Free First Class Upgrade Article
The story begins with the tritest of cliches:
Sometimes getting an upgrade isn’t about the right timing or knowing the right people. Sometimes, it’s all about having the right outfit.
Maybe in the 1990s, but not in 2020, especially in the pandemic era. The only article of clothing people care about now is whether you are wearing a face covering. But even before the pandemic, this sort of advice is simply foolishness.
An unnamed flight attendant offered wardrobe tips:
“No jeans or trainers — so I always go for tight black trousers and a blazer or a dress. For men, chinos or trousers and a shirt are worn.”
Trainers? Must be a British flight attendant. The same flight attendant also mentions you should dress like you travel often:
“Smart but understated. You should look like you travel often…it helps; someone who is potentially due to get an upgrade can be knocked back if they aren’t dressed suitably.”
A decade ago I would have said this is poor advice, but it doesn’t hurt to dress nicely because all else equal, it could help if you were in the right place at the right time.
In 2020, however, I do not see any relevance for this advice. Call it a poor reflection on society, but people are increasingly dressing down when they fly. And I don’t even mean that in a pejorative sense, because wearing leggings or workout gear or dungarees and a t-shirt no longer even invites a second look.
How To Score A “Free” Upgrade
Nothing in life is free. If you want a “free” upgrade, you need to fly one airline often, earn elite status, and hope for a space-available upgrade. Airlines do not hand out upgrades like Halloween candy to passengers in the best costume. That’s simply not how it works.
Most airlines (and all U.S. airlines) have specific protocols in place for processing upgrades on a standard basis and when flights are oversold. The cost of premium seats has come down greatly over the years and an upgrade to first class may be much cheaper than you think. Airlines have also made it easier than ever before to upgrade online, using a mobile app, or during check-in.
For those extremely rare “operational” first class upgrades, the most important factor will be your seat assignment and whether a gate agent needs it for someone else, potentially a separated family or a group traveling together. It is in those rare instances that you may receive an upgrade and it won’t be for your wardrobe choice.
But I will leave you with this advice. One of the few points in my life in which I did receive a free upgrade was because I asked to pay for one. I was traveling on Emirates from Melbourne to Auckland and and inquired during check-in about the cost to upgrade to business class. Rather than charge me (which most airlines will do), the agent simply moved me up to business class, later remarking the flight was oversold in the back.
That was in 2009. I’ve tried that “trick” many times over the years and it has never worked again.
First class upgrades are not a byproduct of dressing nicely. Rather, they are the product of frequent flying and not handed out for free except in the rarest of circumstances. And in those rare circumstances, upgrades will be based upon frequent flyer status first, then the specific seating needs of the airline. Wearing nice clothes is nice…but not helpful in your quest for a first class upgrade.
image: Cathay Pacific