How to Look Like an Idiot Trying to Upgrade to First Class

One Mile at a Time highlights Travel & Leisure‘s promotion of dressing up so you look like someone airlines want to upgrade. The piece offers this claim, which is patently untrue,

For an upgrade, it’s all about looking the part. Smart but understated. You should look like you travel often. But don’t be dripping in designer clothing. It helps; someone who is potentially due to get an upgrade can be knocked back if they aren’t dressed suitably.

In a way it reminds me of this idiotic Bloomberg piece on how to score an upgrade every time. Both are great examples of the genre of travel writing ‘how to upgrade’ that says you can get first class seats just by pretending it’s your honeymoon.

The claim in the Bloomberg article is that two magic words work like a shibboleth or password for perfect upgrade success. Those words are ‘revenue management’ and if you say them you sound like someone who knows what they’re talking who should be in first class, or something. Here’s how the magic words supposedly work,

We have never bought an upper-class seat; if ever we’ve flown anywhere up front, we’ve used miles to upgrade from economy. If you want to do that, call reservations and drop the name “revenue management.”

The reason is that revenue management’s job is to make sure a flight is profitable, so they’re the ones telling [reservation agents] what they can say; they’re like Flying Club’s boss. Not everyone knows that this department exists, and by mentioning it you reveal yourself as someone who knows how things work and understands how seats are released.

Say to the agent: ‘Have revenue management released any first-class seats for miles upgrades yet?’ When they say no, ask them to check or just be put through to revenue management so you can ask when they will release some, as well as how many seats are left.

Politely respond like this: ‘You have 20 seats unsold? Why aren’t you releasing them?’ Often by the end of the conversation they say, ‘OK, we’ll release one for you,’ or they might tell you to call back tomorrow. Doing that, we’ve had a pretty much 100 percent success rate.

Since revenue management’s job is to make a flight profitable, they’re going to give out first class seats to anyone that asks for them. Alright then.

The goal is to make sure that (1) no seats go to upgraders that might have been sold, and (2) even if there are empty premium cabin seats on the plane, that no one upgrades instead of buying the premium seat. They don’t want upgrades to be gimmes, though programs that offer upgrades want that to be a real benefit too because it encourages loyalty and drives revenue through that channel.

Simply asking over the phone to get a seat released doesn’t work most of the time. It doesn’t mean that there’s never been a United Global Services or American ConciergeKey member buying premium cabin international tickets more than once a month that hasn’t asked and been successful. But the idea that this is a technique for the general public to use is silly.

I prefer equally silly — and equally effective — suggestions that might be a little more fun. If you’re not going to read actual true advice on how to upgrade, then you might as well follow this advice: “7 Ways To Get Bumped Up To First Class On Your Next Flight”

It won’t work. Ever. But you’ll look like the biggest idiot ever have fun trying.

Here are the two best tips:

1. Present the pilot with a good, dependable work mule: Everyone loves a gift. If you give the pilot the gift of a strong, healthy work mule as you board the aircraft, it is customary for the pilot to immediately bump you up to first class.

…3. Disguise yourself as a mimosa: Alcoholic beverages are complimentary in first class, so if you dress up as a cocktail, you can sit down without anyone realizing you’re actually a human who belongs in coach.

They’re all kind of awesome.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You need to look at this article for what it is , a chance to generate revenue through affiliate links . Everyone in the travel industry is hurting and I am sure T&L is desperate for revenue , so they come up with nonsense like this
    Have seen some travel bloggers post just as silly stuff in the hope of generating credit card affiliate links

  2. Actual advice on how to fly first class:

    1. Get lucky. Be born into privilege.
    2. Work hard in school. Seek lucrative jobs.
    3. Purchase the first class ticket.

    Airlines are getting better at filling first class with paying customers. Upgrades are much more scant than they once were and the trend will continue. The good news is first class ticket prices are coming down.

  3. I thought Bloomberg recently recycled the article, but no, it’s from 2018. Reservations teams are not going to connect you to the rev mgmt team. As if rev mgmt is going to accept customer calls.

  4. 4. Work for a company (e.g. law, banking, energy industry) that values employees (and flies them in international business class)

    5. Avoid working for Amazon, Sam Adams, US government and others that pride themselves on flying everyone in economy no matter how long the trip.

    6. Set fare alerts on google flights and kayak, and buy F when you see a bargain (for example SFO-BOS was $329 earlier this year – now selling the same flight for $1200!)

    All these work well for me.

  5. Gary, admit it. There was a time decades ago when the advice to wear a suit really did work to get an upgrade.

    As for getting upgraded by pretending to be on your honeymoon, do the writers really not know that that was a skit on the show “Friends?”

  6. All these “get F for nothing” articles are complete BS. No airline upgrades you because you dressed nicer. No airline employee succumbs to “revenue Management” because guess what, it’s not RM that processes or releases the seats.

    Almost every week I have someone ask “any first available” and my reply is “sure, hand me your credit card and I’ll process it”.

    This is about as useful as an “influencer”.

  7. I can’t believe this advice pops up in an article every few years.

    But it also made me think that it has been years since I saw someone trying to self-upgrade. Seems like it used to happen regularly, and then stopped five years ago or so. It became one of the reasons I boarded early, to avoid someone being in my seat and having to deal with it (also to ensure overhead space). Wonder if others have noticed that.

    The only upgrade not a status related one I even heard about was a family member who got a gate upgrade from PE to Club World on a BA TATL flight with no status. But I am pretty sure it was a boot up because PE was full and I think their system prioritizes, after status, how long ago the ticket was bought.

  8. I was flying Singapore Airlines once and a passenger went up to the check-in person, put a $100 bill in his jacket pocket and said “I want business class”. The Singapore employee responded with “Remove that from my pocket right now”

  9. Used to sometimes work on AA. As EXP they could “put it in the queue” to request an award seat or upgrade to complete a party. I remember one time they opened up a saver award for the last FC on a flight my friends were flying on. This was probably 2012 or 2013.

  10. Sure, revenue management may open up an extra unsold seat for a CK on AA. But honestly, instead of wasting time on this crap, just make more money and buy the seat.

  11. For what it’s worth, with caveats, honeymoon (on my actual honeymoon), talking up the gate agents, talking to the flight attendant, and actually having an agent talk to revenue management have all worked for me in very specific circumstances for an upgrade, but I wouldn’t rely on any of them. The best way to end up in first or business class is to book it.

    On our honeymoon we had an award ticket, and one segment only had economy available. I asked the TG agent and we got an upgrade beep upon boarding.

    Once my wife and I were split across
    business and first class due to limited award availability. The seat next to me in F was empty so after takeoff the flight attendant asked if she could invite my wife up to first class.

    Revenue management came into play with booking a gold guest list priority redemption. They needed to open up space for 5 of us in F.

    To be fair, pre-covid I flew a lot, mostly in paid business or first class, my experiences are not typical, and sometimes the unexpected happens with respect to upgrades, even the absurd so-called secret rules.

    Flying long-haul TATL first class during Covid has been even stranger, with planes only 10-20% full, first class cabins with 1-2 other passengers, empty lounges and airport terminals, etc.

  12. While traveling with a dozen emotional support bats, claim an active covid-19 infection, refuse to wear a mask due to trouble breathing, and insist you cannot be denied boarding and must be given the entire first class cabin to yourself for social distancing, because your infection is a protected disability and denying your request will subject the airline to a million dollar fine.

  13. The Governor ( Queen’s representative) of an Australian state (former UN Weapons Inspector Richard Butler, Tasmania) tried the “it’s our honeymoon “ line. It didn’t end well : airline staff leaked it to the press and the subsequent discussion of his stingy vulgarity, and other failings, led to his termination. It was in fact his honeymoon, but the public perception was that the request ( apparently put in DYKWIA terms) was cheap and demeaning of the office ( particularly as his salary was hundreds of thousands, 20 years ago)
    But evidently people persist with it: hotels are flooded with upgrade/special treatment requests from honeymooners.

  14. Maybe I’ve told this story here before, but back in 2001 here in Colorado the first Krispy Kreme doughnuts shop opened up and it was nuts. Lines back up to the highway with cops directing traffic. And guess who worked there? Little 16 year old me.

    Well, we were flying to see family one day and I had stopped by work to pick up my paycheck the morning of and also grabbed a dozen doughnuts. My mom wanted to bring them on the plane to bring to my family since they didn’t have a store near them either. The agent at check-in saw the box and said, “Oh man I’ve been wanting one of those since they opened up!” My mom offered her one, she took it, and she processed an upgrade for her right there.

    This was April 2001…pre 9/11…different times I guess.

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