One Simple Upgrade Trick I Just Learned

Mainstream articles on “how to upgrade to first class” are almost uniformly:

  1. Dead wrong
  2. Laughable

At their best they usually offer some variant of:

  • Dress nicely
  • Be a member of the airline’s loyalty program

They never explain, of everyone ‘dressed nicely’ (as though this will matter for folks who aren’t airline empoloyees) and who are members of the program, who will get the upgrade if there are seats available and how to increase your chances it’s you.

No, just ask isn’t sufficient (although up until last weekend it was necessary to submit a request for a complimentary upgrade on American — so I guess asking was sort of part of it there).

Via Miles Remaining comes an article pushing a totally different trick.

Naturally it begins with all of the usual claptrap about dressing nicely, being a member of the airline’s program, and flying when planes are empty.

I give them a few points for creativity with:

  • Claim it’s your birthday rather than your honeymoon (cough, even if this mattered your real birthday is in your reservation)
  • Exploit your injury. I’ll let folks weigh in on this one instead of commenting myself.

Here’s the creative bit:

They pass on a third hand account of pretending to be important by entering an important-sounding title into your reservation.

[My brother] is hard to buy presents for, so one Christmas his wife purchased a one-square-meter plot of land in Scotland, which came with the title lord of the manor and salmon fishing rights. He changed the name on his credit card and uses this title when booking his business flights. He has been upgraded five times to seats with full-length beds on trips to Taiwan from London.

I’m actually trying something similar myself. I’m speaking at a loyalty conference (alongside an executive from Delta SkyMiles, as it happens) shortly. When registering for the conference there was a massive dropdown box of possible titles. And I spotted one that seemed to fit. I write this View fro the Wing blog by myself, I’m its boss (and janitor, and…) so that kind of makes me:

(In the drop down registration box the option was Wing Commander but that appears to be truncated here.)

Now maybe the double upgrades will start rolling in!

Now, if you really want to learn how to upgrade:

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. I always wear a tie and jacket and smile profusely and still I never get the upgrade 🙁
    Even when I tell them who I am it doesn’t seem to work
    Ill try going naked and see if that gets their attention for an upgrade
    Truth is even as a lowly AA Platinum I rarely get the upgrade
    Can just imagine now competing with millions of US Scareway customers how its going to be!

  2. I did get upgraded on an AirCanada TATL flight once when I hobbled up to the counter with a nasty sprain I’d given myself slipping on the marble staircase I the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was between Xmas and new year and the plane ws bursting at the seams, I’d guess 75% of the C cabin was op ups. Getting upgraded almost certainly had much more to do with being *G than the injury but I’ve never been more grateful for an upgrade. One of the most painful flight experiences I’ve had as the ankle swelled up in the low pressure.

  3. I saw that article this week. It was beyond laughable. Some of those things may have worked once many years ago, but those days are way over. Sure somebody might catch weird luck, but that is so rare it is not worth mentioning. I have seen plenty of flights take off with several empty seats in F or business. The guy on Nightline last week tells the FA he has a nut allergy and the person next to him has nuts and he hopes to get moved to F

  4. As I understanding it (which is not very well) is that real lordships can’t be bought or sold, only bestowed or passed down. There are companies out there duping people into parting with cash to actually have their name rather than title changed. Anyone can change their name to Lord Gary Leff, but then your are Mr Lord Gary Leff, not a Lord. it is possible to buy a Lord of the Manor Title for a few thousand, and fhese are real, but still you can’t say you are Lord Leff, rarther, Mr Jeff, Lord of Wing Manor.

  5. I have a title and it never got me upgraded.

    I did ask to get upgraded from a middle seat Y to a window once. I was on may way back to the US in order to attend a funeral and had not slept in the past two nights, a window makes it easier to sleep IMHO. The agent upgraded me to J. I was a Platinum and the flight did appear to be packed, so I suspect that had something to do with it.

  6. I get the joke, but this is impersonating a military veteran and unless you’ve held that title, I wouldn’t do it.

  7. My gf is in the navy and every wing of types of planes in the navy such as fa/18 hornet jets that deploy to aircraft carriers has a wing commander. The hornets have east and west coast wing commanders that oversee all those jets all over the country. So, that may be a high military title.

  8. @Levy Flight if you think lordships can’t be bought then you can’t that be that well informed about the British political system. Give enough to one of the major political parties and you too could be the proud owner of an ermine trimmed robe and sparkly hat.

    Selling titles to prop up whoever happens to be in power is long and proud British tradition.

  9. Quite a few years ago I was on a flight from London to Johannesburg right at the back of the plane where smoking was allowed. I was not smoking but a few near us were. A woman next to me seemed just fine but every time a FA came near she started wheezing and coughing. After a while she complained that she could not breathe an had a fit until they moved her to F. As she left for the front she had the gall to wink at me.

  10. I see where you’re going with these titles. .. I give it a B. Even better would have been “One Simple Trick the Airlines Don’t Want You to Know!!”

  11. The new emails when you post are absolutely terrible — there’s no formatting.
    I just had two flights on American while I was on crutches. My upgrade cleared on the way there but not on the way back and it was horrible. Coach is bad enough but when you need to use crutches to get to the bathroom it definitely makes you avoid liquids!

  12. What bothers me about that article (and others like it) is they don’t admit that they’re endorsing essentially lying to improve your shot at FC. A title that you have no business using is a pretty shallow way to try to get upgraded.

  13. @Ed. too true, but even then it is bestowed by the powers that be not bought from a consolidator on the internet.

  14. Unless you want to subject yourself to post partum depression, completely understand that first class although a bit nicer than coach, isn’t really all that unless you’re flying very very far. Domestic upgrades I guess if you’re traveling for work coast to coast are basically worthless.

    Can o coke and a cookie.

  15. That being said, I’m totally cool with people who travel a whole lot trying to spend the most time up front. You get off the plane faster and you never have to worry about people trying to shove your their carryon in your overhead. So all things being equal, I’d always rather have status, but don’t think it’s worth chasing absent some type of promo where it falls in line with trips you’d already like to take.

    Just one Internet entity’s opinion.

  16. I always find these “tricks to get upgraded” amusing. The single best trick to get a seat in the front of the plane is to buy it. These are surprisingly inexpensive if you are flexible and buy in advance. For longhaul this gets pricy, so the second trick you need is to just fly 100,000+ miles with the airline to begin with.

  17. For whatever reason, my area is organized into a bunch of very small towns instead of a few average sized towns. Each town has a mayor and I might run for mayor of one of these laughably small towns just so I can have the title for upgrades.

  18. Be careful, many states are beginning to pass their own “Stolen Valor” laws since the Federal on was struck down.

    I think it is extremely inappropriate to use a military title when you haven’t earned it.

  19. Gary, I know you were just trying to be funny, but the title Wing Commander denotes a British Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. I am sure that you wouldn’t start putting down on your card that you’re a Lieutenant Colonel. We military folks have earned our rank and don’t take kindly to others who impersonate us. Again, I know you are a good guy and were just trying to be funny, just don’t take it too far.


  20. Don’t laugh, I just sat next to a girl in seat 1F yesterday who said she got the seat because her mom talked to the gate agent. Of course this was a Saturday flight to Vegas with only 3 elites on the list and 7 upgrades available.

  21. Agree with Glenn. It’s a bit lowly to impersonate which is what you would be doing unless you really are a Wing Commander. The titles are there for people who have earned them…not what someone thinks their job description is.

  22. You know that’s a military rank, right? So, two things…
    1. Go fuck yourself.
    2. I hope you’re arrested for impersonating an officer next time you’re in the UK.

  23. I really don’t think its just a UK rank either, just because the US air force might not have it. I heard that Naval air wings have wing commanders from my girlfriend who is in the Navy, and I am reading a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis which mentioned a wing commander, I think associated with the Strategic Air Command that was in charge of nuclear response. Non-military people do not get this issue though, so give Gary a break for this, its not like he put it on a resume.

  24. NOT cool about lying about injuries/disabilities/military service.

    More than dressing nice, I’ve found that BEING nice, pleasant, and trying to give a damn about the people who are serving you goes a long way. I’ve gotten far more upgrades BEING nice to airline staff & crew. They have many of the same frustrations with air travel as most frequent flyers do.

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