The Dress Well For Free First Class Upgrades Myth Won’t Die

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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’m old enough to remember when this actually happened to me. That was a long, long time ago. No Freaking way now.

  2. Years ago I flew yyz-fra on LH. My buddy insisted on taking his carryon on board. Checkin staff appreciated if we checked it. I agreed. At the boarding gate I was upgraded to Business Class for co operating with Staff and buddy flew his paid for economy seat. I wore nice jeans n shirt and casual shoes.

  3. @ cam – you said it, YEARS AGO, but not now, so why bother bought it up ??? It doesn’t apply anymore

  4. ORD-HkG to make the Point.. dressing up does not matter either. Co-operation speaks louder than a nice outfit.

  5. It always works for me. I fly often, one trip a month, sometimes two, and I always dress the same way I dress for client meetings. I have a chat with a ticket agent or a gate agent, sometimes both, and talk about how we’re having a long day. I find it helpful when I ask her if there are any open spaces with extra legroom and I always get it. They even put me in first class open seats without asking me. I just have to think of the airline employees and empathize with them and they will do what you want.

  6. Now airlines are so penny pinching and have the power of computers so free upgrades on a whim are almost unheard of or unheard of. Still, not looking like a bum is helpful in many ways. In foreign countries, looking like a local or an immigrant who lives there is a consideration. Still, it may be impossible to not stick out like a sore thumb. I once crossed the Moroccan border on foot. It was so obvious that I was not a Moroccan.

  7. I wouldn’t call it a myth. It successfully worked for me before. 25 years ago on a foreign carrier that no longer exists, but it happened.

  8. Agree with some others. It does still work if you’re attractive (male or female), chatty, and nice. Just because it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean it’s a myth.

  9. This kind of drivel is why I no longer subscribe to the magazine. Dressing well at the airport may get you out of a jam more gracefully than someone who looks like a bum, but probably not a seat up front. Anyone who travels at all knows that the biz/first seats are ‘sold’ in many ways, some for cash, some for miles, some for a combo. There are very few opportunities for a last-minute upgrade these days. T&L used to be an interesting publication but it slowly sank into uselessness … publishing full-page photos of restaurant food and having nothing much to say.

  10. What are you talking about? It totally works when there’re still open seats after the upgrade list is completely cleared…

    And they’ve attempted to upsell every last seat for sale at or after check-in but have no takers…
    And they’ve already moved people up front for operational reasons…
    And they’ve taken into account things like elite status, time of booking, fare code, fare price…
    And they’ve taken into account your astrological sign or whether Mercury is in retrograde…

    But… BEFORE agents decide to flip a coin.

    Clothes DO confer upgrade priority, they’re just at the bottom of the order of precedence.

  11. I hate to be judged by what I wear. Hence, I tend to show up completely nude at the gate. I’ve NEVER been given an upgrade. Come to think of it, I’ve never been allowed to board either, but that’s beside the point.

  12. Based on some of the comments here, the myth continues because there is an audience for myths.

    Believers in myths think they can travel to California and be “discovered” by an agent by eating at a restaurant in Hollywood.

    I am upgraded to First Class over 200 times per year based on my elite status with United, Alaska, American, and Delta, and I wear shorts and a short-sleeve shirt on every flight.

  13. @Omar: Well, at least Gary is chatty. I guess one of three doesn’t help.
    If it were me, I’d downgrade the attractive people out of spite. They’ve been getting their way for too long.

    BTW there’s a reason you can get 24 issues of Travel and Leisure for 500 frequent flyer miles.

  14. With all the tatted, baseball cap wearing slobs and slob-ettes causing havoc (most recently on the UA flight, as shown in Gary’s blog), I expect a gate agent would prefer a suited businessman up front. Less likely to threaten to break someone’s neck, strike a FA or rush the cockpit door. And as I’ve said many times on this blog and others, a mandatory 7 days in jail for these idiots and be permanently barred from all USA airports and commercial flights.

  15. The reason those articles keep appearing is they’re clickbait to attract people who think they can get something for little effort and/or the people who do get upgrades are somehow “cheating”. That, and this guide to get a free upgrade to Hawaii is a lot less sexy than saying “dress nicely”, but it’s guaranteed to work.

    1. Fly an airline just often enough to get offered complimentary upgrade status, followed by a challenge. Accept only when you know you can complete the challenge.
    2. Complete challenge, get status for the next XX months.
    3. Find a flight to Hawaii with 30 empty business class seats.
    4. Book that flight on the one day they’re selling flights for $275 RT regular economy from Flyover Country.
    5. Put in for complimentary upgrades if the system doesn’t automatically do so.
    5a. Promise your spouse you’ll give her your upgrade if she doesn’t get one, but you know she will. But you get marriage points anyway.
    6. Scan your email for a notice that you have been upgraded XX number of hours out.
    7. Immediately log on to your account and move to the best seats you can find, rather than the ones next to the bathroom they assigned you. Including the first class level seats that are considered business class for this flight.
    8. Gloat. And dress how you want, while lying flat.

  16. Getting upgraded to first class based on your attire is believed by the same people that think poor grades and standardized test scores but a great personal statement essay gets you into Harvard

  17. Sorry but I can’t resist offering a long ago anecdote. I was released from active Army duty atFt. Sam Houston at midnight of Thanksgiving Day 1962 and was booked on a Braniff 707 from San Antonio to Dallas and then connecting to Newark. There were about a half dozen just released soldiers on that largely empty flight and I was the only one in a suit. I think I wore the seat because I didn’t want to stuff it into my duffel bag. Shortly before takeoff, a flight attendant came to the back of the plane and told me that there was a weight imbalance and would I mind moving forward to the first class cabin. I don’t know if that was really why I got upgraded but it wasn’t a coincidence that they picked the only guy in a suit IMHO and so, I got to ride up front for the first time.

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