There’s a certain genre of travel article that gives advice on how to upgrade your flight, with advice that’s nearly always wrong or at least highly misleading.
It usually begins with how you dress, but one Bloomberg piece took the art form to a new level telling you just to mention the words “revenue management” and airlines have to give you a business or first class seat. You’d be better off trying to upgrade by gifting the pilot of your flight a dependable work mule, or dressing up as a mimosa (because alcohol is free up front).
The social media era represents an opportunity to recycle all of these tips, and package them for the GenZ crowd on TikTok. One flight attendant has done just that, and is already racking up millions of views.
She offers 3 secret tips:
- Be nice to flight attendants and gate agents, bring them Starbucks.
- People need to be moved up for weight and balance, and that means bumping people to first class who were seated in the back
- Ask for an upgrade as part of denied boarding compensation when you volunteer to give up your seat.
Being nice isn’t how upgrades work, although being not nice enough could get you banned from the airline (and therefore not upgraded). In most cases upgrades follow very specific guidelines, and are dictated by algorithms. About the only exception is operational upgrades or ‘cabin rolls’ where a flight is overbooked in one cabin and the airline needs to move people up. Even that may follow specific procedures but at many airlines there’s gate agent discretion with the goal of getting he flight out on time.
Usually weight and balance issues are going to affect smaller planes (and frequently where there’s not even a first class). I’ve rarely seen those require upgrades. There can be weight and balance issues with a Boeing 777 but the only time I’ve ever seen it is when people were denied their upgrades (American Airlines wouldn’t take a 5 minute delay of a transpacific flight to recalculate weight and balance for the aircraft).
You can certainly ask for an upgrade to be part of denied boarding compensation though it varies by airline just how much negotiating a gate agent can do, and whether this is permitted. You can’t usually bank on an oversale, and on the airline being desperate enough to avoid involuntary denied boardings, for this to become relevant. It relies not just on overbooking and passengers showing up, but other passengers being unwilling to trade their seats for vouchers when you are in a more flexible position.