Viral Flight Attendant Video Offers 3 Secret Tips For Scoring An Upgrade On Your Flight

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.

@cierra_mistt

flight attendant FAQs (part 7) 💙✈️ #SHEINcares #rue21BeYouChallenge #fypシ

♬ original sound – knock-off sprite

@cierra_mistt

how to get FREE upgrades to first class (tips from a flight attendant) 💙✈️ #ChewyChattyPets #fypシ

♬ original sound – knock-off sprite

She offers 3 secret tips:

  1. Be nice to flight attendants and gate agents, bring them Starbucks.

  2. People need to be moved up for weight and balance, and that means bumping people to first class who were seated in the back

  3. 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.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. I think walking up to a gate agent or FA and trying to give them a cup of coffee would be supremely weird. For one thing, aren’t they trying to do a job at that moment? Do they even drink coffee?

  2. I saw the Bloomberg story this morning in my newsfeed and thought “Yeah, it doesn’t work this way – there are a ton of elites ahead of you who are going to get upgraded first, regardless of how nice you are.” On the other hand, perhaps this is just an attempt by airline personnel to get everyone to treat them better in the hope they’ll get something by doing so – even though they won’t. But gate agents and FAs will at least get people to behave with the fake carrot.

    As for weight and balance issues, I was just on a half-full BA 777-200 LAX-LHR flight where the pilot specifically asked everyone to return to their original seat for landing due to weight and balance issues. They didn’t mind moving about during flight, as long as you stayed in your service class. But landing was another issue, they needed your butt to be where it was supposed to be.

  3. Asking for an upgrade after being bumped from a short Lufthansa flight worked for me. Actually, I only asked for a lounge pass for my 4 hr wait for the next flight and they said that wasn’t possible. Instead they gave me an upgrade to business which comes with lounge access. OK with me.

  4. This goes way back but when I was released from the Army and Fort Sam Houston on Thanksgiving day 1962, I was upgraded to First by Braniff on a 707 and told it was for weight and balance. My first time in First.

  5. @Rico – That is the difference between Lufthansa (and other foreign air carriers) and the US-based air carriers. I can’t even imagine the same courtesy occurring of AA, DL or UA.

  6. Definitely a bovine feces story in Bloomberg. Here’s how most folks get an upgrade – they pay for it!

  7. @ Gary — As a 1K “being nice”, I was once upgraded from J to F on a domestic flight ORD-SFO over a couple GSs “being jerks”. Clearly, the agent was thrilled to pass them over on the list.

  8. Ha ha I knew you would pounce on this valuable source of info lol
    I’m going to use my decades of my strategy for sure fire results
    Dress nicely,smile,wink & flirt and bring Starbucks to the crew
    I will bump all you uber elites right out of first on my saver fare without elite status

  9. I’ve received exactly one upgrade that wasn’t either a status upgrade or an op up. I had given my first class upgrade to my wife, who mentioned it to a flight attendant. After all the elites had been upgraded there was still an empty seat in first and she invited me to move up. That’s the only time in almost 2 million miles of flying.

    I guess I need to bring more Starbucks.

  10. It used to be much more common in the 90’s, i.e. a gate agent could pretty readily upgrade a pax. There were nearly 100% of the time open seats in first on domestic flights.

    I think the upgrade request as part of BDB is not all that much off the mark. Its been a while, but I’ve often been rebooked in first as part of a VDB. I feel like this is something they could do especially if they only needed a few volunteers. Also if a flight were J9Y0 they might reaccommodate a VDB pax in an open premium cabin seat.

  11. When I was a crew member in the 80’s & 90’s, Flight Attendants only have authority to upgrade a passenger for weight & balance or if the Captain authorizes it, such as in the case of a disabled passenger. Being nice helps if you hope to be selected as the W&B person(s). This is most likely on a tail heavy CRJ700/900. If a F/A just decides to upgrade a passenger without a justifiable cause, they will face disciplinary action up to termination. We also were told to never accept food or drink from a passenger as you never know what could have been put in it.

  12. The only way the “bring them Starbucks” thing would ever work is if you carried gift cards with you – no one in their right mind would take a drink that they didn’t request or see being made.

    Pre-COVID at Thanksgiving and Christmas I always brought $5 Sbucks gift cards for FAs and cockpit crew, but just as a holiday thank you, not expecting an upgrade (generally I was in first anyway or flying WN).

    Aaaaand on my half-dozen or so most recent flights there have been ZERO empty FC seats anyway so the whole question is moo…

  13. Haha. Yeah, she is definitely making that video to get bump up her social media accounts. Asking for an upgrade worked once for me but this was the scenario. I was flying SFO-NRT on NW (now DL). I was an airline employee of HP (now AA) but it was Y2K and I bought tickets because it was 200.00 WITH TAXES to fly SFO-NRT RT. Crazy! 200 bucks! So when I boarded the plane I showed the FA my airline badge and showed her I was on paid tix so I couldn’t list for first because they were revenue tix. After boarding was finished she went and grabbed me from coach and moved me to business. On the return flight, I didn’t bother asking. SFO was my home airport but I was not going to bother in NRT. The FA that moved me up on the outbound just happened to be working this flight. This time she grabbed my entire party and moved all 3 of us up to business. As you can imagine the flights were not full as everyone thought that when Y2K happened that all the planes in the air would crash into each other.

  14. This is total BS. W&B may be a chance, but rarely. Have worked 28 years in this industry.

    Once again, the author of this article does not live up to his intro….
    „Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel “. No, not really an expert, but a good person in marketing. Sorry.

  15. Now what the F/A can do is give you a First/Business class meal if there are extra. They can also give you a bottle of Champagne or wine from the premium cabin. I did it when a passenger would help out by changing seats to accommodate a family, Honeymoons or milestone birthdays. It also was good to give a bottle to a 1K or higher who could not upgrade.

  16. I’m a Delta Diamond Medallion and was talking to a Delta gate agent in ATL the other day who I know and they told me that a Delta flight attendant was terminated for doing just that. Another senior Delta flight attendant turned in a junior flight attendant because the junior was flying in the premium cabin and took it upon herself to “upgrade” a passenger just because. The senior advised the captain of her actions and the captain called management to the aircraft when they landed. Well long story short, when they landed she was met by management taken off the trip and subsequently the flight was cancelled as a result of staffing. She was suspended “pending” an internal investigation and eventually terminated. In this day in age of camera phones, I would highly advise all airline employees to just “DO” their job. I hope she enjoyed her gift card or whatever he gave her in return for her termination. Pure stupidity!

  17. I have gotten an upgrade with zero status on a SEA-BOS flight – after I asked about an exit row seat. I’m very tall. I did see the CSR a couple of times afterward and made a point to ask her about what kind of coffee she’d like – I would get it. She gladly took me up on my offer. It set a great tone for flying/trying AS. And I have been 75k for years now.

  18. My mother was once in a cafeteria-style concession at airport, where you get your food and drink and then pay. The line was long, and she saw some FAs 10 people back in line, with just coffee, so she paid it at the register.
    Of course, they were working her flight, and of course she got the upgrade.
    The voluntary rebooking can work too. If you’re nice about such things, sometimes you don’t even have to ask.

  19. If I were a gate agent and was handed a cup of coffee I would be extremely suspicious (and I wouldn’t drink it).

    Weight-balance issues work both ways. On AA I was once confirmed for an upgrade on JFK-BOS, following a redeye from West Coast. When I arrived at JFK, the gate agent asked for volunteers to move back to coach, due to balance issues. The plane was less than half full, so I volunteered. Of course I was well compensated for the inconvenience — $300 flight credit, as I recall, for a 30-min hop seated in an empty exit row.

  20. I wish we moved past the concept of receiving unsealed drinks and food items from strangers or even acquaintances. If I am going to drink something, I want to get it myself and see it the bottle sealed. Ordering in a professional restaurant is one thing. Having strangers bring me something unsealed is another.

    Just today I saw a couple stand outside a supermarket they were just in and put their hands into a large bag of chips which they ate a few there. Covid has been exaggerated and sensationalized, however, there are other pathogens in stores. No more blowing birthday candles on a cake others will eat and handshakes only on a limited basis.

  21. On a BA flgiht last month was sitting in F. No cabins were sold out, but toward the end of boarding the purser brought a man forward to an empty. seat in F. He told him he could have champagne, anything he wants and enjoy the flight. Looked like it was his first time in F.

    My sense is on BA at least the FAs have more discretion to move people up . I remember stories about Kate Middleton turning down some on-board upgrades from crew.

  22. Just wait . . . this same person will make a video about how to get a hotel room upgrade.

    How to score a prime table at the sold-out restaurant where all the beautiful people eat.

    The truth doesn’t matter. It’s about the click count and ad revenue, baby.

    As someone said, the sure-fire way to get that F upgrade is to pay for it. (Hotel suite as well.)

  23. I’ve done the last part with relative success but it’s been a few years since I’ve gotten bumped. I’ll easily trade $300 less in compensation for first class if it’s more than three hours. GAs do (or at least did) have that discretion depending on availability etc.

  24. I’m a grumpy old man (36 yo) and pretty much everything I see that’s viral on TikTok is just a rehash of information that already existed. But Gen Z sees it on TikTok and thinks it’s some brand new revelation.

    This is probably how my boomer parents felt when I told them about this cool old band called “The Beatles”

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