How to get an upgrade to Business Class

The first time I ever asked for an upgrade to Business Class on an international flight I got one. Not just for me, either, but for my partner too. So I decided that it’d be nice to share my secret with you all, because I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to travel in style and luxury.

Before I go on, I suppose I should mention a blog that I once read, written by a young American girl who wanted to receive a free upgrade from Seattle to Delhi. Many months in advance, she apparently rang up the Customer Services department for the airline she was going to travel with and did some serious sucking-up. She was told that there were no upgrades available at that time, but that her name could be added to a list of people who had requested it.

Fair enough.

Then she rang back closer to the date of departure to make sure that her name was still on the list. It was. To increase her chances further, she had booked herself on to a separate flight from her travelling companion and was therefore travelling alone.

“Be polite and smile down the phone,” she advises her readers, of which there were thousands after it went viral.

And even as she enquired at Check-In about her Upgrade Status she was flatly told, “Not today, love.” But refusing to take no for an answer, and purposely wearing her Sunday Best, she marched right up to the Boarding Desk and asked ( nicely ) one last time. And this time she was successful. She describes in great deal the events and the excitement she felt as she finally boarded her flight and got to turn left in to Business Class instead of right in to Cattle. It was a great story.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, my story contains neither excitement nor planning. It does, however, contain a dash of whit and a sprinkle of simplicity.

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For three weeks we’d been sleeping on-and-off in a hire car as we travelled across New Zealand. It was chuffing cold!

The date was 18th June 2012 ( my gran’s 92nd birthday ) and my partner and I were flying from Christchurch, New Zealand to Bangkok in Thailand via Sydney ( yes, you guessed it, in Australia ). Wearing a pair of red trousers and a hoody ( very gangster ), I approached the Checking-In Desk with my usual friendly smile and demeanour. After a chilly three weeks sleeping in a car during a cold New Zealand winter, we were ready to ditch the layers once again and relax on a beach somewhere for my 30th birthday. And it was this looming date in my Life Calendar that prompted me to ask my next question:

“This is going to be my last chance to fly Business Class before I turn 30 next week,” I told her. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of an upgrade, is there?” She continued to stare at her screen as she entered my passport details, no doubt having heard similar stories many times in the past.

“You can pay to upgrade, sir,” she finally replied, “like everybody else.”

“Pleeeease,” I begged like a cheeky schoolboy who really needs to go to the toilet. It was still a no.

On the flight we sat with all the other pilgrims but who can complain about the quality and service of Emirates when you’re used to Ryanair?

It was a very quick turnaround in Sydney and we were a little dismayed to see the amount of Aussie’s who were going to join us on this leg of our journey. It was their winter holiday season in the southern hemisphere so they were heading en-masse to the tropics for the same reason as us. Our ticket stubs contained the same seat numbers as before so we simply decided to sit and wait until everyone else was aboard before we got on ourselves. It was going to be a packed flight.

As I approached the desk alone ( Lia had been to the bathroom so was quite far back in the queue ) I was suddenly asked to stand to one side as soon as my passport was scanned. Naturally I bricked it and wondered what I’d done wrong, but then I saw a handful of tickets with the words BUSINESS CLASS in bold lettering at the top. My pulse quickened and my excitement levels went through the roof as I was handed the ticket of joy; I felt like Charlie after finally finding that Golden Ticket. Then I remembered Lia: what if she didn’t get one? “Do you have one for my girlfriend, too?” I asked politely. It turned out that he did. I looked up to find Lia in the queue and she too looked worried as she saw me standing there. I hoped the smile on my face would relieve any worries she might be having, but I gave her the thumbs up just to be sure and even waved the tickets at her. She still didn’t understand until I beckoned her to queue-jump and come on over. Then the penny dropped. Hard.

Turning left on the plane is an experience that everyone should go through at least once in their lives. In my seat I couldn’t help but peek over my shoulder at the others back in Coach. I heard one woman say, “God, it looks nice in there,” as she was led kicking and screaming to her normal seat. I knew this might never happen again, so I soaked it up as much as I could and took another sip of my complimentary champagne.

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The Golden Ticket: My Business Class evidence from Sydney to Bangkok.

There were only 21 of us in Business Class that evening, but we were a mixed bunch. At first I was ( accidentally ) sat next to an Iranian man with several wives. They were not present, by the way. He was considering moving back to Iran from Australia because he was “only allowed the one wife.” Meanwhile, Lia was also accidentally sitting next to a lone female traveller from Afghanistan. She also had an interesting tale to tell, but I was already smashed by this point, so I don’t remember a single thing she said. Possibly something about sea urchins, tetris, and receipts.

Apart from the pair of us, the only other free upgrade seemed to be a young man with shorts, a hoody and a baseball cap on. If there was a rule about not allowing folk on board with renegade dress-code then it certainly was ignored on this flight.

The expensive wine, beers and cocktails began to flow and each dish ( starter, main and dessert ) was served individually with quality silverware. We had our own TVs and remote controls in case we were too lazy to reach for the screen ( we were ) and the seats, with the flip of a switch, turned in to our beds for the evening. After we were correctly reseated next to each other, I still couldn’t resist the urge to slide up the partition screen between us so I didn’t have to look at Lia’s smug grin for the next ten hours.

Part of me didn’t really want to sleep, as I just wanted to gorge on everything around me. But eventually it came to me ( rather easily, in fact ) and I slipped in to a delightful snooze under my warm blanket. I woke up once to find a stewardess touching me. Relax, she was just doing her job ( my blanket had slipped below my chest and she was tucking me back in again ). It was a bit awkward, though, to be honest. Do you say ‘Thanks’ or ‘No thanks, I’ve got it under control’? In the end I decided it was best for everyone if I just allowed this strange woman to carry on prodding me in my semi-sleep state. It was the closest to the Mile-High Club I’ve ever been. That’s a lie, actually.

In the very early hours of the morning we touched down in Bangkok and stepped back in to reality. In stark contrast, we spent the rest of the night sleeping on the floor by the escalators until 6am came around. The public transport system didn’t kick in until then, so we were kind of stranded there until it did.

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Always hold a glass of cold wine or champagne by the stem so you don’t warm it up. This is as far as my wine knowledge goes.

Trust me, I have tried every time since then to get a free upgrade with the big airlines, but it hasn’t happened. To this day we don’t know whether we got upgraded because of my cheeky request or because the flight from Sydney was too full. But with limited space in Business Class, surely there were better specimens on board from New Zealand than us. We’ll never know.

What I do know is I now have the bug. Is it wrong to say “I’m going to [NAME OF COUNTRY] for pioneering medical treatment and might not make it back. Please can I have an upgrade?”?

I feel it’s an experience worth lying for. What I do know is, you don’t need to go through all the trouble of pre-planning an epic mission to get an upgrade. Whatever the scenario, the decision is going to be made by the airline personnel on the day of the flight. So smile, don’t dress too much like a tramp, and mind your Ps and Qs.

Good luck.

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