Traveling can be fun. Traveling in first class can be a lot of fun, and staying in an executive suite can be a lot of fun. But, not everyone can afford a first class ticket or an executive suite. That is where you need to know how to hack the travel system to score free upgrades.
If you buy a ticket in coach, there are ways to get that ticket upgraded to first class, with very little effort on your part. If you book a hotel room that is just plain, you can get a free upgrade to a suite or something else, again, with very little effort.
Here are twenty things that every traveler should know about hacking the travel system in order to score any number of free upgrades. From upgrades to first class to better hotel rooms, these twenty things will help make your travel more enjoyable on all fronts.
Not all of them will work every time, so try a few and see which ones work best for you and your travel needs. Then, employ them every time you book a flight or a hotel, or even a car, and reap the benefits of being in the know with the tips that consistently land travelers the biggest free upgrades.
20 Stick To One Airline - Loyalty Is Rewarded
It makes sense to shop around for the best price on an airline ticket. However, if you are a frequent flier, it makes more sense to stick to one airline. True, not all airlines will get you to where you want to go, so find yourself a good international airline and stick to it. Once you have picked your choice of airlines, join their frequent flier program. Most good airlines have one these days, and it is relatively simple to sign up and is, best of all, free. Different airlines run their frequent flier programs differently, but for the most part, you will accumulate rewards miles based on miles flown and price paid for your ticket. Now, here is the good part:
airlines like to reward loyalty, not just in the form of frequent flier perks but also with free upgrades to their most loyal customers.
What defines a “loyal customer” will vary from airline to airline, but if you stick to one airline long enough and fly with them enough times and over long enough distances (i.e., spending more money with them), they will eventually recognize you as a loyal customer, and that is when the airline will start rewarding you with free upgrades and perks. It may take some time, but if you are flying already, why not take advantage of this essentially free perk?
19 Remain Flexible - Listen For An Opportunity To Take A Later Flight
Have you every found yourself waiting in the waiting area for an overbooked flight and then the gate attendant comes on to ask if anyone is willing to give up their seat? Usually, this request comes with some sort of offer in the form of an upgraded seat on the next flight or a voucher, which is basically free money toward a future ticket with the airline. If your plans are flexible and you do not mind waiting a bit, then this hack is for you. The airline will pay you to take a later flight, and that means you can get your next flight for free or a reduced price. Oftentimes, the amount that the airline offers will go up the longer they have to wait to find someone to take the deal. But if you are the first one to jump on it, you may get $400 or more just for agreeing to take a different flight and arrive at your destination a few hours later. The airline may even upgrade you to business or first class for your trouble on your alternate flight plan, which is always something that fliers are looking for. So, if you are the flexible type, be sure to listen at the gate for the opportunity to give up your seat for a free cash or upgrade reward.
18 Be Polite - Ask For An Upgrade Once, Then Step Back
We all know that everyone is looking for a free upgrade on the flight. If you watch at the gate, you can see people walking up to the attendant to ask for an upgrade or if there is room available for an upgrade. More often than not, these people will hound the customer service agent so much and so often, in hopes of getting that free bump, that they will end up hurting their chances of getting any upgrades or perks. Now, you are not going to get an upgrade without asking for it, but you need to go about asking for an upgrade in the right way. The best advice is to remain polite about it.
Yes, you will need to ask, but do so in a polite manner, and then drop it. You are not going to get the upgrade by repeatedly asking, but if the gate agent remembers that you were the one person out of twenty that only asked once, you are far more likely to get the one upgrade that is available.
And if you do not get the upgrade, it will not be because you did not ask. Politeness pays off in life, especially when it is coupled with your desire to get an airline upgrade.
17 Chat With The Gate Agent - They Are People Too And Have The Power To Upgrade You
Try arriving to the airport a little early and getting to your gate before anyone else. When the gate agent arrives and gets settled in, chat them up a little bit. Remember, the gate agent is a person too, and while he or she definitely has a job to do, they may welcome the distraction that a friendly passenger offers. Do not ask them for an upgrade or anything, though. Just talk to them. Forget for a few minutes that they are an employee of the airline and maybe make them forget the same thing. After you have had the chance to speak with them about everything other than work and your flight, feel free to just walk away (after politely ending the conversation, of course). Now, when the gate agent realizes they have some free upgrades available, who do you think they will come looking for to offer that upgrade to? That is right, they are going to remember the passenger that treated them like any other person and took the time to have a real conversation with them. This may not work every time, but even if it does not, you will have had a (hopefully) great conversation with someone else. And if it does work, you will be rewarded for five minutes of chatting with an upgraded seat.
16 Try Arriving Late - And Maybe You Can Get A Last Minute Upgrade
This one may seem a little strange. After all, airlines generally frown on passengers who arrive late, as do the other passengers on the plane. However, there is a small chance that if you arrive late, you can ask if there are any upgrades available.
Provided you are not so late that the gate agent is upset with you for showing up just as they went to close the door, you may be able to slip into a first class seat at the eleventh hour. Granted, walking up to the gate late and asking for an upgrade takes guts. But if you have it in you to pull this one off, the benefits could outweigh any concerns with showing up late.
Of course, if you are so late that you miss your flight, the airline will probably not work with you in any way, so do not show up that late. And if you are afraid that you are going to be labeled a nuisance passenger who regularly shows up late, then this travel hack is not for you. There are a select few that can pull this off, but it is definitely worth the try and the minimal effort to get that free upgrade just for taking a little longer to finish your airport restaurant sandwich.
15 Dress The Part - You Want To Be Upgraded To First Class, Right?
They say the suit makes the man, and nowhere is this truer than in travel. If you are traveling and you want a free upgrade to first class, you need to look like you belong in first class. If you show up at the ticket counter or the gate wearing shorts and flip-flops, the likelihood that you will score an upgrade is pretty small. However, if you show up at the gate wearing a suit and tie with your shoes polished, the gate agent may be more willing to give you the coveted upgrade to first class. Yes, dressing like you belong in first class can take some time and effort, especially if you do not actually have a suit and tie. But if you are going to rub elbows with the first class passengers on a flight, you need to look like you fit in and belong there. You do not need an expensive three-piece suit or $500 shoes, just an off-the-rack getup will do fine in most cases. Remember, if you look like you belong there, the gate agent is more likely to see you fitting in and give you that upgrade without a second thought.
14 Request Specifics - If You Know What You Want, They Can Make It Happen
If you are going to ask for an upgrade in a hotel, it really helps to know exactly what you are looking for. Any schmuck can ask for a king-sized bed. But if you are staying at a hotel that has an executive suite, ask for it. That shows that you know the brand and the amenities they offer, as well as that you have the confidence to directly ask for what you want. If you do your research ahead of time to figure out what the best possible upgrade you can get at a particular hotel is, you will have won half the battle. When you are checking in, casually ask if the executive suite (or whatever upgrade you desire) is available. If it is, you simply need to ask about an upgrade.
Chances are, the hotel staff would rather have someone staying in the upgraded room than not, and they may upgrade you for free. It helps if you are a loyal member of their rewards program, because then they may be more inclined to upgrade for free.
Remember, people in rooms is good for business, whether they paid full price for that room or not. And if you show the confidence in asking for the free upgrade, the hotel staff may very well give it to you.
13 Celebrate - And Everyone Celebrates With You
When checking into your hotel, make sure the staff knows that you are there for your honeymoon, or wedding, or birthday, or whatever special occasion you are celebrating. Chances are, the hotel will want to celebrate your big night or weekend with you by giving you some free upgrades for your stay. Upgrades may range from free food and drink to a whole suite at your disposal. Different hotels and brands will have different policies, but most hotels will have some sort of practice of helping a newlywed couple celebrate with a free bottle of champagne or a better room. Now, do not expect the entire hotel or resort to want to party with you, so do not make too big of a deal about your situation or the perks that came with it. The hotel staff may be willing to celebrate a little by offering you an upgrade, but the other guests do not care that it is your wife's birthday. Be sure to tip the hotel staff appropriately for the upgraded treatment that you get by celebrating your big weekend there at their hotel. Who knows, they may even upgrade things a little more because you decided to share the love.
12 Book At Peak Time - And An Overbooked Flight May Bump You To First Class
For some reason, airlines like to overbook their flights. The system assumes that people will back out of their flights, freeing up the seats. So,
if you go online and book a flight during peak times (holidays, Monday morning, or weekends between 4-7), there is a good chance that you will end up on an overbooked flight. Now, you did this on purpose with the hope that the airline will offer up something to make it worth your while to not fly at that time. When the time comes, the airline may call on you (and other passengers) to go in for an upgraded seat.
First class seats generally do not get overbooked, so if you think you can make it to the gate in time to be there to hear the call for any passengers wanting a free upgrade to first class, then you are golden. Knowing in advance that you have bought a ticket on an overbooked flight is not really possible, but if you go into the booking process with the intention of booking a flight during peak travel times, then the likelihood that the flight you are on will be overbooked goes up. And with an overbooked economy class, first class looks a whole lot better especially if the upgrade is free.
11 Travel Alone - Individuals Are Easier To Accommodate On Upgrades
Looking for an upgrade? Try traveling alone. Of course, not all trips can be made alone, but an airline or a hotel is much more likely to upgrade a single traveler over someone with a family of five. Not to snub your kids, but if you are going on business travel, the accommodations are much more open for you by yourself. If you are traveling with your partner, it will still be easier to get that upgrade for two people than the whole family. When two people are traveling together, the airline or hotel is going to want to make sure to keep you together, even if that means upgrading you both. But do not be surprised if they are unable to give an upgrade to both of you, leaving you to stick to your original travel plan. Yet, you may still be in luck with an upgrade for two adults. Again, no kids on this one. If you are looking for an upgrade with your kids, better to stick to just hotels, as airlines will have a hard time finding room for a family of five in first class. It is all doable, but the ultimate in upgrades work better if you are traveling all by yourself.
10 Use A Credit Card - Some Cards Offer Upgrades For Free
You probably have a credit card or two, but something that you may not know is that a lot of credit cards are connected to a hotel chain or airline, and that means rewards. Actually, the hotel chain or airline is the one issuing the card, so talk to them first about whether they offer a rewards card. Many of them will offer details on their website. Once you have signed up for the card, you are ready to start earning rewards.
You can earn free nights and flights just by using the card. But it does not stop there. Many of these programs will offer free upgrades or nights just for having the card.
For example, just for being a member of the hotel credit card program, you may be entitled to a free fourth night if you stay three nights. While that is just an example, it does represent the kinds of perks you are entitled to just for having a credit card through an airline or hotel you already regularly use. You may not even need to actually use the card to take advantage of these benefits. As always, be sure you understand the terms of the card, but also get ready to get a lot of perks for being a user of the card.
9 Book In Advance - Then Call To See If An Upgrade Is Available
If your travel dates are flexible, try this. Book your travel for non-peak times, such as winter for traditional summer destinations, then wait until a few weeks out from your trip to call and ask about upgrades. If you time it right, you may be surprised with a free upgraded room or suite. Do not wait until the last minute, though. Give the hotel or resort a ring at least two to three weeks prior to your arrival. The idea is that it is non-peak travel time, and the hotel may have unbooked rooms that they would like to fill, freeing up other rooms, such as your original room, for last-minute reservations. The fact that you committed to your stay several months in advance shows the resort that you are definitely going to be coming, so they may be willing to give you that upgrade for free. And by asking, you are showing them that you feel you are a valued guest and should be treated as such. Just be sure to give them plenty of notice or they may have already booked the other rooms or given them to someone else looking for an upgrade. This is a simple hack, especially if your travel dates are flexible and you do not mind staying in off-peak times.
8 Negotiate - The Price Is Never Fixed
You may think that the price you see on the website or you are quoted at check in is firm, but that is not always the case.
If you are checking in a little later in the day and the hotel quotes you a price for the stay or for an upgraded stay, throw back a lower number. It will not hurt, and it may help you.
If you are unsure of how to negotiate a better deal, get a quick refresher before you head out. The worst that can happen is you will be told that the price is whatever they originally quoted you. On the flip side, you may get an upgraded suite for a fraction of the regular price. It may take some back and forth, but if you can get a suite for the price of a regular room, it will have been worth it. There is no real secret to good negotiating, as long as you bear in mind that the pie is only so big and everyone needs to get some pie in the end. If you remember that you may have to give a little to get the hotel to give a little, you will come out of the negotiation with a better room than if you had just paid whatever price was quoted.
7 The Corner Room - It Has A Better View
What do you think is the biggest standard room in the hotel? If you guessed the corner room, you are correct. Thanks to the layout of the rooms, the rooms on the four corners of the hotel are often quite a bit larger than the rest of the rooms. Oh, and they also happen to offer a better view out of tow sides, rather than just one. If you show up to your hotel and they have not assigned you a room (or even if they have), feel free to ask if a corner room is available. Of course, there are not as many corner rooms available as regular rooms, but there are still four on each floor for the hotel to give to guests. Better yet, these rooms usually do not cost any more. Or if they do, you can often get them for the same price just by asking for the corner room at check in. So, if you are looking for a substantially larger room with a much better view, then consider asking for a corner room at check in. The worst that can happen is they will not have one available, but you will never know if you never ask about it.
6 Inconvenienced? - Ask For An Upgrade
Occasionally, although it seems to be becoming more common, an airline or hotel will inconvenience travelers in one way or another. And you know what? You can use that to your advantage. If you have been inconvenienced by a hotel or airline, feel free to ask for an upgrade of some perk.
For example, if the airline takes an inordinately long amount of time to check you in, make note and ask if an upgrade is available to compensate you for the extra time you spent standing there while they checked you in. Or, if a hotel mishandles your bag, feel free to ask if an upgraded room is available.
This is a relatively simple hack. All it takes is making note of how you have been inconvenienced or mistreated by the staff of the hotel or airline and asking if the company will compensate you for your trouble. It may not work all the time and is more likely to work for larger instances of inconveniencing. Be sure to pick your battles as well. It is not worth asking for an upgrade over something trivial. And with these kinds of things becoming more commonplace, airlines and hotels may be less willing to hand out upgrades. Yet, it is still worth it to ask if you feel you have truly been inconvenienced.
5 Try A Travel Adviser - They May Have An Inside Move For Your Plans
Travel agents, or advisers, may not be in vogue anymore, but they have not totally gone the way of the Dodo Bird. When many people turn to travel websites to book their hotel or airfare, travel advisers are still out there to do the searching for you. And guess what? They have connections that are far better than your Internet connection. While you could search a hundred websites, a travel agent has years of experience and access to deals that you know nothing about. While some agents may use similar databases as everyone else, a really good travel adviser will use their industry connections to not only score you a cheap flight, but those upgrades and perks that everyone wishes they could book themselves. If you spent all day scouring the Internet for the best deals on travel, you would not be anywhere near what a good travel agent could find for you. They know people...who know people. All you know is the guy from the hotel commercial on TV and his website. Travel agents are not as common as they used to be, but working with a trusted adviser will be beneficial to you and your wallet when it comes to planning all of your future travels.
4 Is There A Doctor? - Use Your Title To Your Advantage
Do you have a title with your name? Something other than "Mr." or "Ms." If you happen to be a doctor, lawyer, judge, or something else that lets you add a few letters to your name, be sure to put it on your ticket and reservation. While this may be only a select few people who can actually do this, the payoff could be huge. Well, many airlines and hotels do not actually care, but that makes the payoff even bigger.
You worked hard for your state in life, do not be afraid to show it off a little, and use it to your advantage whenever you can. Be sure to put your title on your reservation and on your ticket, just to make sure the airline or hotel staff knows that you are a doctor or lawyer.
Then use your title when checking in and casually ask if an upgrade is available. That is, if the person checking you in does not already acknowledge your title and offer you an upgrade on the spot. Even if you do not get a free upgrade, the staff will know that you are a doctor or judge and treat you accordingly, which could be enough of a perk to keep you adding your title to everything. And who knows? You may get that upgrade the next time.
3 Try A New Place - They Will Recognize That You Are Willing To Give Them A Try
New hotels are opening all the time, and often, they are not associated with one of the big hotel brands. While you may want to stick to your loyalty program or the brand you are familiar with, branching out and going with the new hotel in town could have its perks. These new hotels want to draw patrons from the other brands, so when they first open, they will likely be offering steep discounts or free upgrades to visitors willing to give them a try. If you are accustomed to a certain level of stay, you are probably still going to get that at a new hotel, especially if you shop around. Willing to travel somewhere right when a hotel opens? They may be offering free rooms with paid stays or free upgrades. Again, this is all to try and get new patrons by stealing them away from the brands they are loyal to. Do not be afraid to branch out and try new places. Besides, the new kid could have some unknown features and amenities that you did not know you were missing. It never hurts to experiment a little, especially when it could mean free perks for just trying out something a little different.
2 Enhance Versus Upgrade - One Is More Likely To Pay Off
We all want upgrades. But, have you ever considered just asking for an enhancement? Sure, you can get upgraded to first class. But would a free meal in coach be worth it? Yes, you could get a king suite at the hotel. But would a free minibar be a good alternative? Oftentimes, we think about upgrades with airlines and hotels and forget that there are enhancements that can make the trip almost as enjoyable. True, they are not completely the same, but a free meal in coach is very similar to a free meal in first class. And a minibar that you do not need to pay for could be better than a king suite upstairs.
Remember that if you are too greedy in what you are asking for, you are more likely to not get anything. But if you think about an enhancement as a mini upgrade, you could come out way ahead in terms of whether you end up having a more enjoyable trip overall.
The possibility of a free upgrade is alluring, but the near certainty of a free enhancement should be more alluring. It never hurts to ask for an upgrade, but remember that you can always ask for an enhancement if the upgrade does not come through.
1 Reserve The Cheapest Car - It May Not Be Available
When reserving a car, go ahead and reserve the cheapest car that you can. Then go pick it up during peak hours, Monday morning or Friday afternoon. You will probably be surprised when they do not have your cheap car available and are forced to upgrade you for the same price. Because you are picking up during peak hours, the car rental agency is less likely to have a bunch of subcompact cars available due to them being repaired (Monday morning) or out of stock (Friday afternoon). Bummer for them, they need to give you something else at the same price. While this is kind of a luck of the draw sort of thing (they may actually have enough cars, in which case ask for and agree to pay for the upgrade), you are still pretty likely to get a free upgrade on your car rental just by doing the counter-intuitive thing and booking the least expensive car you can. Of course, it will also be luck of the draw as to what you end up getting upgraded to, but if you do get a free upgrade and still wind up paying less than $10 a day for it, you come out ahead.
There you have it, twenty travel hacks you wish you had for your last vacation. Keep this list handy for your next vacation and you will be reaping the benefits of upgraded travel at no additional cost to you.