Understanding Flight Upgrades
Regardless of what people say, the only guaranteed way that you will receive a flight upgrade is if you pay for one! Now that may not be what you wanted to hear but it is reality. Yes, passengers do receive free upgrades but there is generally a reason for them.
Airlines do oversell and overbook their seats to maximise profits. This practice means they actually issue more tickets than there are seats available! As a result of this practice is when they normally offer automatic upgrades to passengers. Airlines overbook and oversell seats because they know that the majority of times, there will be a percentage of ‘No Shows’ (people that do not turn up for their flight) or change their travel dates. On the odd occasion, when all the passengers do turn up, the airline needs to ‘Bump’ passengers. (Read More About Bumping Passengers)
Upgrades to Business or First Class are usually offered automatically to passengers as a result of the flight being overbooked in Economy Class. If a flight is relatively empty in Economy Class, the chances of you receiving an automatic free upgrade are considerably less, even if seats in Business Class are available. Automatic upgrades are usually allocated to passengers who fit a certain criteria. If you are hoping to be one of those lucky people who are chosen for a free automatic upgrade to Business or First Class, you should try and ensure you fit that criteria!
How Are Free Flight Upgrades Allocated
All airlines are different and they all have different policies regarding upgrades. Airlines choose people for upgrades on their passenger status and who they believe will be suitable and best eligible for the upgrade and fit in with their paying clientele. You are more likely to be chosen for an upgrade if you tick certain boxes and the following are just some factors that are taken into account when the airline is deciding who to allocate the free upgrades too!
Contrary to believe, most free automatic upgrades are awarded by the airline based on passenger status and not actually randomly allocated by check-in staff on the day. If they are allocated at check-in, it is usually at the discretion of the Manager/Manageress in charge at the time. There are many factors that determine which passengers are eligible for a free upgrade if there are any to be offered.
Understanding Why Free Upgrades Are Given
It is a very hard decision for Airlines as to when to offer free upgrades or upgrades at a significantly reduced rate. Airlines need to maximise their profits and they know that a large percentage of their revenue is from passengers who pay premium rate prices for their seats. However, although they make a large amount of money from their Premium, Business and First Class passengers, they also know that a large amount of revenue is generated from their ‘Frequent’ flier passengers.
The airlines know that although many of their ‘Frequent’ fliers may not travel in Premium, Business or First Class and pay the premium prices, they actually travel with the airline more often than some of the passengers who do travel Premium, Business and First Class. This means that some of their ‘Frequent’ fliers actually spend more money throughout the year on their airfares travelling Economy Class, than some of their passengers who travel once or twice a year in Premium, Business or First class. This means in terms of revenue, some of their ‘Frequent’ flier passengers are more valuable! As a result, this then makes it a hard task to keep both sets of passengers happy. As well as these two sets of customers, the airline also has to ensure they continue to grow their passenger and customer database and this means offering incentives and rewards to entice new customers.
The airlines also know that one of the best ways to encourage existing customers and potential new customers to book flights with them is to offer them with rewards for flying with them and being loyal customers. The way they achieve this is by offering loyalty programmes and schemes.
Airline Loyalty Programmes
Most major airlines have their own loyalty programmes or loyalty schemes. Each airline has its own different type of programme and name for the programme but essentially they are all the same in terms of what they are designed to do. The value of any loyalty programme is simply calculated by how many rewards you as a passenger receive as a member.
Most Airline Loyalty programme is free to join and joining them certainly have benefits. Being a member of an Airline loyalty programme can improve your passenger status and this can help you in receiving an upgrade from the airline if they need to issue passengers with one.
Free Flight Upgrades
Most passengers travelling in Economy Class would love to be given a free flight upgrade. Just imagine paying £500 for an Economy Class seat and then receiving a free upgrade to Business Class that would usually cost you £1500. How good would that be? The question you need to ask yourself though is: “Why would the airline choose to give you the free flight upgrade rather than someone else?”.
Well, the answer is that unless you have a certain status and tick certain boxes, they won’t!
There are many myths about ‘how to get a flight upgrade’ and there are many articles written about the subject offering flight upgrade tips. Most articles list what you should do to get a free upgrade but never explain why certain passengers receive the flight upgrades and others don’t.
Most articles on the Internet talk about dressing smart, arriving at the airport early, smiling at the checki-in staff and being polite if you want to get a free upgrade but they fail to talk about who the upgrades are given to and why!
Yes, dressing smart, arriving early, smiling and being polite may well improve your chances of receiving an upgrade but only in extreme circumstances when the airline has no other alternative but to upgrade ‘everyday passengers’. However, the upgrades will usually be allocated to passengers with a higher ‘Passenger Status’ than the average ‘everday ‘ passenger.
Your Passenger Status
If an airline is going to allocate free upgrades on any of their flights, there are certain passengers that will be much more eligible and more likely to receive the upgrades than others. Your passenger status is very important when an airline is deciding which passengers to upgrade and they are much more likely to allocate the upgrades to their most loyal customers.
Think about it, if a flight is overbooked in Economy Class and the airline needs to offer free upgrades to passengers in Economy in order to fit all the passengers on the flight, which passengers will they choose?
If they need to upgrade 4 passengers to Business Class from Economy FREE of charge, they will want to reward their most loyal customers first. If they have 200+ passengers to choose from, they will check all those passengers’ status and allocate the upgrades to the 4 passengers who are the most eligible.
There are many factors that the airline will take into account when allocating an upgrade and your status with the airline is one of them.
If you are a member of their loyalty programme, this will be a big tick against your name. From there they will see how many Airmiles or points you have accumulated and also how much you have paid for your ticket. Airlines would much rather reward their loyal customers first with the free upgrade rather than a random passenger who may never fly with them again. This then entices the loyal customer to continue booking flights with the airline having being offered the free upgrade.
However, if the airline needs to move a larger number of passengers and they have the room and have already allocated all their most loyal customers, they will then allocate the free flight upgrades to random passengers. This then helps build customer loyalty and hopefully will encourage other passengers to join the programmes or book more flights having had a great experience.
Business Class Offers For Upgrades
Airlines cannot afford to give a large number of upgrades away for free and they will often offer there loyal customers upgrades at significantly reduced prices. If the Business Class seats have not sold well for a certain flight, they would rather fill them than have them empty and this is when the loyalty programme members will be offered the special deals. Airlines have several different ways in which they offer their members the upgrade deals and they can either pay in cash or redeem some of their Airmiles points in return for an upgrade.
Many airlines offer these deals at the last minute and some of them can be released just hours before the departure time or even at check-in.
Factors That Determine Your Eligibility To Receive A Flight Upgrade
Airlines will always reward their loyal customers first. If you are a member of the airlines loyalty programme or scheme, you are more likely to be chosen to receive an upgrade.
The class of your ticket will also be taken into consideration and also how much you paid.
How many points or Airmiles you have with the airline and how regular you fly with the airline will also be considered.
If you have spent a significant amount of money on extras such as ‘Extra Baggage’, this can sometimes help you being chosen for the upgrade.
As we mentioned previously, there are no guarantees on receiving flight upgrades but the above information should help you in understanding how and why airlines offer free flight upgrades.