While getting an upgrade to first class is very rare, it does still happen – usually at the discretion of the airline staff. But you don’t have to leave everything to chance: here are five tips for getting into first class, even if you’ve only booked a business or economy fare.

  1. Build up loyalty

Airlines place a lot of value on loyalty – which is one of the main reasons frequent flyer programs exist. The more you fly with an airline, the more status and perks you will get through your frequent flyer account. But even if you don’t have top-tier status with an airline, being a loyal customer can go a long way towards landing some extra luxury on a flight.

As far as one-off upgrades go, airline staff members are more likely to move a loyal traveller to first class, compared to someone booked on a similar fare that has never flown with them before.

  1. Take the route less travelled

Some flights are so packed that there is very little chance of changing your seat at the last minute, let alone getting a seat in a more premium class. So you’re likely to have better luck if you book a flight during the off-peak season for your destination or at a time of the day and week that’s less busy (midday on a Wednesday, for example).

Another option is to fly from an airport that is less trafficked. For example, you might have a better chance of getting bumped to first class if you fly overseas from Darwin, compared to flying from Sydney or Melbourne. It’s also worth thinking about travelling alone because it means the airline staff would only need to find one seat in first class.

  1. Pay with points

While it’s not free, using points is one of the simplest ways to get that coveted first class seat. It’s also one of the most valuable ways to use points. With the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, for example, a first class reward seat or upgrade gives you between $40 and $60 of value for every point that you use. Other frequent flyer programs offer similar amounts of value.

Unfortunately, this also makes first class rewards hard to get, because of the limited number of options and high demand. In general, having high status with a frequent flyer program will help you get access to these fares before other frequent flyers. Travelling at less popular times and flying alone are also strategies that can help if you want to use points to fly first class. Still, need to collect enough points for a first-class flight or upgrade? Check out credit cards with signup offers that can give you thousands of bonus points when you’re a new cardholder – just remember to use it wisely.

  1. Think about first impressions

If you put yourself in the shoes of an airline team member, which of the following people would you choose to upgrade: a person dressed in trackies and slippers or someone in a neat pair of pants and coat? What about someone who is talking loudly on the phone while checking in, compared to someone who is smiling and speaking to you politely?

Putting a bit of effort into the way you present yourself shows that you respect the airline and its staff – which can help you get into their good books and, just possibly, may lead to an upgrade.

  1. Ask what is possible

While it’s nice to imagine getting surprised with an upgrade to first class, the reality is that sometimes airline staff will be too busy to even think about that sort of thing. So asking nicely about the possibility could help you get to the pointy end of the plane.

It also helps if you have a reason for asking. For example, if you’ve had booking dramas, drastic changes to your flight schedule or some other issues that the airline might sympathise with when you explain it. Or, if you’re flying on a special occasion – I have a few friends who have enjoyed upgrades for their honeymoons, anniversaries or, in one case, when the proposal was mid-flight.

Although there’s no guarantee of flying first class unless you pay for your ticket, these tips put you in a better position for an upgrade if and when airline staff are able to offer one.

Amy Bradney-George is a senior finance writer for Finder.com

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