A free airline upgrade to business class or first class is the holy grail for many travellers. We all want to buy a dirt-cheap discount economy ticket and then get ourselves upgraded or ‘bumped up’ into a premium class. After all, who doesn’t want the free airport lounge access, flat seats and superior VIP service both on board and on the ground.
Thse days unfortunately, operational upgrades (“op-ups”) for the average passenger are a rarity – the reality is you have only a very very limited chance of getting one. That said, here are a few basic tips and strategies for slightly increasing your likelihood of getting that airline upgrade…
Mechanics of Operational Upgrades
Firstly you should understand what happens with respect to an oversold cabin situation. Airlines routinely oversell seats on flights in order to maximise revenue. No-shows will tend to balance out the oversold seats but on occasion there will be more passengers than seats.
For example, consider an aircraft with a seating configuration of 280-40-8 in economy, business and first class, respectively. Say the airline has actually sold 307-18-5 tickets and all the passengers check-in – the cabin seat assignments then need to be re-jigged.
Effectively we have 3 vacant first class seats and 22 vacant business class seats – plus 27 oversold economy passengers. The solution is to upgrade 3 business class passengers to first class which leaves 25 open seats in business. These can then be filled by upgrading 25 passengers from the oversold economy cabin. 2 economy passengers will be asked to voluntarily take a later flight and should receive some compensation to sweeten the deal.
Obviously this is a simplified example as in a busy hub airport with many connecting passengers the precise numbers can be more fluid with no-shows and late arrivals.
So how does the airline decide which passengers to upgrade? The standard order for processing operational upgrades will be something like this: