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8 ways to snag a first-class fare upgrade

April 14, 2012

When it comes to first class, there are few bargains to be found, but here are ways to lessen the pain if you are a mere mortal but want to fly like royalty:

  1. Loyalty has its rewards. If you are able to rack up mileage on the same airline, achieving elite status will entitle you to upgrades — but be forewarned: Even among the elite, competition for a first-class upgrade is keen. Continental/United, Delta, Alaska, and US Airways are among the airlines that offer first-class upgrades on a space-available basis.
  2. If you are not a frequent-enough flier, you can add to your airline points by combining them with points from purchases made on co- branded credit cards.
  3. American Express Platinum Card holders can obtain a complimentary companion ticket when they book qualifying business or first-class international travel on one of 23 airline partners through Platinum Travel Service. (These tickets have no blackout dates or change fees, and are fully refundable.)
  4. American Express charge card holders who do not have sufficient points to upgrade their tickets through an airline frequent flier program, can transfer membership rewards points to a partner airline reward program to upgrade an existing ticket.
  5. FareCompare.com suggests that travelers take advantage of ‘‘Y-Up’’ or ‘‘Q- Up’’ fare code designations. While hard to find (you might try calling the airline and asking for them), these are discounted first-class tickets offered by domestic carriers in the United States and Canada. A coast-to-coast first-class seat purchased as a Q-Up ticket, for example, can cost as little as $400-$600 each way. The FareCompare website offers some tips on finding them.
  6. Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, suggests checking with consolidators, travel agents, and big corporations, who generally have an easier time negotiating first-class travel than do individuals.
  7. On rare occasions, airlines release empty first-class seats at the gate for a relatively small upgrade cost. The carriers would rather make some money on this prime real estate than have it remain empty. Check with the airline reservations agent.
  8. Let the flight attendant know if it is your centennial birthday and you have never flown first class, if your seat is completely broken (perhaps, without a back or operative seat belt), or if your seatmate appears to be suffering from typhoid or pneumonia. Maybe she will have pity on you and bring you forward.

[Published in the Boston Globe – December 25, 2011]

Also see: Rich getting richer, even at 30,000 feet

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