Skip to content

7 Ways To Get Upgraded To First Class On Your Next Flight

Most of these insider tips don't cost a dime and can have you sitting pretty in first class.

It's hard not to feel envious when you walk through the first-class cabin toward the back of the plane when traveling. First-class passengers enjoy roomy seats, better meals, and may even be sipping a complimentary pre-departure drink. Meanwhile, you're searching for overhead bin space near the smelly bathroom.

Fortunately, if you're pining to sit in the front of the aircraft, there are plenty of ways to upgrade to those cushy first-class chairs without shelling out full price for tickets. In fact, most domestic airlines offer complimentary upgrades to first class.

Here are some pro tips on how to be upgraded to first class on your next flight for free or at very little cost. And next, don't miss 10 U.S. Islands to Add to Your Bucket List—No Passport Required.

Attain status with an airline.

Pile of Various Credit Cards
Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

Contrary to popular belief, airline staffers don't offer first-class upgrades to the passengers they deem most fashionably dressed. Instead, they award unsold first-class seats to their most loyal customers. So, how do you demonstrate your loyalty? By racking up frequent flier miles! First-class upgrades are doled out on a space-available basis. The passengers with the highest status receive them first, and then they work their way down the list.

If you don't fly frequently enough to earn elite status through travel, keep your eyes open for special promotions on your favorite airline. For instance, you can currently earn status on American Airlines by spending with their co-branded credit cards. However you earn your status, it's the easiest way to snag a free upgrade to first class.

RELATED: For more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Use miles or credit card points.

online shipping with credit card at desk / Shutterstock

We've got good news if you're wondering how to maximize your airline miles. Most carriers allow you to upgrade from coach to first class using miles or credit card points either at the point of sale or after you've purchased your ticket.

For example, space-available upgrades on Alaska Airlines are only offered if your ticket falls under a certain fare class. If it doesn't meet the criteria, you'll be asked to pay the difference before your upgrade is processed.

Each airline is slightly different, so if you want to upgrade to first class with miles or points, be sure to check out the website of your carrier to verify the process.

Fly with an elite companion.

Two People with Luggage and Passports
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Airlines extend elite benefits to companions traveling on the same reservation as members with certain status levels. Once again, the rules for each carrier are somewhat different, so you'll want to verify the process with your airline. For instance, Delta Medallion Members can upgrade a companion traveling with them so long as that companion is a general SkyMiles member, medallion member, or an elite member with a partner airline. Since registering for a SkyMiles account is free, it's a win-win situation.

READ THIS NEXT: The 10 Best U.S. Cities Every Traveler Should See.

Or, make sure your reservations are separate.

Woman in a First Class Seat on a Plane
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Taking a trip with a friend can be fun, but it can also cost you a first-class upgrade. If you're traveling on the same reservation with another party and there's only one first-class seat left, you're likely to be skipped over for the upgrade, even if you're next on the list.

For the best chance of an upgrade to first class, it's safest to travel under separate reservations, even if you're flying with a companion. The downside of this strategy is that if your companion doesn't have status of their own, they'll miss out on the opportunity to move to first class should space for two be available. If you prefer to sit together, this upgrade strategy might not be worth it.

Wait until the last minute.

woman sleeping on a plane with blanket and eye mask

Waiting until the last minute is a gamble, but if you're willing to take the chance, you may be able to nab a first-class ticket when airlines release unsold seats at a steep discount. Airlines will usually notify you when these opportunities are available via email, the app, the check-in counter, or even at the departure gate.

On Alaska Airlines, unsold first-class seats are sometimes offered after check-in for as little as $23. Last-minute first-class seats can be a great deal, but remember, it's never a guarantee that they'll be available.

READ THIS NEXT: The Best Travel-Planning Hacks You Need to Know Right Now.

Look into a global upgrade certificate.

International and Domestic Departure Signs

If you're planning to travel internationally this spring, you might be disappointed to learn that first-class upgrades are uncommon with long-haul international flights. Luckily, this is another situation where elite status comes in handy.

American AirlinesDelta Airlines, and United Airlines offer a limited number of systemwide or global upgrade certificates that can be used to upgrade into first or business class on international flights with them or their partners. Alaska Airlines, on the other hand, follows its usual upgrade pecking order.

It's important to note that systemwide and global upgrade certificates are transferable, so it may pay to be friendly with someone who has reached the highest tier status, especially if they don't plan any international travel in the next year.

Befriend the airline, and they'll reward you.

Woman Sleeping on a Plane
New Africa / Shutterstock

The only way to be guaranteed a seat in first class is to purchase a ticket using cash or miles while you're sure space is available. If your plans are more flexible, however, there are numerous ways to upgrade yourself to first class at a reduced cost or even at no cost at all. And remember, dress comfortably, since your outfit of choice will not affect your upgrade status.

For more travel tips, check out The 9 Best Places in The U.S. to Travel This Spring.

Filed Under