Former airline worker reveals why you’re probably not getting flight upgrades

Nothing beats first or business class, except first or business class at economy prices. That’s why a free upgrade to the pointy end of the plane is pretty much every economy travellers’ dream.

Over the years, we’ve received plenty of advice on how to increase our chances of a free cabin upgrade, from wearing dressy clothes, pretending we’re on a honeymoon, and even sweet-talking the airline worker at the check-in desk.

But a former airline gate agent has revealed the truth about cabin upgrades and how likely it is you’ll be plucked from your cheap seat in the back and given a free flat bed up in front.

And it’s not good news.

First class is the dream.Source:istock

“You’re really unlikely to get an upgrade unless you’re a frequent flyer or pay a premium for your seat,” said Ben Payne, former airline worker and’s travel expert.

“That doesn’t stop people trying though. Honeymoons, engagements, birthdays or injuries are probably the most common stories we hear. I’ve also had influencers try to use their status in exchange for an upgrade. These types of requests are rarely accommodated.”

As many as 43 per cent of us are prepared to tell a lie in order to score that free upgrade, according to a recent survey.

Now we know that’s all for pretty much nothing, but Mr Payne said there were some things passengers could do to increase their chances of a better flight experience.

Former gate agent Ben Payne has revealed how likely those free cabin upgrades are. (Not very likely.)Source:Supplied


Upgrades may be rare but sometimes flights aren’t full, which means there could be a better seat for you somewhere on-board, even in economy.

“Booking systems literally won’t let ground staff upgrade a passenger so asking for one is usually pointless. But there’s nothing to prevent you from being giving an extra seat or two if the flight isn’t full,” Mr Payne said.

“This is especially useful when you’re on a long-haul flight and want to stretch out and get some good quality sleep.”


Not that many of us would know from experience, but first and business class seats aren’t always the most comfortable seats in the house.

“While not all airlines carry them, a skycouch or sleeper seat, which basically converts into a bed, is a game-changer,” Mr Payne said.

“For a few extra hundred dollars, you get a row of three seats to yourself or for your travel party. These couches are so comfortable, business-class passengers will often downgrade so they can recline back fully and get some decent rest.”

If you want to sleep comfortably, Air New Zealand’s Skycouch is probably just as good as business or first class.Source:Supplied


Mr Payne revealed a compelling insider’s secret about the meals.

“It’s a little-known secret that vegetarian, vegan, religious and other special meals are usually fresher and better quality than the standard meals,” he said.

“You also get served first which is handy when you’re tired and hungry and don’t want to run the risk of the airline running out of your meal preference.”

It’s important to note, however, that if you’re upgraded, you may not be given your special meal due to time constraints.


This goes a long way in the tough airline industry.

“Airline customer service can be stressful so when passengers ignore instructions or just behave poorly it makes the job a lot harder,” Mr Payne said.

“Out of common courtesy, always use basic etiquette and treat staff with decency. As a bonus, if a flight is overbooked or oversold, a particularly polite customer may be chosen for an upgrade. It never hurts to be nice.”

It probably won’t get you an upgrade but mentioning that special occasion might score you a freebie.Source:istock


It probably won’t get you an upgrade but casually dropping that it’s your birthday/honeymoon/anniversary might score you some kind of freebie.

“If you’re on your honeymoon or celebrating a birthday, cabin crew are often happy to oblige with a glass of champagne or an extra perk,” Mr Payne said.

“Just make sure you mention your special occasion once you’re up in the air and not in a crowded queue.”


If you’re going to ask about an upgrade anyway, you may as well do it well. Mr Payne said busy travel seasons might actually work in a traveller’s favour.

“Once you’ve checked in it’s virtually impossible to get an upgrade due to security purposes,” he said.

“When asking for an upgrade, make sure you approach the service desk first, where staff are authorised to make seat changes. During peak travel seasons, gate staff may also be authorised to upgrade you.”

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