2 March 2012


how to: negotiate a seat upgrade

Everything is open to negotiation, so take heed of these tips and you may find yourself securing a prime position on your next flight.

My mother once wisely told me that when checking in at the airport one should always be well dressed. Why? Because no one wearing comfortable flying attire (read trackpants) sneakers, or jandals ever got a seat upgrade. Such advice has stuck with me and after a recent discussion in the office on the art of negotiating, we put together a list of tips to ensure that with any luck (provided you’re not already), your next overseas jaunt might see you turning left, as opposed to right, when stepping foot on the plane.

Employ some tactics: There are no hard and fast rules, however there are some tactics that can be employed to give you a running chance.

Travel alone. Travelling with a family in tow is an automatic disqualifier.

Pack wisely. Where possible, travel with carry on only. Overweight luggage is also not a good foot to start out on.

Timing is everything: There are two ways you can approach the timing of your check in. Checking in early can come with a first-in-first-served result. If the flight isn’t full then it might be easy to be bumped up without fuss. Similarly, if you check in late. If the queue is long then you can try your luck checking in at an unattended business class desk.

Attire: The aforementioned dress choice is extremely important. There is an unwritten dress code that applies at an airport. One in which we imagine 85% of your flight will not be following. This leaves you with a greater chance (15%) of bumping your seat further up the plane. You are infinitely more likely to be upgraded if you look like you will fit in with those who willingly paid for a better seat. Long haul? Then keep the lounge wear in your carry on and wait until you are in the air to make the switch. En route to Hawaii? You’re not at the beach until you’re actually at the beach – so anything that vaguely resembles the resort wear you have packed for your tropical vacation is also not advised. Unless the plane you are boarding is your own, you need to look the part.

Attitude: Charm wins every time over cockiness. Remember, your seat fate is entirely at the mercy of the person behind the check-in desk. Chances are that walking in there with a demanding or pushy attitude will only demote you further back in coach. Smile, be polite and where appropriate, even crack a joke . Making the check-in attendant laugh is a surefire way to up your chances of scoring that unattended business class seat.

Status: Some kind of status holding with the airline is essential. Gold Elite is a good place to start, but like all good things, chances decrease the further down the rank you are. Certain seats on a plane are allocated for frequent flyer upgrades – so use your miles to upgrade where you can. Failing that, should there be an upgrade available and there are two people requesting it – the higher status trumps every time.

Happy Flying!

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