How to Get Free Upgrades on A Flight – From an Airline Gate Agent

  • Watch the video below on tips to get a free upgrade according to a gate agent
  • Gone are the days of free upgrades on your honeymoon or other milestone celebrations
  • Gate agents do get reprimanded for handing out free upgrades to just about anyone
  • Although the chances of an upgrade are slim, there are ways to improve your odds: dress appropriately and ask

Back in the day, mentioning to the gate agent that you’re on your honeymoon or celebrating a special milestone like a 25-year anniversary would get you a free upgrade to first class or at least business class. Well, times have changed. 

Most articles advice you to flirt with the gate agent to hopefully score that coveted upgrade. In reality, most of them have become immune to such things (also because they can sense your ulterior motive from a mile away). On the other hand, gate agents who do give out a free upgrade get reprimanded by the airline. As mentioned in the video below, during his days as a gate agent, he gave an elderly couple a free upgrade on their way to Florida. The couple was ecstatic but he was later reprimanded and was suspended for a day without pay.

Airlines no longer give out free upgrades to just anyone. If the flight is oversold and the airline would need to upgrade some passengers, the airline’s computer would generate a a priority list for gate agents to refer to. Although the algorithm is based on many factors, the priority list usually goes like this: 1) frequent flyers, 2) passengers who’ve paid expensive tickets or who’ve paid extra to be waitlisted for the higher cabins. 

If you’re a casual traveler and you’ve paid a pretty good, low price for your ticket, the odds of getting upgraded are pretty low for you. 

However, there are some ways to improve your odds. Can’t hurt to try, right? 

Dress Appropriately

First class and business class seats are marketed as luxury experiences. Passengers chosen for an upgrade are expected to dress the part. If you do get chosen and you’re not dressed appropriately, chances are you will be skipped on the list. The flight agent will have to give the upgrade to the next person dressed well. 

That said, you don’t need to come in dressed in a tuxedo or a pin-striped suit. Business casual usually does the trick. Definitely no ripped jeans, flip flops, and PJ’s. 

Present Yourself and Ask

Now that you’ve got the dress code right, make your way to the counter and simply ask if the flight is oversold. If the flight is not oversold, well, you’re out of luck – slim chance of an upgrade. If the flight is oversold, then ask if there is an extra seat and hand over your boarding pass. This at least puts you top of mind and shows that you are dressed appropriately for an upgrade. 

As mentioned in the video, when there aren’t anymore frequent flyers to upgrade, it is acceptable practice for gate agents to suggest a passenger to bump up just to save time on accounting for everyone. Most likely, someone that would come to mind would be the person who asked about an upgrade and who is dressed for the part, right? 


These small acts, of course, don’t guarantee a seat in the mile high club but they at least improve your chances if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted in an oversold flight.