Are you looking for a complimentary upgrade? While it’s not always guaranteed, there are tactics you can use to get upgraded to first class, plus tactics for free hotel and rental car upgrades.
You’ve probably sat at an airline gate and listened as select names get called for business or first class upgrades. Those moments probably leave you wondering how the lucky Travelers pulled it off — and how to get upgraded to first class yourself.
There’s no mystery behind complimentary upgrades. When it comes to getting free upgrades via airlines, hotels, and rental car companies, there are a few select tactics that still work in the 2020s. Here’s a look at the tactics that will increase your chances of getting a complimentary upgrade when you want one.
How to Get Free Upgrades on Flights
It was easier to get complimentary business or first class upgrades once upon a time. Things were less digital and less automated in the 20th century, which meant that gate agents and other airlines employees enjoyed more discretion. Upgrades are almost 100% automated now, which makes it more difficult. But here’s a look at 5 tactics you can test when looking for a complimentary upgrade:
- Consolidate Your Flights: You should always use the same airline as often as possible. Your mileage balance and status with any given airline can help you get complimentary upgrades regularly. If you spread your travel across multiple airlines, you won’t maximize your mileage or status with any of them. Choose an airline that flies to as many destinations as possible out of your home airport.
- Get an Airline Credit Card: Another fast, easy way to accrue miles is through a credit card. Almost all major airlines offer credit cards that come with mileage bonuses, miles earned on purchases, and increased opportunities for complimentary upgrades.
- Check In Early: Check in for your flight as early as possible. Airlines will sometimes offer heavily discounted upgrades when the first class cabin isn’t full. These aren’t technically complimentary upgrades as Travelers must pay for them. But they are often well worth the cost — especially on longer flights.
- Give Up Your Seat: Flights are almost always oversold. If you have time to take a later flight, give up your seat — in exchange for an upgrade. You may find that airlines will put you on a later flight in a first-class seat if you’re willing to help them out. You may also get a travel voucher you can use toward the cost of a future flight.
- Ask Your TMC: When traveling for business, always check with your travel management company (better known as a TMC). TMCs offer support representatives who are knowledgeable about all aspects of travel, upgrades included. These reps are your best bet when you need assistance getting a complimentary upgrade.
How to Get Free Hotel Upgrades
Hotel upgrades aren’t nearly as automated as first class upgrades on flights. This less automated process gives you a greater chance of securing a better room if and when you want one. Here’s a look at 5 specific tactics you can use when wondering how to get free hotel upgrades:
- Join a Loyalty Program: Again, there’s no better way to get regular upgrades than through joining a loyalty program. Accrue as many stays and as many points as possible with your hotel chain of choice. If you travel often enough, you’ll find that you get upgrades to better rooms regularly.
- Travel During Off-Peak Season: It’s far easier to get a hotel upgrade at a property that’s well below capacity. If you’re given discretion on when to travel, look for off-peak times when hotels will be less than full.
- Look for Recently Opened Hotels: There are 2 characteristics of recently opened hotels that increase your chances for an upgrade. First, new hotels haven’t filled their reservation pipelines yet, so they are typically well below capacity. And, second, new hotels are looking to build their reputations, so they are always aiming to please their guests. Stay at a brand-new hotel, and you’re far likelier to get the upgrade you want.
- Plant the Seed: Email the manager or concierge a few days before you travel. Ask them about the hotel’s amenities and things to do in the immediate area. Let them know you’re looking forward to the trip. Sending a simple email is a great way to build a relationship that could lead to an upgrade when you arrive. If relevant, mention your status with the hotel and why you’ll be visiting their city. Again, these details can help increase your likelihood of getting an upgrade.
- Check With Your TMC: As noted above, the TMC your company uses exists to help you enjoy better business trips. The more you use your TMC, the more you’ll find yourself in better rooms during hotel stays. So use your TMC as a source of guidance when looking for a free hotel upgrade.
How to Get a Rental Car Upgrade for Free
Upgrades are somewhat automated in the car rental business, but car rental employees have perhaps more discretion than their counterparts in the airline and hotel industries. So, use these 5 tactics to get on the good side of car rental agents — and to secure a rental car upgrade as often as possible:
- Use Loyalty Points/Miles: As with airlines and hotels, loyalty programs are the best path to getting free upgrades. Consolidate your rentals with one rental car company as often as possible.
- Clip a Coupon: No one really “clips” coupons anymore, but search around online for any specials that are relevant to your upcoming rental. You may find that there’s a coupon for a complimentary car rental upgrade, depending on the company you’re renting from.
- Book Cheap: Rental cars are tiered into different categories. If you want to increase your chances for an upgrade, book the lowest tier possible. When you book cheaply, there’s a huge amount of inventory that would represent an upgrade when you arrive at your destination.
- Kill Them With Kindness: Be kind to your car rental agent. This tip applies to airline and hotel agents, too, but kindness toward a rental car agent really pays off. These agents can often make the necessary adjustments and arrangements needed for you to get a better ride during your stay. So, be patient when you arrive to rent a car. And, no matter what, be kind to the team members helping you.
- Get Help From a TMC: TMCs work with rental car companies on a day-to-day basis. They know how to talk to rental car companies, and they know how to secure complimentary upgrades when they are available. Let’s say it one more time: Your TMC exists to help you during your trip — so let them help.
Let JTB Business Travel Help You Secure an Upgrade
As the leading travel management company, JTB Business Travel specializes in helping companies save on travel spending while maximizing the experience for Travelers. When you’re wondering how to get upgraded to first class, how to get upgraded to a nicer room, or how to get upgraded to a bigger car, our team is standing by and waiting to help.
Curious to learn more about what JTB Business Travel can offer as your TMC? Get in touch to learn more about our products and services.