There are those people who hate flying and then there’s Business Class. Nothing starts off a holiday (or ends one) like riding in the front of that sleek bird. Elbow room isn’t quite priceless, but it IS expensive. And who hasn’t given the stink-eye to the Airline Aristocracy lounging with their pre-flight mimosa’s and magazines while the hoi polloi file past to their sad seat with 2.5 inches of recline? The gods of flight don’t dish out upgrades like they used to, so it’s in your best interest to have a strategy. Here are my tips for turning left after boarding.
BE NICE Seriously. These people are used to crabby grumps getting on the plane. A smile and eye contact will get you far in life and on flights. The last time Mr. Twos and I flew Delta, there was a snafu in boarding, and by the time we got up to the front, everyone was notably cranky. Slapping on my best smile, I sympathized with the gate agent as he apologized to us profusely. “It’s no problem,” I said, “as long as we arrive safely, we’re good. I can only imagine how hard your day has been, hope it gets better.” Or something along those lines. He stopped mid-ticket rip, looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ve got two empty seats up front, and they’re for you.” See? Bees with honey.
STICK WITH ONE AIRLINE They love loyalty. Know partner airlines so you can travel them as you need to. While you won’t receive the exact same benefits as with your primary airline (status credits, primarily and sometimes lounge access), you’ll still work toward collecting points and mileage. Truth is, status makes flying much more pleasant with early boarding, increased luggage allowances and boozing it up in the lounge; some airlines even earmark premium seating for their Frequent Flyers. When overbooked, airlines will upgrade those with loyalty points and status credits to the front of the line for upgrades.
DON’T DRESS LIKE A GRUB If you think people don’t judge you by how you present yourself, then bless your heart. You need to look like you belong up front, and like you’ll know how to behave once you get up there. If you’re hoping to hobnob with the elite, or just sit where they sit, you’d best not be wearing cargo shorts with your ratty toenails poking out of your Birkenstock’s. The other people up there might well be, but they paid for that privilege. Hey, life isn’t always fair. My advice to you is to have a standard ‘airline outfit.’ Invest in a nice wrap that’s beautiful and will keep you warm in those cold cabins. Pay attention to your shoes. Don’t wear ripped jeans. Think classy, kay?
BID FOR AN UPGRADE Now that airlines are seeking to maximize every dollar, many have implemented a bidding scheme to get behinds in empty seats. With over 70 travel partners, including Air New Zealand, Singapore Air, Emirates and Etihad, Plusgrade allows you to upgrade certain classes of tickets to a more premium class if available seats exist. Not only that, but you can bid for the seat next to you if you’re feeling a bit antisocial. (Still more room and much less expensive.) This latch ditch effort to fill the big seats is a win-win as less go unsold, and if you’re lucky (and bid high enough) your behind will be in one for a lot less than the flyer next to you may have paid. You won’t know for sure if your bid has won until less than 8 hours before the departure date of your flight. Not sure if your airline is a travel partner of Plusgrade? Check their website.
TRAVEL DURING BUSY TIMES When flights are full, sometimes airlines will need to move a passenger to accommodate families. This isn’t really because they want to, but because they must. If there is an empty seat up front, you just might get it. (Especially if you were nice.) Know that the odds are most in your favor if you’re traveling solo. On a near empty flight, chances are basically nil that you’ll be able to move, but that may be offset by the empty seats around you? We flew Etihad recently on a leg from Singapore to London. We had business class seats (via clever usage of points) but were upgraded to First Class when we were boarding. I think it’s because they needed our Business Class seats. Let me tell you right now, First Class on Etihad Airlines is an experience I’ll not soon forget.
GIVE UP YOUR SEAT; GET BUMPED Flights do get overbooked. Airlines sell more seats than exist on the plane. Why? There are classes of tickets that allow for very last minute changes, and on top of that about 5% of people don’t turn up for their flight. Airlines operate at very slim profit margins and are banking statistically on those factors working in their favor. An empty seat is a lost profit. If everyone shows up, things get interesting, and you have some leverage. If you’ve got some wiggle room in your timing, volunteer to give up your place for a Business Class seat on the next flight, or the one after that. Depending on the destination, you may not have to wait very long. Go to the lounge for some comfy loitering and smile at your epic negotiating.
READ THE EMAILS Recently, Mr. Twos received an email from Qantas for a 100% bonus on status credits for flights traveled within a certain period. Since he just did a Sydney-Joberg-China-Sydney trip, he really banked some status with that offer. Thing is, he usually ignores them like most of us do. Train yourself to check them. Airlines will often send out special offers like two-for-ones, Business Class sales (often at less than coach fares for off-peak travel times and days) and if you’ve purchased an upgradable coach class ticket, special opportunities to upgrade.
“Its good to be king”-Tom Petty
How about you, fellow traveler? What are your best tricks for preferred seating? Do you find that some airlines have better programs for Frequent Flyers over other ones? Do you have a great upgrade story?