Most of us know an annoyingly smug person who manages to wangle an upgrade on every flight they take. Every wondered how they do it? For this blog we spoke to some frequent flyers, flight attendants and passenger agents to find out a few sneaky tips.
Voluntary Deferral of Boarding
Airlines usually sell several more seats than the aircraft actually has. This is because a certain number of passengers fail to show up for the flight and the airline therefore makes a greater profit. Usually the airline gets away with it but there are occasions when too many people check in. They then have to start bumping people off the flight, which makes passengers stroppy…unless you volunteer to give up your seat.
If you are a “Voluntary Deferral of Boarding (VDB)” passenger and you are required to give up your seat you can get some incredible freebies. Air New Zealand operate one flight to Auckland per day. If you agree to fly the following day they have been known to offer a free Air New Zealand flight to anywhere in the world to be used at a later date, a night at a five-star hotel and £500 cash! Often there are signs up at check-in asking for people to agree to VDB but if not, it may be worth mentioning it to the check-in agent. Yours might be the only seat needed.
But this is just the standard offer, and this is where some passengers begin to play the game. If you have not volunteered for VDB but want to give it a go, eavesdrop on conversations between the passenger agents when you reach the gate. If you hear snippets like “way overbooked” or “I need another count” or “late check-ins” it could be that they need some seats given up. In order to avoid them forcibly ejecting passengers you may be able to haggle the package on offer. One passenger on British Midland managed to wangle five free flights and £300 cash in return for taking the next flight instead – which was only three hours later!
Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules for bagging these. The passenger agent is the one with the power and it basically comes down to who they like the look of and how busy the flight is. Don’t ask outright if you can have an upgrade or behave like you think you deserve one – it’s rude and why on earth should they give it to you? Dress smartly and be polite to the agent and strike up a rapport without being smarmy. If you are on honeymoon, drop it casually into the conversation. And definitely don’t go into a huff if you still don’t get one as the agent can still change their mind even when you are at the gate. The key is to be so cool it really doesn’t matter to you whether you are upgraded or not.
If check-in appears quiet for a long-haul flight, ask the passenger agent how full it is. You may be able to be the only passenger seated in a row of three or four seats – perfect for stretching out and a nice snooze!
It is worth considering pre-booking special meals even if you don’t have specific dietary requirements. You will get your food before everyone else and as the special meals are made in smaller quantities, they are often tastier. If you have a voracious appetite don’t be afraid to ask if you can have a second meal (airlines have even been known to provide a third or fourth meal!) as there will very likely be one available which would otherwise go in the bin.
Regardless of whether they are cabin crew, baggage handlers or customs officers, staff at airports know each other pretty well and word gets around quickly. If you make someone’s job easy, it is quite likely they will return the favour later. One passenger volunteered to change seats to let a family sit together. Upon collecting their luggage they found it was the first bag out and it was sporting a priority tag and a security seal which usually cost £20 extra. But be warned – if you are rude to staff there may be a rubber glove in customs with your name on it!