How to get an upgrade on your next vacation… free of charge

Want to get “bumped up” on your next flight or hotel accommodation? Find out how to get a better deal with these tips from travel insiders.

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Photo, iStock.

These days, most companies are stamping down on unpaid upgrades. If a passenger onboard asks for one, airline staff will ask for a credit card on the spot as upgrades can be bought on board using the duty-free swipe machine. That being said, most airlines overbook economy, which means there are involuntary upgrades form economy to business, and from business to first class. The people who get upgraded are invariably the frequent travellers who carry Gold/Diamond/Platinum cards or multiple air mile cards. It is rare nowadays to get upgraded if you are not a regular traveller just because you “look the part.” However, when still more involuntary upgrades need to be made, and all the regulars have been looked after, the things that help most are:

The insider: Laurie Jennings, former flight attendant

“Ask at every stage, at every point along the way. Ask when you’re checking in, ask in the lounge and ask on the plane. Be friendly and be discreet. Avoid using the word ‘bumped’; instead ask if there are any available seats at the front of the plane. It helps if you have an honest excuse — a bad back or a large person sitting next to you in economy may help your case.”

The insider: Amy Rosen, travel writer

“Check out the Loyalty programs for big chain hotels. Often they have amazing perks and signing up is free. The Fairmont President’s Club, for example, is free to join and you get the occasional room upgrade, free Wi-Fi and other great benefits that would normally cost you.”

The insider: A British Airways pilot

“Travelling alone helps, so does checking in early at the desk. Due to online check-in, most people go straight through security to the gate, but it’s the check-in counter that has the authority to upgrade you, not the place where you drop your bags. And wear smart clothes that don’t make you stand out (nobody in business class wears a suit on a long-haul flight these days).”

Handy travel apps to get you better deals

Room 77: Select your destination and this app will scour hundreds of rates on the web to uncover prices averaging $72 in savings. Choose a hotel from the aggregated list and digital floor plans of the hotel allow you to see each available room’s view so you can pick the perfect one.

Hotel Tonight: Looking to experience a bit of luxe? You can conveniently (and securely) book last-minute rooms at the hottest hotels at rates of up to 70 percent off. Bring on the hip neighborhoods, cool lobby bars and rooftop terraces!

 

One last thing… 

Most travel sites, like Expedia and Travelocity, offer a “Top Secret” or “Mystery” hotel option. The rates are super low, but there’s a catch: The hotel’s name and details aren’t revealed until you complete the booking. What you do know is the price, the neighbourhood and the amenities (pool, fitness centre, etc.). So if you don’t mind taking a chance, this is a great way to save. (Shhh! Sometimes you can solve the mystery by looking at the number of stars and the hotel’s amenities, and crosschecking with all properties in the area. But you didn’t hear it from us!)