Everybody wants a first class upgrade during the holidays, when aeroplanes are packed, nerves are frayed and there’s no better gift than a glass of champagne and a roomy seat at the front of the plane.
like to give that gift to yourself, here are some strategies that could help
make that happen:
Fly when business travellers stay home
During the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, demand for business and first
class drops to an annual low -- so low that airlines put those seats on sale. In
early December, British Airways dropped
roundtrip, transatlantic business class fares to $2,012 (from the standard
$6,000 to $8,000) for flights between 20 December and 5 January. Keep an eye out
for similar deals on other carriers, many of which frequently
discount business and first class seats during the holidays
due to low demand.
"Very little business is conducted over the holidays
because most business types take the last week or two weeks of December off,”
said George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com, “So airlines find themselves with
two weeks of empty business and first class seats."
Pay to upgrade
Airlines don’t like
to give away those big seats at the front of the plane. They’d rather sell them
to you when you make your reservation, which is the most expensive option. But
most airlines will also take your money at the last minute, offering discounted
upgrades when you check-in at the airport kiosk or when you arrive at the gate.
For example, last month I paid just $39 at the airport for a first class
upgrade on a Virgin America flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last
winter, I paid United $600 at the gate to upgrade from economy to business
class on an overnight flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. Also, if you spy an
open first or business class seat once you are onboard, ask the flight
attendant if you can buy an upgrade on the spot — some airlines (such as
AirTran or Virgin America in the US) will sell the seat using the beverage cart
or seat back credit card swipe.
Offer to be bumped
During the peak holiday travel season, planes fly full and sometimes there are more
passengers than there are seats on the plane. If you have the flexibility to
take a later flight, let the gate agents know they can bump you, and when it
comes time to negotiate what compensation you’ll get for volunteering, ask for
an upgrade in addition to whatever other compensation they are offering — depending
on your situation, the upgrade alone may be worth more to you than a voucher
for a future flight. If you think you’ll be playing the bumping angle, it’s best to have carry-on
baggage so it arrives on the flight you end up on, not on the flight you were
Did you get three boxes of candy or chocolates at your office holiday party
this year? Share your abundance with gate agents or flight attendants, who may
be able to return the favour with an upgrade to a bigger or better seat. While
this won’t work when the flight is full, you’ll likely end up with better
in-flight service and you’ll feel better knowing you brightened someone else’s hectic
day. You never know, one of them might remember you the next time you fly and
return the favour then.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel
columnist for BBC Travel