Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, has a column that makes a number of suggestions for snagging an upgrade if you’ve got no status. You’ve heard most of them before — buy an upgrade at check-in or at the kiosk, participate in an elite challenge, or throw in the towel and fly Southwest. Wait, what? Yeah, he really suggests “upgrading” on Southwest by boarding early. Sorry, Rick, but if the seat isn’t wider and has more legroom, that’s not an upgrade…
Also missing from the list: the “ghetto upgrade” of sleeping across an empty row of seats.
Anyway, this post isn’t about sleeping in coach or opting for an all-economy carrier. There’s one suggestion for an actual, genuine, bona fide upgrade that struck me as a little offbeat. Make the gate agent an offer:
Be Alert for Desperate-Looking Gate Agents
Next time you’re sitting around the gate area waiting for your international flight, take a good long look at the gate agent — does he or she look a little anxious? Do you see a pad of paper and a pencil with the agent? You could be in luck.
My friend and co-founder of FareCompare noticed just such a scenario right before he took off from Scotland for the U.S., and he quickly figured what was going on: agents were offering passengers “extreme” last minute upgrade deals. It worked this way: an agent would briefly confer with a passenger, then write a number on his pad — a monetary figure –show it to the individual, and wait for a “yes” or “no.”
My partner was waved over, but he didn’t like the price he was shown, so he suggested his own, lower figure, and it was accepted. In other words, he and his son each got an upgrade to business class worth thousands, for pennies on the dollar. Sweet.
I’ll admit, I’ve never tried doing this myself. But as long as the price isn’t entirely absurd, why wouldn’t this work? After all, this is a perishable commodity, so if the airline wants to fill the seats, they’ll take what they can.
But then again, how likely is it really that you’ll be able to pull off this kind of dealmaking? If the airline has empty seats to begin with, they’ll likely push upgrades-for-sale way earlier than the gate, such as via the online check-in channel.
So the question goes to you: Have you ever actually tried this and made an offer for an upgrade at the gate? Successfully? What kinds of deals have they taken, and what have they rejected?