lets make a deal Want an upgrade? Whats your best offer?
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?

pixel Want an upgrade? Whats your best offer?
Categorized in: upgrades

6 Responses to “Want an upgrade? What’s your best offer?”

  1. Keith Says:


    Where have you been? This has been going on since 2004! I have upgraded flights to Asia, Africa, Europe for 300-800 dollars depending on the loads and distance of flight.
    Sometimes an upgrade can be had for a box of candy or gift to the flight attendants on board……..

  2. Bruce Says:

    I thought Rick’s list of suggestions was really lame. Turning people onto AAdvantage challenges is nice, but since they don’t get you to Executive Platinum, you’re not going to be upgraded to often (Platinum alone isn’t worth much these days).

  3. Mark Ashley Says:

    Keith, I wasn’t drawing attention to up front and public cash upgrades, or bribes. Sure, cash upgrades have been around for a while, and I’ve seen them plenty. But secret numbers written on a pad and pushed across a counter? No, I haven’t seen that.

    And a box of candy is a bribe, not a cash upgrade. That’s not what was described in the article and post, either.

    Have you ever actually secretly negotiated the price of an upgrade? Sweetening the deal with candy excepted…

  4. Kyle Duarte Says:

    So these are legit upgrades? It’s kinda unclear from the ABC News article, especially with the pad of paper going back and forth. So even though there’s negotiation and “cash” being discussed, the money is going to the airline, not the agent, right? That I’ve never heard of, and is being filed away in my at-the-airport checklist.

    @Keith I’ve been upgraded just for smiling and chatting with a FA. I was really just interested in talking to her – wasn’t fishing for an upgrade – and she took care of me on her flight and had me taken care of on my connection. Good stuff!

  5. William Beem Says:

    Maybe it’s just an International thing. I tried to upgrade on a United flight from Denver to Orlando at the gate. Actually, I had previously tried to accept the offer from the ticket kiosk, but it didn’t go through. When I approached the gate agent, she said I had to do it at the kiosk-she couldn’t do anything. I told her that I’d tried and she just walked away, no interest in helping a customer ready to pay.

  6. The Global Traveller Says:

    A number of airlines allow this at check in as well. Of course not the airlines you’d really want to be able to upgrade for cheap – such as Singapore Airlines.

    Some airlines even offer an upgrade unsolicited for $ or miles. Unfortunately these are often on flights where they are heavily oversold which means a gamble – do you pay for the upgrade or take your chances that not (m)any others will pay for it and thus you might get it for free? Lufthansa does this with their elite Miles & More passengers.

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