Friday, 17 February 2017

Hoping for an airline upgrade. You’ll be lucky!

No seriously, I mean it because luck is probably the best way to describe so called airline selection policy as it applies to that all important upgrade. A huge shame really as, with the arrival of single class competitors, the incentive of potential upgrades is a definite plus when deciding who to fly with. Sad that airlines do not recognise the power and competitive edge upgrades give them.

I read a long running blog the other day on the subject of ‘How to get an upgrade’. It started with someone’s opinion and grew enormously as others (including me at the time) regaled other readers with their tips, experiences and failures. The only thing that seemed clear is that almost everybody wanted upgrades and very few actually got them. The only successes seemed to be with people that made no particular effort but got them as a pleasant surprise.

On looking closer at these and other people one thing began to become evident. It did not seem to matter much on what you looked like, how many in your group or how important you are to that airline. It seemed purely down to numbers and seemed triggered by how full the cabin was you were booked in. Obviously the vast majority of seats are in economy class and also economy passengers are more likely not to show up. As a result airlines overbook this cabin in the hope it ends up going out full. If there are seats available in higher classes then these are used for any surplus economy numbers via upgrades. The same approach applies right up to First Class. Very often when someone gets upgraded from economy they will create a chain reaction of upgrade through Premium economy and Club class right up to the front cabin. Either that or, to save hassle the economy passenger finds themselves placed directly into seat 1A.

Meals also impact the need to upgrade. If the particular cabin is short of meals they will often upgrade or sometimes if a forward cabin is almost empty but fully catered for they will again upgrade. There is also the airline staff upgrade where travelling airline folk hold upgrade tickets or possibly are friends of the crew. And if there are plenty of meals and not many staff? Then you might just get lucky. Also if you are on a flight that stops somewher you may get an upgrade if they are congested on certain legs of your journey.

Now I always used to think that if I looked smart my chances of upgrade were better. I had hoped that someone in the ground staff were wandering around thinking “now let me find a smart, deserving individual I can bestow this super upgrade on” I am afraid I do not believe this happens any more (it used to). Now some machine randomly selects you or a tired, bored departure desk operative gets told to offer upgrades to whoever is in front of them. I am afraid the truly discretionary upgrade has all but gone out of the window. I suppose the computer could be programmed to select that airline’s frequent flyer members but I have not seen this happening much either.

Looking deeper there is only one true way of getting an upgrade and even that is risky and impossible for most people and that is before check-in. If you can persuade the right airline person at the right level to mark your booking ‘upgrade space available’ it might just happen. A lot depends on the relationship between reservations and airport staff and if the latter remembers to do something about it. For example I tried to help a friend who had just lost his wife and needed to get to Sydney. I phoned the airline reservations number and explained the situation and got nowhere until I got my call escalated to a supervisor. After a lot of persuasion on my part she agreed to try and help and ultimately he got upgraded. Not easy but possible if you persevere

So that is that really. Computerisation, apathy and, in my opinion, short-sightedness by airlines means upgrades are hard to get and mainly coincidental. Just think what a valuable selling tool they could be. They would buy loyalty, give recognition and fill seats productively instead of dishing them out indiscriminately to those not expecting them.

So. You want an upgrade? You WILL BE LUCKY!

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