How to Score a First Class Flight Upgrade at a Fraction of the Cost

Photo: Getty Images/andresr
Several months ago, a booking error landed me in first class for the very first time in my life. As we soared over the clouds, the flight attendant served me a warm bowl of assorted nuts, refilled my coffee on the five-minute mark (bless her soul), and read the mile-high dinner menu with the enthusiasm of a French sommelier describing the fermentation process of a fine Cabernet Sauvignon. All my stress melted away as I drifted off to sleep in a deeply reclined leather seat. I landed relaxed and ready to explore my destination. Now that a co-worker has let slip her inside secret for upgrading on the cheap, I know how to fly first class without giving an arm and a leg.

If you, too, would like to inch ever-closer to the front of the plane, get bidding. More than 50 airlines—including Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and Swiss—send follow-up emails after fliers book their travel itineraries inviting them to upgrade to first or business class for a fraction of the price, reports Forbes. Simply click on a link they send you, enter the amount you're willing to pay, and they'll notify you if you're the lucky winner. In the case of my colleague, she bumped herself to the premium class of a Norwegian flight from Amsterdam to New York City for a mere $150.

Not sure what to bid? Well, that's because airlines don't exactly make the whole process easy. Many have fairly high starting bids (a George Washington won't do) and most don't allow customers to view the competing offers by fellow travelers. Plus, they're not exactly shouting from the cockpit that upgrading for less is a possibility in the first place. So make sure to call up your airline of choice to ask if they offer bidding upgrades and peruse the options in your online account if you don't get an email.

As a general rule, Forbes recommends following a basic equation to decide the dollar amount of your bid. "Take the cost of the ticket in the class to which you’d like to upgrade, subtract the cost of the ticket you have already purchased, and then offer about 20-40 percent of that amount," reads the website. You'll have better luck upgrading on larger planes that aren't full and fly vacation—not business—routes.

Once you've submitted your bid, tap your ruby slippers ("There's no place like first class. There's no place like first class.") and hope for the very best. When you get selected (yesss), your credit card will be charged and you'll unlock a roomier seat, along with all the first class amenities.

For your sake, I hope there are toasty nuts on board.

For your security, never (ever!) post a passport pic on Instagram! And follow these flight attendant-approved tips for staying health a mile high in the sky

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