One of the easiest ways to get an upgraded seat on an airplane, or room at a hotel, is to simply ask.  It won’t work every time, but when it does, you’ll be glad that you tried it.

Your approach is important.  This is not the time to try to impress anyone with how important you are, how valuable a customer you are, or to try to bluff you way through the process. 

Instead, this is a time for politeness, and graciousness, to the person who is in the position to do you a favor.  I’m not suggesting that you pull a major suck-up act, that’s just an offensive as bluster, but good manners matter in this situation.

Two types of upgrades will be available:

 

Upgrades for free:  The ultimate something for nothing.  For airline travel, ask the agent at the counter and/or the departure gate.  For hotel rooms, ask the front desk person who checks you in.  Adopt language that is comfortable for you when asking, but I’ve have heard the following and have seen them work:

  • Might a complimentary upgrade be available today?
  • Could I get a complimentary upgrade?
  • Is there anything better that you can do for me today?  (Especially effective at hotels)
  • Is this the best seat/room that you can get for me today?
  • Is there any way you can upgrade me today?

 

Upgrades for fee:  Occasionally an upgrade can be obtained for a very modest charge, and it’s an option worth exploring.  Some ways that you might approach it:

  • Is there an upgrade available for a modest fee?
  • If I was willing to pay for an upgrade, what would that be?
  • What would be the fee for an upgrade?
  • Since you’re not full, is there a small upgrade fee that I could pay for first class (or for a suite, if you are at a hotel)?

You’re not going to score an upgrade every time, and, in fact, it will only be a minimally successful approach.  Hotel and airline loyalty programs still give you the best shot at upgrades.  However, if that’s not an option for you, politely asking never hurts.