I've seen more than a few articles lately by bloggers about "How to get a first class upgrade" and in my travel experience, they're full of it. Sure, they'll toss around things like Y-UP fares or dressing up or being nice, but 99% of the time it'll come down to your frequent flier status or money. You don't get something for nothing, especially when it comes to airlines.
Sure, you can get a "free" upgrade but that'll cost you a ton of miles or having bought an expensive airline ticket. Is it truly free if the ticket cost you or your company a lot of money? Is it truly free if you spent a year earning those miles?
Have you ever really watched a gate agent? They've got the thankless job of dealing with all sorts of neurotic passengers and do it day in and day out. They're boarding an insane amount of flights a day. They're lovely people and honestly, they don't have the time to scope for well-dressed passengers for remaining first class seats. The computer is juggling the manifest, shuffling people around based on a litany of factors. People with top tier airline status get to the front of the line because it's nice to reward customers instead. The only group of people I've seen consistently upgraded are active duty military in uniform. If you have a problem with that, you should probably get bent.
What about being nice to checkin or gate agents? You should be doing that anyway. My number one rule at the airport is "Don't be a dick." Remember we're all in this together, and being kind at an airport helps out a lot. Airports are crucibles, and manners and politeness are the first things to be burnt away. Smile and use your manners. And just maybe that one time you're in a jam or stuck, they'll take care of you and maybe you'll luck out and get that elusive upgrade. Maybe.
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