All of us want to be treated as business class passengers, but not all of us have the budget to spend thousands of dollars for extra amenities. Well, it turns out that you don’t need to spend thousands to get a business class ticket. Sometimes, airlines offer extremely cheap upgrades, which means that for just a few hundred dollars, you can get the same upgrade that would normally cost many times more.
In this article, we’ll teach you:
- When’s the best time to get business class upgrades
- How to spend the least amount of money on business class upgrades
- Cover the differences for business class upgrades between different airlines
- Teach you other tricks on getting cheap upgrades
Do Business Class Upgrades Get Cheaper Over Time?
Business-class upgrades usually get cheaper over time, unless there’s high interest from passengers that want to upgrade. If there are a lot of business class seats still empty and the flight departure date is approaching, usually airlines start offering various discounts to lower-class passengers to get additional revenue. If all lower-class seats are already full but there are a few empty business class seats left, they might even bump someone up to business class for free, in order to make room for more passengers.
Usually, business class upgrades start to get cheaper one week prior to departure. At first, airlines send out special offers to passengers who participate in frequent flyer programs. If there’s no interest, they send out offers to all other passengers. If there’s still no interest, they’ll lower the prices even further and offer upgrades at the check-in desks. And lastly, if there still are empty seats, they offer very cheap upgrades after boarding, just before take-off.
When Can You Get Cheap Upgrades to Business Class and When Not
Before you buy a cheap airline ticket in hopes of scoring a cheap business class upgrade, you should know that not all passengers are offered business class upgrades. That’s why you should learn the basic rules for business class upgrades first.
- You can usually upgrade only one class higher. For example, economy passengers can upgrade to premium economy, premium economy to business class, business class to first class, and so on. You CAN’T upgrade from economy to business class, at least not without spending too much.
- Upgrades are only offered to solo passengers. If you’re seated together with your family or friends, you most likely won’t be offered an upgrade because logistically, it’s more difficult to upgrade multiple passengers.
- Passengers with pet carriers don’t get upgrades. For airlines, it’s more difficult to upgrade someone with non-standard baggage, so they don’t offer them to passengers with pet carriers.
- Airlines don’t offer upgrades to passengers with oversized baggage. If you’ve purchased an oversized baggage allowance, even when it’s checked-in, airlines are less likely to offer you upgrades.
- Airlines offer upgrades to loyal passengers first. Airlines want to reward passengers who fly with them regularly, so they usually offer upgrades to passengers who participate in their advantage programs first.
- Airlines won’t offer upgrades when the business class is already fully booked. Cheap upgrades are only offered when airlines are desperate to fill empty business class seats.
- Unfortunately, dress code is still important. Dressing in a suit will increase your chances of being offered an upgrade at the airport. Airlines offer upgrades only to passengers that are most likely to upgrade, and if you look wealthy, you’re more likely to be offered an upgrade. Another factor is the dress code within the business class – airlines want the business class to feel luxurious, and if the business class gets filled with “regular people”, it might ruin the experience for passengers who paid the full price. We don’t support this policy ourselves, but unfortunately, dress code is still important in this day and age (Airlines won’t confirm this, but it’s true)
- You won’t get upgrades if your connecting flight is booked on different classes. Again, airlines usually only allow upgrading one class higher. And for connecting flights, they only look at the lowest class of all the legs of connecting flights. So if you want to upgrade to business class on a connecting flight, all of your flights should be booked on premium economy.
Tip: Looking for a reliable and professional carry-on that doesn’t cost too much? Travelpro is a somewhat hidden gem – their suitcases are much more durable than Samsonite but they cost very similarly. They even supply over 90 different airline crews with custom luggage. For business travelers, the Travelpro Platinum Elite international carry-on is currently the best option that we’ve found.
How to Score Cheap Business Class Upgrades
Down below, we’ll share various ways of how you can get a cheap business class upgrade. Some of them are less reliable than others, so we’ll rank them in a list of most reliable to less (reliable as in, how likely are you to get a business class upgrade).
Option 1: Using a Broker to Get Cheap Business Class Upgrades
The most surefire way of scoring a cheap business class upgrade is by getting in touch with a broker that specializes in getting cheap business class flights, such as businessclassconsolidator.com, business-class.com, businessclassexperts.com, and others (We aren’t affiliated with them – just naming a few services that we found online).
Whenever airline has difficulties filling in all business class seats, they offload all of the empty seats to third-party brokers. These brokers specialize in scoring cheap deals (usually 20-70% off), and it’s very easy for them to find interested clients. It’s easier for airlines because they don’t have to find the clients themselves. Of course, the broker will take a 10-20% commission, but the savings for the passengers still end up very significant, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Even if you’d rather not use any brokers, we’d recommend looking up your specific fight on the websites of these brokers first, so you get a good baseline on how much a business class upgrade should cost.
Option 2: Upgrading to Business Class Online Before Arriving at the Airport
Another somewhat reliable way of getting a cheap upgrade is participating in upgrade bidding or accepting upgrades online before arriving at the airport. Note that online upgrades are usually only offered to passengers participating in airline advantage programs.
First, let’s talk about upgrade bidding. Some airlines allow placing bids on business class upgrades up to 24-72 hours before the flight (most US airlines don’t, but many international ones do). The bids usually start at 100-200$, there’s a limited amount of upgrades, and you the highest bidders win. Sometimes, instead of cash bidding, airlines offer point bidding instead.
Some airlines also send out deals for cheap upgrades to their most loyal passengers. These usually are last-minute, and they’re offered 7 days – 24 hours prior to the flight when the airline struggles on filling all of their business class seats.
Read Next: Why Can’t I Check-in Online?
Option 3: Upgrading to Business Class at the Airport Check-In
If the business class still has a few remaining seats left, airlines will offer discounted upgrades to passengers at the check-in desks. Honestly, this happens somewhat rarely – only once every 5-10 flights, because airlines usually find enough passengers through online upgrades. This heavily depends on the airline and the season though – sometimes you can get upgrades in airports almost on all flights.
Airlines offer upgrades at the check-in desks due to various reasons. Maybe the flight is overbooked, maybe the airline has difficulty arranging a family to sit together – whatever the reason, the airline is desperate to bump someone up to business class, which is why upgrading to business class at the airport usually offers some of the cheapest upgrades.
To increase your chances of scoring a cheap upgrade at the airport you should:
- Call the airline on the date of the flight before arriving at the airport and tell them that you’re interested in an upgrade.
- For early flights, when the call centers are still closed, arrive early and notify the airline at the check-in desks that you’re looking for an upgrade.
- Listen for announcements in the airport – if the flight is full and they want to bump someone up, they might make an announcement over the speakers.
- Look professional. Unfortunately, dress code is still important, and airlines are more likely to bump someone up who looks like they belong in business class.
- Fly solo, without pet carriers, and without oversized luggage.
- Be flexible about your flight time. If the airline has overbooked, they’ll offer you a cheap business upgrade for the next flight.
Option 4: Upgrading to Business Class After Boarding the Flight
On rare occasions, airlines offer business class upgrades to passengers for heavily discounted prices before the plane has taken off. This usually happens only once in every 10-20 flights, so to increase your chances of getting a cheap upgrade, you must be the first in line. When you board the flight, let the flight attendants know that if there still are any business class seats left, you’re interested in upgrading. The flight attendant will notify the responsible employee and after a while come back to you with an offer (if there is any).
Should You Even Upgrade to Business Class?
Business-class offers a wide range of benefits, but sometimes they’re not worth the extra cost, especially if you’re purchasing full-price. Some of these benefits include:
- More legroom
- Complimentary drinks
- Better meals
- Additional baggage allowance
- Faster check-in, boarding, and getting off the flight
- Business-class lounges
- Headphones, socks, toiletries, pillows, head masks, in-flight entertainment, bigger screens, and other amenities.
In my opinion, upgrading to business class only makes sense for long-haul flights. Being all cramped up in an uncomfortable seat with no leg room is fine for a few hours, but not for 8 hours or more. Scoring a cheap upgrade is definitely worth it if you want to feel rested and minimize your jetlag. That said, I would never pay thousands for a business class upgrade, but getting one for 100-300$ is a completely different story. Then again, this heavily depends on your financial condition.
How to Get a Free Upgrade to Business Class
Getting a free upgrade to business class is extremely unlikely, but it may happen, and there are a few things that can increase your chances of getting one. Airlines offer free upgrades ONLY if they aren’t able to find passengers who are willing to upgrade, even for heavily discounted prices. And when they do, they’ll offer them only to their most loyal passengers, to hopefully make more revenue from them in the future.
So to increase your chances of getting a free upgrade, you should:
- Be a loyal passenger to the airline. Participate in their advantage programs, spend on upgrades every now and then, and fly with a single airline whenever you can to accumulate points.
- Fly solo. Airlines are more likely to upgrade passengers who are flying alone, to avoid splitting anyone up.
- Don’t fly with pet carriers and oversized luggage.
- Fly in peak times, when there’s a higher chance that the airline has overbooked passengers.
- Be flexible with your schedule. If the flight is overbooked, airlines sometimes offer free business class upgrades to passengers who are willing to take the next flight.
Note: Realistically, even if you follow this advice, you might be bumped up only once every 50-100 flights. Free upgrades are very rare.
Tips on Upgrading to Business Class
- Combine small cash upgrades with frequent flyer points. Upgrading from economy to business class is usually pretty expensive and not always possible. Instead, you should purchase premium economy for a small cash fee (usually 100-150$) and purchase a cheap business class upgrade with frequent flyer points. Usually, this ends up being cheaper than upgrading two classes.
- Prioritize upgrading the longest connections. If you’re flying on a connecting flight, always upgrade the longest leg of the flight first, as having the extra legroom and other benefits of the business class will be more beneficial there.
- Don’t overspend your frequent flyer points. Always make sure that you aren’t spending too many points on upgrades. Find out how much a similar upgrade would cost in cash, and calculate how many points should it cost. For conversion, look up the most recent points to dollar statistics. For example, Nerdwallet gives really good estimates – in 2022, Air France / KLM Flying Blue equals 1.4 cents per point but united Airlines MileagePlus only 1 cent per point.
- Look at how full the flight is 24 hours prior to the flight. Before you buy a cheap upgrade online, double-check how full the business class is 72-24 hours before the departure. Log in to the airline’s website, enter your flight details, and try to change your seats. You’ll most likely be able to see how many seats are still empty in business class. If it’s a lot, there’s a high chance that you might be able to get an even cheaper upgrade at the check-in desks or after boarding.
Is It Cheaper to Upgrade to Business Class at Airport (On Different Airlines)
Qatar Airways usually offers cash and point upgrades about 1-2 weeks prior to departure, which cost 200-700$ and end up slightly cheaper than the full business class ticket price. It’s also fairly easy to get business class upgrades with Qatar at the airport, which are even cheaper. One passenger said that he’s usually able to get an upgrade at the airport 6 out of 7 times. One thing to note though is that by getting a business class upgrade, passengers aren’t allowed to use airport lounges.
With Turkish Airlines, you can only upgrade one class higher with points, but you can upgrade more classes with cash upgrades. For example, you can upgrade from economy to business class with cash upgrades. By getting an upgrade, you’ll be able to use all of the business class services like you normally would, including lounges. Turkish airlines usually sends out business class upgrade deals through e-mail about 1-2 weeks before the flight, and occasionally they also offer last-minute upgrades at the check-in desks.
Many passengers reported, that they’ve never gotten a business class upgrade on Emirates at the airport. Because Emirates is such an expensive airline, they don’t offer upgrades to just anyone – usually, only to passengers who participate in their Skywards loyalty program, and they only do that through email. Emirates offers cash and point upgrades, but their points upgrades usually end up the cheapest.
British Airways offers business class upgrades through email on almost all of its flights. You can get the cheapest upgrades with Avios (British Airways frequent flyer points) by upgrading from premium economy to business class, but with cash upgrades, you can also upgrade from a regular economy ticket for 700-1000$. By getting an upgrade, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of business class, including lounges. Occasionally, they also offer last-minute upgrades at the check-in desks, which end up the cheapest.
You can save a lot of money by getting business class upgrades instead of paying the full price:
- If you’re flexible with your flight time
- If you’re flying solo
- If you participate in airline loyalty programs
- If you’re flying off-season
- If you’re fine with occasionally flying in economy
Usually, on Trans-Atlantic flights, you can save about 300-700$ by waiting for last-minute upgrades. You can get even cheaper upgrades by combining small cash upgrades (from economy to premium economy, which usually costs between 100-150$), together with frequent flyer point upgrades (usually, 15 000 – 50 000 points).
Usually, the closer it is to departure, the cheaper the upgrade discounts will get. That said, you have to find a balance somewhere in-between, because the closer it is to departure, the less likely it is that you’ll be offered an upgrade.