Photo: Reddit user: RandomAsianGuy
These days, anyone with enough cash can buy their way into frequent flyer clubs, and points gurus are constantly broadcasting the secrets to gaming the rewards card system. This is not a trend we should be thrilled about.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get all of these perks because there are so many ‘elite’ travellers,” said George Hobica, founder of discount airfare site Airfarewatchdog.com.
For business travellers who are constantly passing from one cramped flight and hotel room to the next, the competition is especially fierce.
We’ve reached out to a few travel experts for their tips on the easiest ways you can still score travel upgrades.
Get upgrades on flights by booking an economy ticket with a Y or B booking code. According to TravelNerd.com‘s Amy Lee, this special booking code is gold for fliers looking for an upgrade. “This means that the ticket will be full fare but you will receive a complimentary upgrade if there are open spots in the next class of service,” Lee said. Just request the upgrade when you book your ticket and then check your status 24 hours before your flight. Frequent flyers should hear about upgrades within 100 hours of their departure (based on status level).
Give up your seat on a flight and kill them with kindness. When it comes to scoring upgrades, good manners could give you an edge over other grumpy flyers. “Once I volunteered to get bumped from a flight so a family could travel together,” Lee said. “Not only did I receive a $500 flight voucher, but the gate agent upgraded me on the next flight. She did this because no one else would give up their seat and she realised that although I was inconvenienced, I was willing to help the travelling family.”
Dress nicely to give yourself an edge. “When flights are oversold [in economy class], sometimes gate agents will pick people to upgrade based on whether they’re dressed well, or if they were nice to someone when they checked in,” Hobica said. Get ahead of the game by kindly telling the gate agent in advance that you hope they’ll consider you if any upgrades are available. “They’d much rather sell you an upgrade for $100 or $200 rather than give it away to a frequent flier,” he said.
Double up on rewards cards to reap more benefits. Lee clued us into the latest favourite travel hack out there. Since American Airlines and US Airways recently announced their merger, some travellers have signed up for both airlines’ signature rewards cards (US Airways Premier World MasterCard and the Citi Select/AAdvantage American Express). With both of their signup bonus miles combined, travellers will be armed with as many as 70,000 miles that can be used together once the merger is complete.
Rent a car at the end of the day. “By the end of the day, all the standard and compact vehicles have been rented out and you are more likely to receive a complimentary upgrade [to something more luxurious],” Lee said.
And if rental agencies won’t upgrade for free, try negotiating. “Premium cars can cost an arm and a leg, but counter reps will negotiate much lower prices if they are available when you pick up your car,” says Brian Kelly of ThePointsGuy.com. “Ask at check-in if you can upgrade to a higher category, and if they quote you a price, be sure to negotiate since they won’t start at their best price … Being super nice also helps.”
Save up your bonus miles to score upgrades on the cheap. A number of airlines are selling miles with a big bonus attached (say, a purchase of 50,000 miles buys you an extra 50,000 miles at no cost). “Those miles can be used for upgrades from the lowest possible fare, and that’s another thing to look for, especially if you’re flying first class,” Hobica said. “For example, you can upgrade the cheapest possible fare from New York To LA for about 17,000 miles right now.”
Ask for hotel upgrades when the front desk isn’t busy. Front desk clerks are known to be willing to upgrade customers when business is slow, but you’re best bet is to ask them when there aren’t a load of other people around. “I just did this,” Hobica said. “I had been booked in a room near the elevator. I told them I was a light sleeper and asked for a room at the end of the hallway. The nice person behind the desk upgraded me to a better room at no charge.” Hobica typically follows this script: “I know the hotel is not full today. Do you think you could upgrade me to a suite?”
And Clement Carey, General Manager of The Kitano New York, says specifying room features is a nice gateway to a larger room. “Requesting a high floor or a specific view can garner an unexpected upgrade, if standard rooms with those features are sold out. A reservation for a premium room type or package is more likely to get upgraded to a suite when occupancy is high. A discounted room rate is less apt to get an upgrade.”
Don’t shy away from airfare consolidators. Hobica recently helped a friend score a $6,000 business class ticket to London on Virgin Atlantic for $2,500. He did it by booking through an airfare consolidator site (Hobica likes http://planetamex.com/), which carry discounted first and business class international fares.
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