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    How do I get upgraded to First/Business class?
  • If you are an elite level frequent flyer, take advantage of the upgrade opportunities available with your program.  As an elite member, you can usually upgrade from any published fare to First/Business class using upgrade certificates.  These certificates can usually be purchased with either dollars or points. Some airlines offer complimentary upgrades for elite members (subject to availability). For details on the benefits provided by some US frequent flyer elite programs, see our comparison here.
  • If you are a frequent flyer, but not at the elite level, you may be able to purchase upgrade certificates with dollars or points, but these certificates may be valid from the full coach fare only.
  • If you are using upgrade certificates, you may need to call the airline a certain number of hours before the flight to arrange your upgrade.  Don't delay in making that phone call.  Upgrade seats are limited, and once they're gone, you'll have to standby at the airport.
  • Most frequent flyer programs allow you to redeem points for a round trip upgrade from any published fare.
  • Redeem points for a free ticket in First/Business class.  Before doing so, compare the cost of buying a discounted ticket and redeeming points for an upgrade, with the number of points required for a free First/Business class ticket.  For example, a round trip seat sale ticket might cost $349, on top of which you could use 20,000 points for an upgrade award.  If the round trip Business Class fare is $2349, you are getting a benefit of 10 cents per point, an excellent benefit.  Compare that cost to using 40,000 points for a free ticket in Business Class, which gives you a benefit of 6 cents per point - still very good, but not as good as the first scenario.  One difference is that with the free Business Class ticket, you may not need to meet restrictions such as advance purchase, change penalties and minimum stay.  With the upgraded ticket, you still must abide by the fare restrictions of the seat sale ticket.
  • If you are traveling on a full fare coach ticket (e.g. your company is paying), consider paying the difference yourself for the upgrade.  Often Business Class does not cost much more than full fare coach, and a few extra dollars could go a long way for enjoying the flight.

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    I'm not an elite-level frequent flyer, I don't travel on full coach fares and I can't or don't want to use points for an upgrade.  Is a free upgrade still possible?
    Rarely.  The running joke at the airlines is that people expect to go to the car dealer, pay for a compact car, and drive away in a luxury vehicle at no additional cost.

  • Don't insist that you "deserve" an upgrade.  That's an almost guaranteed way not to get upgraded.
  • If the flight is relatively empty, your chances are slim.  Even though seats in Business Class may also be empty, the airlines don't usually upgrade people for no reason.
  • If the flight is full, your chances are better.  Airlines carefully plan how much they oversell flights, and their inventory departments are not upset if people need to be upgraded to accommodate everybody on the flight.  On a full flight therefore, sometimes the airlines must upgrade some people.  In this scenario, if you have a good story, you may be lucky.  Remember of course that Business Class may already be full from pre-booked elite-level frequent flyer upgrades.
  • If you're on your honeymoon, by all means tell the agent at the gate, and you may well be upgraded.  Please don't pretend you're on your honeymoon if you're not.  The airlines are already starting not to believe people who actually are on their honeymoon, because so many people try to use this tactic.
  • Volunteer to give up your seat if the flight is oversold.  Tell the agent that if they don't need your seat, but if they do need somebody to upgrade, you'll also be happy to volunteer for that.  Small chance, but worth a try.  If they end up needing your seat for someone else, ask whether you can be upgraded on the later flight.
  • If you have been inconvenienced by the airline, don't hesitate to ask for an upgrade.  Again, the airlines don't generally upgrade people for no reason, but if they have caused you a problem, that may be reason enough to upgrade you.
  • Don't wait until you're on board.  The flight attendants usually do not have the authority to upgrade people, because they don't know the details of your ticket.
  • It is highly unlikely that you'll be upgraded if you're traveling on a free frequent flyer reward ticket in Coach.  The airlines don't like it when people try to redeem only enough points for a coach ticket, and then try to sweet talk their way to an upgrade.  If you try this approach, you will often be the last person considered for upgrade.
  • Dress well and be polite.  If you show up in a suit and tie, you are far more likely to be upgraded than if you show up in ripped jeans.  Once I took a flight on an airline with which I don't often fly.  Although I'm a member of their frequent flyer program, I certainly don't have any elite status.  I arrived at the gate in a suit and tie.  All I asked was whether a seat further forward was available.  I did not even ask for an upgrade.  The  gate agent told me to wait a few minutes, and just before the flight departed she handed me a boarding pass for First Class.  Sometimes not asking for an upgrade is the best way to get one.

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    What's the deal with airline lounges?
    If you've never been to an airline lounge, you don't know what you're missing.  The lounge totally changes the airport experience - from one of madness and rushing around, to a relaxed, tranquil environment.  Usually the lounge offers comfortable seating, magazines and newspapers, snacks and beverages, business facilities, and personalized service from an airline agent.

    Each airline has their own rules for who can access the lounge, and you should check with your individual airline.  Some examples of who can access the lounge include:

  • Passengers traveling in full fare First Class.
  • Elite level frequent flyers.
  • Frequent flyers and others who have purchased an annual membership in the lounge.
  • Passengers who have paid for a one-time visit to the lounge (not allowed on all airlines).

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    What's the fastest way to checkin?
    Consider these options:

  • If you're an elite level frequent flyer, you may be able to checkin at First/Business class checkin.
  • Use an express checkin machine, if your airline offers that service.
  • Use web checkin, now offered by most major airlines.

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    Do you recommend advance seat selection?
    Absolutely.  The last thing you want is to be stuck in a middle seat near the toilet because you didn't pre-reserve a seat.  Advance seat selection offers you close to a guarantee that you won't be bumped off an oversold flight.  On the contrary, you may be one of the people who is available to volunteer to give up your seat in exchange for a credit note for future travel.  One word of caution - don't arrive at the gate too late.  At a certain time before the flight leaves, the gate agent will release all the advance seats to accommodate standby passengers.  The airline reserves the right to do so at a set time before departure (e.g. 15 minutes - check with your airline for details).  You may still get a seat on the flight, but it may be far less desirable than the one you had reserved.

    I recommend using www.seatguru.com to help choose the best available seat for you.

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    Tell me about the emergency exit row.
    An emergency exit row is a row adjacent to one of the aircraft's emergency exits.  Usually this row has more space before the row in front, so in an emergency it is easier for passengers to use the emergency exit.  As a corollary, many people like to sit in an emergency exit row because more legroom is available.  Anyone sitting in this row must be willing and able to open the emergency exit in case of emergency; therefore, children and handicapped persons are not assigned to these seats.

    When am I allowed to standby for a different flight than the one on my ticket?
    Normally you must follow the fare rules, but you may be excused from following the booking class requirement (i.e. that the change be made in a particular booking class) if you show up at the airport for standby.  Some pointers:

  • Many discounted fare tickets allow standby for earlier or later same day flights at no additional cost.  Make sure you read and print out the fare rules before buying the ticket!
  • When changing your return flight for a change fee, space must be available in the booking class of the original fare.  If space is not available, you are usually allowed to go to the airport and standby for the flight, even on a different day than originally ticketed, provided that you pay the change fee and don't violate the fare rules (e.g. minimum stay, maximum stay).
  • If you are traveling on a frequent flyer reward ticket, it may be very hard to make changes through reservations, since reward space is usually quite limited.  Since the rules of the reward tickets usually allow changes without penalty, you might consider standing by at the airport on a different day than ticketed, even if the reward space is not available when you call.  At the last minute, the airline may give you one of the remaining seats on the aircraft.  I guarantee neither that the airline will let you standby, nor that a seat will be available if you do.  Nevertheless, some people have had success with this method.
  • If you are traveling on a Coach ticket (reward or revenue), the airline is under no obligation to give you a free upgrade to First or Business class just because you're on standby. You are only standing by for a seat in the class of service for which you are ticketed. Furthermore, the airline is under no obligation to upgrade another passenger to make room for you in Coach, even if it means that the flight leaves with empty seats in First/Business class.

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    I'm traveling on two separate tickets.  Why won't the airline check my bags through to my destination?
     
     
    City Pair Ticket
    AAA to BBB #1
    BBB to CCC #2
    CCC to BBB #2
    BBB to AAA #1

    At the airport AAA, you want your bags checked through to CCC.  If ticket #1 and ticket #2 are separate tickets, international air conventions do not require that the airline check your bags all the way through.  View ticket #1 as a contract to fly you from AAA to BBB.  No part of the contract requires that your bags be checked through to CCC.  You may have to claim your bags at BBB and checkin again.

    Note:  I am not talking about an end-on-end combination, in which different fares are used on the same physical ticket.  I am talking about two separate physical tickets (or separately issued electronic tickets).

    Caution:  Sometimes it is cheaper to buy two separate tickets as in this example than to buy a ticket all the way through from AAA to CCC.  You are cautioned not only that your bags may not be checked through to CCC, but also that if the flight from AAA to BBB is delayed such that you miss your flight to CCC, the airline flying AAA to BBB may not be responsible for any costs you incur, including changing the ticket to CCC for a later flight.  The separate ticket is a separate contract.  Please remember these facts when buying separate tickets.

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    I had to wait so long in line that I missed my flight.
    You are responsible for arriving at the airport early enough to allow time for checkin.  The airlines are usually very good at accommodating people on later flights in this situation, but they do not accept responsibility for your missing your flight.  If you are traveling on a holiday like Thanksgiving weekend, you must arrive at the airport early.  On such busy days even the priority/first-class checkin line can be very long.

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    Can I use a ticket for airline A to travel on airline B?
    In the simplest case, airline A would have to "endorse" the ticket to airline B.  Doing so would authorize airline B to collect the value of that leg of the ticket from the ticket clearinghouse (all tickets go to a clearinghouse after they're used to sort out payments).

    Airline A may choose not to endorse the ticket, and generally they are under no obligation to do so.  If a flight is canceled on airline A, they may agree to endorse the ticket to airline B to keep the customer happy.  Some consolidator fare tickets are marked "non-endorsable", meaning that airline A could not endorse the ticket to airline B even if they wanted to do so.

    Pairs and families of airlines have adopted some agreements in which tickets can be used on member airlines without endorsement.  The rules of these agreements are very complex, and constantly changing.  Some factors include which airline issued the ticket (who has the money?), whether the ticket is full coach fare or discounted, and which route is involved.

    What is the bottom line?  Walk up to the counter at airline B, show them your ticket, and ask them if they'll honor it.  If they have an agreement whereby they will be paid without an endorsement, they may be willing to accept your ticket.  Needless to say, you have less flexibility with an electronic ticket.

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