How I scored a free business class upgrade

14 January 2017

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Every time I fly to and from Australia (or anywhere for that matter) I’m always secretly hoping that the airline will give me a cheeky free upgrade, and it finally happened on my Qatar Airways flight from Sydney to Doha a few months ago.

There are so many myths published online about how you can get that illusive free upgrade. The truth is there is no definitive way. There were a few factors that contributed to my update so I thought I’d share them with you to give you an idea of the the things that actually help in getting an upgrade and the things that don’t make a difference.

There was an issue with my original seat

I’d selected my economy seat online after booking the flight and checked in at the airport with no problems. However, when it came time to board at the gate, my boarding pass was scanned and an error flashed up on the screen saying “Seat issue”. The same thing happened to another lady in front of me in the queue. Her seat was in the row behind mine so I assumed there must have been issue with a few seats in that part of the plane that meant they couldn’t be used. The Qatar Airways staff member who was checking people in asked us to take a seat while they sorted out the problem.

While we sat there waiting I was just hoping that I wouldn’t be re-assigned to a dreaded middle seat somewhere else on the plane. I was elated when the staff member returned and handed me a new boarding pass, informing me that I’d been upgraded to business class.

I was a oneworld Sapphire member

Even though the other lady had been ahead of me in the queue for boarding, I was the one to be issued a new boarding pass first. I attribute this to being a Sapphire member in the oneworld frequent flyer program which Qatar Airways is a part of. I didn’t get to ask the lady if she was a member of oneworld or Qatar Airways Privilege Club, but the fact that they looked after me first suggests that I must have had a higher status than she did and that they value their frequent flyers.

I had paid for business class flights with Qatar Airways previously

Earlier in the year I had paid for my own business class tickets from Oslo to Sydney return with Qatar Airways (this is what got me 90% of the way to oneworld Sapphire status). Even though I’m not a member of Qatar Airways Privilege Club (their own frequent flyer program), they could see that most of my tier points had been earned by flying with them. Brand loyalty is key.

It was a busy flight

This flight was departing Sydney on a Saturday evening so it was quite busy with lots of people setting off on holiday. I even bumped into a friend at the gate, he was travelling to Rome and neither of us realised we would be on the same flight to Doha.

Had there been more available seats in economy its likely Qatar Airways would have moved me to a different seat instead of giving me an upgrade.

I was travelling alone

The seat I was assigned in business class was a single seat by the window in the back row. I suspect I got the last available seat in business class so if I was travelling with my partner or a group of people I might have missed out.

I didn’t have a special meal request

Luckily I don’t have any special dietary requirements so there was no issue with me changing seats at the last minute. I think this one depends on the airline. Some airlines will serve your economy meal in business class if you have requested something different but I’ve also heard other cases where this has been refused.

I didn’t dress up for the flight

I’ve read plenty of articles where they say you should dress the part if you want to be upgraded to business class. I arrived at the gate wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t think I looked too shabby but I wouldn’t say I was particularly well dressed either. I’m certain the clothes I was wearing had no impact on me getting the upgrade. Since it was an overnight flight most people in business class changed into their pyjamas soon after take off anyway.

Have you ever received a free upgrade? I’d love to hear about your experiences!



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