This Is the Best Time to Ask for a Flight Upgrade

Updated: Nov. 30, 2023

Don't give up on getting a paid upgrade. Just use these tips.

Picture this: you’re about to sit on a long flight. As you’re waiting to board, you can’t help but think about the hours you’ll be cramped into your middle seat, just longing to get to your destination—even if there are plenty of ways to make flying economy feel like first class.

Then, all of a sudden, a notification pops up on your phone. As you read it over, you can feel joy and relief instantly rush over you.

You’ve been officially upgraded to first class. All because you made sure to do these few things before your flight took off. And equally as important, when you did them.
While you’re at it, check out the guide to get into the best airport lounges.

What are flight upgrades?

To upgrade on a flight, a passenger can move from a lower class to a higher one. Whether moving from economy class to first class, business class to first class or economy class to business class, an upgrade can certainly be a nice perk to ease a long plane ride.

However, as much as travelers may want them, upgrades are not always easy to access, even if there are stories out there of free upgrades being given based on airline dress codes.

Oftentimes, to get an upgrade passengers need to pay, use flier miles or be frequent fliers with elite status. If you are willing to pay for an upgrade, though, there are optimal times to ask for one.

When are the best times to ask for a flight upgrade?

The key to purchasing an upgrade—either using miles or cash—is doing so in advance. The sooner, the better. Initially, passengers can contact their airline post-booking a flight to check for any paid upgrade availability.

The next best option is to ask at the check-in desk of your flight. If all else fails, don’t give up just yet! There are almost always passengers in business or first class who fail to make their flight.

Therefore, before a flight starts boarding, you can check with a gate agent to see if this scenario is playing out on your flight. And if so, tell them that you’re interested in paying for an upgrade. For a final try, if that also fails, you can ask the lead flight attendant or flight attendant at the boarding door.

Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant and travel expert, emphasizes that “you should ask prior to door closure, but don’t be surprised if they don’t move you until after you’re in the air if they’re going to grant your request.”

What happens if I do get a paid upgrade?

If you get a paid upgrade, don’t expect to be bumped up to first or business class, necessarily. Most of the time, these upgrades may just take you to economy-plus. However, if a passenger notices an open economy-plus seat and asks to pay for it, they’re golden if the following happens.

“Standard procedure is to wait until the door closes to see if everybody shows up for the flight. If the seat is available,” Susan Fogwell, a former flight attendant, said to Travel + Leisure, “the passenger pays for the upgrade on the flight.”

Thus, the next time you fly—if you’re willing to pay—it may end up being more cozy and enjoyable than you expect.


  • Travel + Leisure: “The Best Time to Ask for a Flight Upgrade, According to Flight Attendants”