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How to get an upgrade on Qantas

by Christopher O'Keeffe June 26, 2018 6 Comments

How to get an upgrade on Qantas

7 new things to know about getting an upgrade on Qantas

I must confess that I am the first person to click on an any online article promising to hold the secrets of how to achieve a flight upgrade, yet every time that I do, I invariably find myself thinking that the author is really just rehashing the same commonsense advice that I have read many times before, namely:

  • Be a Frequent Flyer
  • Dress smartly
  • Be friendly to the check-in staff
  • Mention an important occasion
  • Travel alone
  • Arrive early
  • Pick your time; and 
  • Bid for an upgrade (if invited)

Admittedly, these are all very sensible suggestions, as the chance of your being magically whisked through the curtain into business while sporting a Bintang singlet are pretty slim.

For this reason, I thought that I would share with you some of the different ways that I myself have managed to make the leap from one cabin to another over the years. The following are, I hope, different to, or at least a deeper exploration of the standard advice. All of the following recommendations have resulted in a successful upgrade and you will hopefully find something you can try the next time you fly.

Also, I should be clear that the airlines I am familiar with are British Airways, Singapore Airlines and, in particular, Qantas. So whilst many of my suggestions will be applicable to any airline they are specifically related to Qantas.

1. Request an in-flight seat reallocation from the customer service manager:

I have read a couple of blogs suggesting that one way to get an upgrade is to ask for a seat re-allocation once on board, possibly citing being seated next to a crying baby as reason for the move, and then, hopefully, if there are no other seats in economy you might be moved forward into business.

In my opinion these posts omit the most important piece of information, which is that if you are going to ask to be moved then you must first request to speak to the customer service manager; for as far as I am concerned the customer service manager is more important than the pilot - the pilot only flies the plane whilst the customer service manager can make magic happen.

My experience of this was on a Qantas flight from Singapore to Sydney; my online request for an upgrade had been unsuccessful so I boarded the plane having resigned myself to 9 hours in economy. As I sat down in my economy seat thinking that the drinks service could not start soon enough a plastic bag landed on my head, and then the back of my seat was hit by what I thought could only have been a small rhinoceros. It turns out that it was not a rhinoceros but a small child with unnaturally long and powerful legs.

The plane having left the ground, I decided that I might as well ask to be moved, as anywhere else was preferable to where I was. So I flagged down a passing steward and asked to speak to the customer service manager. The customer service manager soon appeared asking if there was anything he could do to be of help. I explained that I completely understood how difficult it was to fly with children (as it turns out I did not, as being childless at the time I had no concept of how stressful it is to fly with a little person), I then asked if it was at all possible for him move me anywhere else in the cabin, I did not mind where. After politely listening to my request he disappeared behind the magic curtain and a few short minutes later an arm appeared from between the curtain with a finger beckoning me forward into business class. I was shown to a seat, bought a glass of bubbly, apologised to for my bad experience and offered the choice of anything I might like in the in-flight duty free magazine by way of recompense. Later as I drifted off to sleep, tucked up in my bed, I decided that Qantas and, in particular customer service managers were amazing!

I should add the caveat that at the time I was a Gold Frequent Flyer so this may have helped in the decision to upgrade me once the wheels had left the tarmac. I am the first to admit that asking to be moved does not always work, as when on a Hawaiian Airlines flight the little rhinoceros was back with a vengeance, and on this occasion when I asked to be moved I was met with a flat refusal, However, I believe on that occasion I neglected to request the assistance of the customer service manager - probably due to the fact that I may have been suffering from whiplash at the time.

So, what you should take away from this is that if you have a special request to make about anything on the plane, ask to speak to the customer service manager as they are there to make sure you are looked after and they have the authority to effect an upgrade.

2. Offer to take a later flight if an upgrade is available: 

Another way I have successfully found to get an upgrade is to simply ask for one when you check-in. When this worked for me I was travelling alone, had no checked luggage, was reasonably smartly dressed and phrased my request as an offer to help rather than rather a request for an upgrade; I indicated that I would be happy to give up my seat if there was the possibility of an upgrade on a later flight. To my delight, the Qantas check-in staff member thanked me for the offer and yes if I did not mind heading over to Perth International I could have a business class seat on the 747 that was heading over to Sydney a couple of hours later than my booked flight.

The problem with this suggestion I am finding nowadays is that for it to work you really need to be able to talk to a member of check-in staff but with the introduction of self-service check-ins it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. So unless you are a Platinum or Gold frequent flyer you will not be able to access the Business Class check-in line, particularly since Qantas has recently started to actively screen the eligibility of passengers attempting to use the Business Class check-in before even reaching the counter.

One option I would therefore suggest is to consider joining the Qantas Club as membership allows you to use the Business Class check-in. Whilst the initial cost of a Qantas Club membership can be quite high as there is a joining fee on top of the yearly membership, some credit cards are now waiving the joining fee if you purchase your membership with the card such as the new ANZ Frequent Flyer Black Card saving you $475, you also receive 75,000 Qantas Points, which is always nice especially when there is no card fee for the first year.

3. Collect frequent flyer points for pre-departure upgrade requests: 

Using points to request an upgrade is not a free upgrade but it is definitely the best bang for your buck for your frequent flyer points, as you generally only need half as many points for an upgrade as you do than if you were using your points to purchase a classic rewards business class ticket outright. For example, 16,000 points rather than 32,000 for a business class Sydney to Perth ticket with Qantas.

I have found that if you can book far enough out, say 6 months plus prior to your departure date and you place your request for an upgrade at the same time then it is often the case that you will obtain an immediate invitation to confirm your upgrade by accepting the points transfer. If you do not receive an immediate response your upgrade request will stay in Qantas’ system till up to 24 hours prior to your departure. 

With the many ways that there are for you to earn points: credit cards, Woolworths Rewards, certain insurance products etc.… there is no reason not to be building a good stash of points. In fact, this month I joined Qantas Epiqure, their wine and gourmet food online shop, as last month (June 2017) they had end of financial year offers where you could earn 15,000+ Qantas Points for buying a case of wine, the best offer currently is 8,5000 points for a $22.50 Shiraz x 12. So, you buy some decent wine and earn enough points to request a business class upgrade, that is the sort of shopping I could get on board with. For this reason I joined their Premium Membership for $99, which came with 3000 bonus points, free shipping on all orders and a faster points per dollar spent earn rate of 3 to 1 - my first case arrived last Sunday and I could not be happier. This is all part of my new plan to drink my way around the world.

4. Access the Qantas Club and ask for a domestic on-departure upgrade:

If you have not received confirmation from Qantas that you upgrade request has been successful and it is now less than 24 hours before departure then it is very likely that it is not going to happen, so what now? This is when having access to the Qantas Club gives you one last roll of the dice; as what you can do is go up to the service desk in the club and ask for a domestic on-departure upgrade, this also works if you are a Platinum frequent flyer and can access the Business Class lounge. 

I cannot count the number of times this has resulted in an upgrade for me - a lot is all I can say! My best advice is try to get to the lounge early as this seems to be pretty much a 'first in best dressed policy', with a window of opportunity of between 3 hours to 20 minutes before the scheduled flight departure.

Also, whist skimming over the Qantas website to fact check my info I came across something of which I was unaware - Qantas Club members and Platinum and Gold Frequent Flyers can also choose to request domestic on departure upgrades at domestic check-in-kiosks, availability permitting, when travelling by themselves; this has given me a greater appreciation for the check-in-kiosks about which I had not previously warmed to.

If you do not travel often enough to be able to justify a Qantas Club membership then holding one of the ANZ Frequent Fly Black cards might be a good option as it comes with two complimentary lounge invitations a year.

5. Try to fly Premium Economy rather than Economy on long haul international:

If possible spring for Premium Economy, as it is more likely that an airline will upgrade from Premium Economy to Business than from normal Economy to Business, especially if they have to change planes at the last moment.

This happened to me on a Qantas flight from Sydney to London when I received a call from out of the blue letting me know that because they had to change planes and the new 747 did not have a Premium Economy cabin they would have to upgrade me to Business. These are the sort of unexpected phone calls I am always happy to receive.

Also, what was interesting was that as I had not been expecting this free upgrade, and I had previously put in an upgrade request I thought maybe I could use those points to move even further forward. So, I phoned customer service to ask if I could use the 124,000 points that I had earmarked for the original upgrade from Premium Economy to Business to now upgrade from Business to First, the response however was a firm but polite no. So, it looks as if you cannot upgrade a free upgrade using points.

My logic had also been that if I did not get the upgrade then Premium Economy was still going to be a more comfortable travelling experience than economy and the price jump from one to the other was not massive. As it happened, on the way back I did not get my requested upgrade and came home Premium Economy, but that turned out to be a memorable flight as I learnt how to have the cabin crew serve me my own wine, but that is a story for another time.

6. Frequent Flyer Programs – Not all platinum cards are equal

The more loyal to an airline you are and the more money you spend with them then the nicer they are to you. Now whilst this might appear to be stating the obvious, as if an airline is going to bestow a free upgrade on anyone it makes sense that it is going to do so for their biggest spenders. However, I thought it would be worthwhile exploring the fact that not every airline is as willing to upgrade their top tier passengers as others.

So, if you travel for business on the company’s dollar in the pointy end of the plane earning status points and shiny loyalty cards during the year but in the back of the plane for the family holiday, it would be nice to know that your airline of choice will try to look after you in your time of need.

Where am I going with this? Well I know from personal experience that British Airways will upgrade their Executive Club Gold members much more frequently than Singapore Airlines will a PPS Solitaire member. During the 2000s I flew a lot with both airlines and I can say that if I travelled with British Airways five times in economy then at least on three of those five occasions the check-in staff member would smile, apologize for the economy class cabin being full and they would have to move me into business or from business to first. The most extreme example of this was when they upgraded myself and five other family members from economy to business on a Singapore to London flight. I was left with a very warm fuzzy feeling towards BA after that flight.

In comparison getting an upgrade on Singapore Airlines was like getting blood from a stone; in 10 years it happened just once. Instead what SQ will do is block out a seat next to you in economy, which, do not get me wrong, was always very nice but it's not business class.

Because of that, if I had to choose between BA or SQ and I was flying economy then I would always choose to fly BA as the chance of an upgrade was infinitely higher.

So, whilst you may not find out how inclined your airline of choice is to dish out upgrades until you reach a higher status I can say that in my experience BA and Qantas have been much more likely to upgrade than Singapore.

7. Does having a title improve your chance of an upgrade?

I thought I would end on a lighter note which is that I was reading in another blog that ministers, judges and doctors may be more likely to receive a free upgrade than your untitled passenger. Now I cannot speak for ministers or judges but my wife is a doctor and in 10 years of travelling has not once received a free upgrade, so I am dubious about this theory.

However, what I am thinking is that maybe what you need is a really impressive title, possibly a Lordship, and with that in mind I am considering buying one and changing the title on my Frequent Flyer profile to see if this works. Joking aside there is  a wonderful gift idea I came across which I wanted to share with you which is that you can buy a tiny plot of land in Scotland for $54.00 AUD and you subsequently have the legal right to adopt the title of Laird, Lord or Lady - you can find out more on their website https://www.highlandtitles.com/.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog and I very much encourage you to share your own experiences of upgrades, what worked for you and any questions you might have in the comments section below.

May the wind be at your back and a glass of bubbly in your hand!  





Christopher O'Keeffe
Christopher O'Keeffe

Author


6 Responses

Sir Kenneth Roberts
Sir Kenneth Roberts

July 23, 2018

Most interesting clues I shall use to see if I can upgrade for my flight Brisbane to Guadalajara and return commencing on August 5th 2018. Have been a Platinum FF member when working, but after retirement was arbitrarily down graded to Lifetime Silver member. Am using this flight to celebrate attaining my 80th birthday at the end of July and hopefully shall receive the three times FF Points Award promised.
Many thanks
Sir Kenneth Roberts

Christopher O'Keeffe
Christopher O'Keeffe

July 06, 2017

I have tracked down the book I was telling Carol about, it is called Air Mail: Letters from the World’s Most Troublesome Passenger and you can pick up a copy from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Air-Mail-Letters-Troublesome-Passenger/dp/1843172798 it is a truly brilliant read!

Christopher O'Keeffe
Christopher O'Keeffe

July 06, 2017

Hi Carol,
I am very sorry to hear that Qantas did not look after you properly, I think it may be worth writing a letter addressed to Allan Joyce letting him know about your experience and asking if there is anything he can do to make up for it. Now whilst I do not believe Allan Joyce will deal with the letter personally his PA might and they would have some serious clout. The reason I think this is worth a shot is that there is a brilliant book called Air Mail, written by an English comedian, Terry Ravenscroft, the premise of the book is that the writer wrote letters to airlines complaining about some aspect of a fictitious trip and during the following correspondence his letters would become more and more outrageous until the airline would stop responding. It is one of the funniest things I have ever read and will try to track a link down to it. But the reason I mention this is that it gave a brilliant insight into how different airlines approached customer retention. Out of all the airlines he wrote to British Airways was the only one to offer to buy him a new pair of shoes and the fact that he started by writing to the chairman seemed to result in a very quick resolution, so this might be worth a shot.

Christopher O'Keeffe
Christopher O'Keeffe

July 06, 2017

Hi Tony,
Thank you very much for your comment, I was not aware that Qantas would pick higher tiered Frequent Flyers from a lower cabin and skip them through Premium straight into Business rather than upgrade the lower tiered Premium Economy passengers. Though I think I saw something similar on a flight from London to Singapore once when the passenger in front of me had their Economy ticket replaced with a First class boarding pass at the gate – he did have a gold Executive Club bag tag hanging off his carry on so that was probably the reason. I loved your upgrade on Virgin, jumping Business all the way to First is awesome, the only time I got bumped to First, I was suffering from a cracking hangover from a works leaving party the night before and could not face the hair of the dog, so did not really make the most of my windfall.

Carol Moreland
Carol Moreland

July 06, 2017

Interesting yet my experience with Qantas is near on 180* different. Just asking for as much leg room as possible (I’m 6’6") and they put me in center seat with entertainment control box under seat in front of me so I don’t even have minimal leg room. When I have asked for relocation because adult (?) in front of me kept shoving their seat back into my knees – they relocated them to business because he couldn’t lay his seat back as my knees were 100 mm into the back of his seat even after he was relocated. Hint to Qantas if they had relocated me he could have payed his seat back and I would not still be telling everyone how poor QF service is. I am Silver FF and my partner is Gold with Qantas Club membership which makes no difference. Why do I fly Qantas? Not because they are good yet better than other options at the time. I used to be a QF loyal until I noted how they repay that loyalty.

Tony Lloyd
Tony Lloyd

July 06, 2017

Hi Christopher
I like you always choose to fly internationally in Premium Economy ( mainly Qantas ) because if I dont gt my requested upgrade then Premium Economy is not too bad . However your comment about upgrades ( with Qantas ) is not exactly true . Upgrades to Business from Economy or Premium Economy are chosen in status order . In other words a Silver member in Economy will get an upgrade before a Bronze member in Premium Economy . Its just that the upgrade from Economy will cost you more points than an upgrade from Premium Economy . All your other points are spot on . My wife and I once got an upgrade to 1st class on Virgin Atlantic when we complaned about being seated separately in Premium Economy on the first leg on our flight home from London . The only way they could seat us together was in 1st Class . We certainly enjoyed the unexpected French Champagne !! . Enjoyed reading your article . Happy travelling

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