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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Join the air's upper class

Old, male and smartly dressed. That's what you have to be to trade your economy class airline seat for the luxuries of first class, according to a new survey. BBC News Online looks at the rules of the "bump up" game.

Want to sample the jet set's pampered champagne lifestyle on a Bulgarian house wine budget?

Sir Richard Branson
Upgrade: It could be you
Travellers will not be surprised to hear suited men over 50 stand the best chance of having their economy air tickets upgraded to a business or first class seat.

More than two-thirds of flyers aged between 50 and 64 have been "bumped up", the survey which quizzed customers of the six largest travel agents and the Heathrow Express train, found.

If you don't happen to be approaching your half century, or have the misfortune of being a woman, is there anything you can do to escape "cattle" class without shelling out for the privilege?


Ask, nicely

Sir Richard Branson
Try to dress like a businessman
Odd as it may seem, actually asking for an upgrade can put you in the running for those bigger seats nearer the pilot.

Making your case politely at the check-in desk, to the most authoritative-looking person around, may have the desired effect if there is a "cabin roll" operation in process.

Many airlines overbook flights, relying on the excess passengers cancelling before departure. If economy class fills up, while upper class seats remain empty, you may hit the jackpot.


Stand out from the crowd

Your request for an upgrade will have a more sympathetic hearing if you look the part.

Noel Coward
"Can I have an aisle seat?"
No need for top hat and tails, but aiming for the smarter end of "smart casual" will mark you out as a candidate to join the suits up front.

A blazer isn't half as important as a frequent flyer card, though. Notching up 30,000 air miles in a year will generally put you at the head of the queue.

Paying full whack for your economy class ticket will also put you at an advantage. The thrift of discount ticket holders is generally rewarded with a raft of restrictions and a "no upgrades" policy.


Plan ahead

Although you shouldn't always count on your plush seat until your bottom actually touches it, it can pay to get the ball rolling early.

Join the upper class
Dress smartly
Be a frequent flyer or pay full fare
Ask when buying the ticket or (politely) at the check-in
Ensuring your ticket carries a VIP , a pre-authorisation for upgrade or the SFU (suitable for upgrade) code, can make all the difference at the check-in desk.

Cultivating a friend at the airline, or asking your travel agent to chase up a better seat can land you in this almost-privileged clique.


Get married

Chancellor Gordon Brown and wife Sarah
"We don't mind sitting apart, if that helps."
The UK's prudent chancellor, Gordon Brown, decided not to splash out on first class airfares for his recent honeymoon.

Fortunately, the airline in question whisked the newlyweds from their (full price) economy seats, to the business section. An upgrade worth more than 5,000.

This may not have been a publicity stunt on the part of the carrier, many couples fresh from the chapel win upgrades, said travel agent Bob Mortimore.

"I'd say you've got a 30% chance of an upgrade on honeymoon."

Ben Ainslie
"Can I go up to see the pilot as well?"
However, with spare seats increasingly rare, travelling alone is widely regarded as the best option for would-be upgradees. Taking the kids? Forget it.

Or:Win a gold medal

Sailor Ben Ainslie's recent Olympic glory was capped off by an upgrade on the gruelling flight home from Sydney.


Cross your fingers

Airlines are loath to discuss upgrades, fearing hordes of power dressed economy passengers will descend on check-in desks demanding a posh seat.

However, travel lore suggests you should:

  • Check in late, then make a fuss if no cheap seats are left.

  • Agree to be "bumped" off a full flight, in the hope your delay will be sweetened with an upgrade.

Or:

  • Flirt with the check-in staff.

Of course, there's really only way to ensure the leg room, free papers and massages which go with upper class travel. Pay for it.

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | Business
The height of luxury
03 Oct 00 | UK
Airline food: On the up?
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