No, These Two Words (Probably) Won’t Score You An Upgrade On Your Flight

Filed Under: Advice

All the time we see advice in the mainstream media about how to score an upgrade on a flight, and 99% of it is complete garbage. “Dress nicely and try to schmooze the agent at the check-in counter.” Yeah, no. The latest such advice comes from a Bloomberg article entitled “The Two Words That Will Help Get an Airline Upgrade Over the Phone.” Several readers brought this to my attention and asked if there’s any merit to the advice.

This is part of a Bloomberg Pursuits series called “Distinguished Travel Hackers.” The person they are interviewing is a best-selling author of more than a dozen novels, Tilly Bagshawe, who claims to fly about 100,000 miles per year, primarily between London and Los Angeles.

In it she shares her “insider secret to scoring an upgrade with miles,” which is “just two little words.” She says she has pretty much had a 100% success rate with this method. Here’s her advice:

We have never bought an upper-class seat; if ever we’ve flown anywhere up front, we’ve used miles to upgrade from economy. If you want to do that, call reservations and drop the name “revenue management.” The reason is that revenue management’s job is to make sure a flight is profitable, so they’re the ones telling [reservation agents] what they can say; they’re like Flying Club’s boss. Not everyone knows that this department exists, and by mentioning it you reveal yourself as someone who knows how things work and understands how seats are released. Say to the agent: ‘Have revenue management released any first-class seats for miles upgrades yet?’ When they say no, ask them to check or just be put through to revenue management so you can ask when they will release some, as well as how many seats are left. Politely respond like this: ‘You have 20 seats unsold?  Why aren’t you releasing them?’ Often by the end of the conversation they say, ‘OK, we’ll release one for you,’ or they might tell you to call back tomorrow. Doing that, we’ve had a pretty much 100 percent success rate.

Okay, so you’re supposed to name drop revenue management, and that leads to a near 100% upgrade rate? Yes, nothing quite reveals you as an “insider” like flying Virgin Atlantic and asking if revenue management has opened up any first class upgrade seats (Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have first class — their top cabin is business class/Upper Class). 😉

So, is there any merit at all to this advice? Yes(ish), but not in the way that the person above is suggesting. Indeed, revenue/inventory management is the department in charge of making upgrade seats available. However:

  • At most airlines, consumers can’t speak directly to revenue management, and at many airlines even reservations agents can’t speak directly to revenue management, but rather can only email them or submit a request in another way
  • Reservations agents don’t have the ability to open upgrade seats
  • At most airlines, reservations agents can’t easily see whether any upgrade or award seats have been made available previously; they can see what’s available now, and they could go back and look at the records of those who have already booked in that cabin (but they’re unlikely to do that for someone who is calling), but typically they can’t see how many seats have been released in each “bucket” up until that point

So as presented, I think the advice is BS, but there is some general merit to knowing revenue management’s role. Why? Because revenue management is in charge of upgrade seats, and at some airlines there are (or have) been opportunities to “ping” them:

  • If you waitlist an award ticket at Singapore Airlines, reservations agents do have the ability to submit another request for revenue management to review a waitlist, which will sometimes lead to it being cleared
  • Back in the day, American would submit requests to revenue management, especially for top tier Executive Platinum flyers, though they don’t do that much anymore

There are rare instances where knowing about revenue management can be useful. But “revenue management” isn’t the magic two word phrase that will score you a seat up front, and suggesting that would work nearly 100% of the time is like suggesting that dressing up will score you an upgrade nearly 100% of the time.

  1. Lucky, and tiffany we need to talk.

    There are other blogs sure but I come to OMAAT to be entertained. So don’t turn into the other blogs.

    Now I would like a refill on my dom.

  2. Nothing gets more clicks on an article than creating the illusion that there is a secret hidden magic potion or “trick” that you can use to flawlessly get out-sized value out of something for free. Shame on Bloomberg for the click bait.

  3. So I think this individual might be correct, but not for everyone, if this person does fly 100k a year on VS, then they would most likely be a Gold Elite, I would assume that VS would be more willing to open up space for a top tier flyer than just an average Joe with no status

  4. By publishing and bragging about her useless bit of information on scoring an upgrade she did nothing but guarantee that neither she, a VS reservations agent, or the general public will NEVER get to speak directly with VS Revenue Management in the future. In the future the little princess can haul her sorry ass to the back of the bus with the rest of us, or she can purchase an upgrade or use miles.

  5. As an airline RM person, I can tell you that these requests are basically useless (and you all know that). The job of RM is to maximize revenue on every flight by using the tools/models available to them to properly forecast each flight. Opening up award seats/upgrade inventory outside of your forecast because somebody is requesting one will most certainly dilute your revenue on that flight. “Goodwill” actions like this don’t work well when your superiors ask about them.

    You have a better chance of getting an upgrade by bringing chocolates for the crew since there is no record of on-board upgrades in the res system

  6. I know people who follow these silly mainstream upgrade ‘tricks’ religiously and of course it never works for them.
    I had one friend who was a travel agent (!) and was going on a group work trip flying CX to go and view hotels in China and assumed that because it was a group of like 12 travel agents, that CX would automatically upgrade all of them despite them being on discounted industry tickets (I’m guessing there wasn’t even 12 J seats available). He dressed up in ridiculously uncomfortable shiny dress shoes because he said ‘if you’re going to fly Business Class you need to dress the part’ (like I was some moron who didn’t even know what a premium cabin was) and would arrive at the airport before check-in even opened because ‘that’s when they give out the upgrades’ (apparently). He even thought joining their FF program (lowest tier, 0 miles, having never credited a flight to them) would greatly increase his chance. Needless to say he has never been upgraded. I’ve tried to explain to him that the flight would need to be oversold in Y so he would need to use expertflyer to check loads and fare buckets etc and the upgrade order would start with the highest members of their FF program on the most expensive flexible tickets and then so on and so on and so on. Nicely dressed travel agents on discounted tickets checking in in large groups early on flights that aren’t even full are wayyyyyy down the list.
    I must admit a slight smugness when I headed off to the airport on a trip and he commented that I was dressed quite nicely and I told him that was because I’d actually booked Business Class.

  7. “Just call and name drop revenue management” lmao, sounds more like a desperate freshman girl trying to get into frat parties

  8. @Ben (not lucky the other one). Hmm well you see smugness is never attractive. Your friend did nothing wrong though did he? And in certain circumstances, presenting well might just make all the difference as to who gets the elusive upgrade. And he was completely sensible in joining the F/F scheme for example – it could help in some circumstances. Last year flying LHR to JFK I was in an empty J cabin with a friend in coach. I was happily chatting to the senior cabin crew member and mentioned I had a friend in coach – I didn’t ask for anything, I just replied to a pleasant enquiry as to whether I was travelling alone. Next thing my friend (who was very nicely dressed) was sitting next to me in the empty seat about 45 minutes into the flight. The moral is therefore, be pleasant, be clean and tidy and have realistic expectations.

  9. She believes her advice to be sound because her requests for upgrades undoubtedly happened as she described them, but she attributed her success to two wrong words. Her purportedly 100% upgrades success rate and even her ability to speak with “revenue management” are due these two words: ‘Tilly Bagshawe’ aka ‘Star Power’.

  10. Ok that is totally BS. I work in RM for an US airline and that is not how it works. We never talk to reservations. The only people we talk to outside of RM are gate agents on the front line. They can basically tell us a flight is overbooked and to close off later flights so that overbookings don’t cascade throughout the day.

    Saying “Revenue Management” to a reservations agent seems more like a scare tactic than anything else.

  11. I did once have a UA lounge agent call RM, through another supervisor of course, to request opening up a seat on a sold out flight in order to help a stranded foreign teenager exchange student. I flew with the young lady into IAD and our flight was delayed so she missed her connection to Dublin and ultimately Milan. She almost made a flight to Rome (her father was willing to drive down and get her if that was what it took) but just missed it due to the fact she had checked luggage (and they tried really hard to find it). She would have had to stay overnight by herself as Europe flights were all leaving for the evening. I took her into the lounge for help and the agent was able to get a seat opened up on a flight through London after about 30 minutes of trying to get it done with RM. It CAN be done, but obviously with much trouble and for much more important reasons than just wanting an upgrade!

  12. @Evan – my smugness was only in response to the way he would treat me when explaining ‘how you need to dress if you expect to fly J’ as if I was some moron who didn’t know what a premium cabin was (let alone how to behave in one), while all the time I was purchasing Lifemiles and flying J and F regularly. Yes dressing nicely and joining their FF program might have moved him 1 or 2 people up the list but shouldn’t a travel agent understand about loads, fare buckets, upgrade order based on fare code and status tier etc?

  13. Onboard upgrades by cabin crew aren’t always fair. Example, dad was seated in biz. Lots of open seats. Shortly after takeoff, he asked if wife & 2 small children could come forward. FA said okay. Aer_Lingus business class went fm peaceful to rambunctious. No longer possible to sleep as youngest was stressed/screaming. 3 random upgraded pax were sitting forward for FREE and taking away all inflight solitude for others. 🙁

  14. The jig is up … now, every Tom, Dick and Harry will go around throwing these terms!!! It’s hard enough to get one seat in premium let alone 4 for this here family!

    @Boris, you’re too funny LOL – I guess I am lucky enough that my wife almost always tells me that she and the kids will be fine in economy due to their size and to only worry about myself getting a premium seat. She only cares about lounge access on the return legs which can be remedied with the many Priority Pass offers out there.

  15. @Ben ” and would arrive at the airport before check-in even opened because ‘that’s when they give out the upgrades’ (apparently). ”

    Some airlines like Air India and JAL offer paid upgrades upon availability starting when check-in opens. Your best bet in this case is to do it from a remote check-in site before arriving at the airport if this is an option. But I agree no way is a group of 12 on a FAM trip going to get free upgrades as a whole.

  16. The only time I ever bring up revenue management is with AA to make a request with RM to open award availability on a short domestic leg (i.e. DCA-ORD, DCA-JFK) to complete an international premium award ticket, and that has about a 50% success rate.

  17. Hey I’m sitting here in the AA lounge in Buenos Aires. Gonna get on the phone right now to revenue management and score me an upgrade. Also will ask for a pony as my birthday is tomorrow.

  18. “Yes, nothing quite reveals you as an “insider” like flying Virgin Atlantic and asking if revenue management has opened up any first class upgrade seats (Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have first class)”

    This one made my day 😀

  19. ugh just pay for the damn seat or stick to economy, geez. unless u know people who work for the airline or overbooking happens, theres hardly a chance of a free upgrade.

  20. Huh.

    So burning up miles for an upgrade, on an already purchased ticket with cash, is revolutionary?

    I’m soooo shocked the airlines will suck down my miles for Y—>J… 😉

  21. As bizarre as it sounds, some big Youtubers are always given free upgrades if space is available at departure. So it doesn’t seem farfetched that they might open space for these high value customers too. Not all carriers are alike!

  22. Note to self:
    Self! Please refrain from ever viewing OMAT articles on laptop.
    While I got a chuckle with the mention of the call to Virgin, (personally if I were an agent I might have seized the moment and shared my dismay that she/he hadn’t called just a bit earlier as the last such seat was just recently dispensed!)
    But it was when I reached the comment section that while scrolling thru and enjoying a beverage that proved to be a learning experience! I hit the comment by Boris and sprayed my beverage across the screen!! Lucky for me, I was using my tablet, laughing hysterically and if I was to be truthful, I needed to wipe the screen anyway!
    Boris, your wife trained you well!

  23. Oh nooo my secret is out on how to upgrade 100% of the time
    My decades long secret just went up in smoke

  24. the whole thing didn’t make sense until I realized the author was a ” best selling” female… then it all made perfect sense. of course, if she didn’t get upgrade, she’d just call it “INSTITUTIONAL SEXISM” and cry out loud to Washington post, huffpost or buzzfeed… worst case is to cry to because it’s super hard for women to live in this rape culture riddled with rapists.

  25. Didn’t see this post yet in my email box sorry for repeating it ha that’s is for the reply on Twitter!

  26. Let’s be real.

    This has nothing to do with travel tips that are secrets. It has only to do with the author wishing to sound smart (which she does a poor job particularly for this community)…so that she can sell more books. It’s indirect advertising and ego boosting.

  27. Ben,
    I’ve been thinking a lot about this article, and I’m just curious how would you know that saying something like this wouldn’t work? I’m assuming you’ve never tried it.

    There have been many marketing and psychological tests over the years, and people usually listen and do not question authority over the phone or email.

    The Hofling Hospital Experiment comes to mind:

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