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.