No, Dressing Up Won’t Score You A Flight Upgrade

Filed Under: Misc.

There’s a lot of misinformation and very bad advice on the internet, so I suppose this should hardly be singled out. But it’s travel specific, and I realize I’ve never explicitly addressed this before, so I’ll give it a try (though I have addressed how simply uttering the words “revenue management” over the phone to an airline agent won’t score you an upgrade).

Do airlines upgrade people who dress up?

No, of course they don’t, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Why would anyone think so? Oh, because Travel + Leisure Tweeted yesterday about a story that was published last month, about “what to wear to increase your chances of a first class upgrade.”

This really seems to be a thinly veiled attempt at getting some affiliate revenue by posting links to clothing that will allegedly get you an upgrade. Personally I think a much better business model would be to post affiliate links to credit cards that can actually score you first & business class seats, but to each their own.

The Travel + Leisure piece is based on a 2018 story where “cabin crew share the outfit that will get you bumped up to first class.” Every “air hostess” and “steward” that the writer interviewed (that should have been the first clue not to listen to this advice) suggested that dressing up can impact your upgrade odds, and it gives specific and baseless advice about what you should wear:

“For an upgrade, it’s all about looking the part. Smart but understated. You should look like you travel often. But don’t be dripping in designer clothing. It helps; someone who is potentially due to get an upgrade can be knocked back if they aren’t dressed suitably.”

I’ll address some different circumstances below, but let me be very clear — dressing up won’t increase your odds of scoring a first class upgrade. Period.

No, a $38 turtleneck from Everlane won’t score you a first class upgrade

How do you score an upgrade then?

Virtually every airline has specific protocols for awarding upgrades. Under normal circumstances, there are a variety of ways to score a first class seat, aside from outright paying cash for it:

  • You can often redeem miles for first class seats
  • If you have elite status, you may be entitled to complimentary space available upgrades, or may be given upgrade instruments you can use to confirm an upgrade
  • You can typically redeem miles for an upgrade, and sometimes there’s a co-pay
  • Airlines sometimes sell first class upgrades for cash, anytime between when you book and when you board

Now, there are some situations where flights might be oversold in economy, and there are empty seats in first class, and there’s no one on the upgrade list. In these situations airlines may need to bump people up to first class, and that’s known as an operational upgrade.

Even in these situations, there’s a very specific procedure for doing so. The policy will vary by airline, but typically operational upgrades are prioritized by elite status and/or the fare class you’re booked in.

Sometimes you may be bumped up to an exit row or extra legroom economy seat if you’re traveling alone and the airline needs to make space to seat a family together, or something.

But nope, believe it or not, the gate agent doesn’t send RuPaul into the gate area to see who is serving the best looks.

There are lots of legitimate ways you can be upgraded

Is there a dress code for first class?

Generally speaking there isn’t, and I think this is where the confusion might come from. Airline employees are typically able to non-rev, which means that they can fly for free (or at a heavily discounted rate) on a space available basis. In some cases employees can even fly in first & business class, but only after all upgrades have cleared.

Some airlines have dress codes for employees, and sometimes those dress codes are more stringent if you want to fly in a premium cabin. That’s typically the only time there’s going to be a dress code, or where dressing up can make a difference.

There are sometimes dress codes for airline employees

Airline employees used to have more discretion

In fairness to this mythical upgrade advice, I do think back in the day there may have been a bit more truth to this. Like, not that dressing up would necessarily score you an upgrade, but rather that gate agents had more discretion to upgrade people, whether it’s because they were trying to hit on them, they were friends, or whatever.

What has changed?

  • Airlines have done a much better job monetizing first class, and creating ways for people to score upgrades through legitimate means
  • Airline technology has improved considerably, and essentially everything a gate agent does is tracked, and not following policies could get them in trouble

For example, going back over a decade, it wasn’t unheard of for a gate agent to violate policy and upgrade an employee friend ahead of a passenger on the upgrade waitlist. But nowadays that almost never happens, since upgrade lists are typically published, so the person on the upgrade list realizes what’s going on.

Airline employees have policies they have to follow

Bottom line

Dressing up won’t score you a first class upgrade, so dress for comfort when you fly. The good news is that there are plenty of actual ways to score a first class seat nowadays, from redeeming miles to having elite status.

But please, can we stop with the urban legend that dressing up is the key to scoring a first class upgrade?

  1. Ages ago I got upgraded to First Class by BA on a flight from Buenos Aires, after failing to check myself in online, having the counter agent at Ezeiza being over nice to me and being called by name upon boarding.
    Once presenting the boarding pass, I was pointed to upstairs instead of towards the back of the aircraft, which caused my travel companion to fume in anger, since my ticket was purchased much later than his and it cost some 30% less! I was no member of the fidelity programme then, so pure luck, I thank the algorithms!

  2. In 2002 I had a flight booked on Thai on their 747 from Narita to LAX. I made sure to wear a button down shirt and khakis just in case – and at the gate my boarding pass was rejected and in true Japanese fashion the agent apologised profusely to me for the inconvenience and explained I had been bumped to business class on the upper deck. Needless to say I always dressed up after that but such good fortune has never happened since 🙁

  3. Surely since flight attendants don’t do the upgrades what they think people should wear to get one is irrelevant.

    What next – “follow these 10 tips from baggage handlers to guarantee you that upgrade” ?

    I’d like a gate agent article on all the ridiculous reasons people give why they should be upgraded.

  4. I wear the exact same outfit on almost every flight and it definitely isn’t fancy, just airy in key places.

    I’ve been randomly upgraded to premium twice, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t even see me before they chose me.

    Once was on an error fare, and once on a regular revenue fare. I had no status with either airline.

    Sometimes it’s just luck.

  5. I had a friend who was a travel agent who used to believe rubbish like this. He would dress up in fancy clothes for his (economy) flight, and get there right when check-in opened as apparently “that’s when they give out the upgrades”.

    He never once was upgraded. For someone who sold travel, he didn’t seem to have a clue about fare buckets, status levels, loads etc.

  6. Easy people!

    How upgrade works?
    – Paid cash or online upgrade.
    – Using miles or points.
    – Whenever it is overbooked in economy, priority of upgrade will go to passengers with highest loyalty airlines status, followed by the highest paid ticket fare of the cabin.

    Upgrade won’t work based on below myths:
    – If you are traveling on a honeymoon.
    – If you are traveling on your birthday.
    – If you are dressing up in suits or gown.
    – Being nice to the gate agent.
    – Being nice to the flight attendant.
    – Calling reservation department to tell them you know somebody, or checking revenue management team.
    – You tell the airlines you have a medical conditions.
    – Even if you are IG influencer with more than 1 million followers, the airlines won’t upgrade you.

    There’s many misleading articles out there which has to stopped.
    Sadly, many people still believe in this myths.

  7. Dressing “well” won’t get you an upgrade but looking like crap might well mean that you are passed over for someone who looks less like they will irk the high rollers up front.

    Back in the day people got dressed up even to fly in Coach. But now people seem to wear their very worst clothes “because they are comfortable”.

    But yeah, not much in the way of standards these days.

  8. The only time I’ve received an operational upgrade (ie. an upgrade without paying for it with points, money or an upgrade certificate) was when I had status with the respective airline alliance. I think it’s only happened once or twice. The only time this happened that I actually recall was when I had one world emerald status with CX and presumably because economy was over-booked, they upgraded my partner and I to business class on a flight from SIN-CMB on Sri Lankan.

  9. I agree with the article. The only other time I’ve been upgraded to first class was when my original flight was completely cancelled and they changed it by more than two hours. I know you have the right to a refund, but I kept the ticket (economy) and was surprised when I was in first class. I didn’t have status or pay any miles or cash.

  10. “Personally I think a much better business model would be to post affiliate links to credit cards that can actually score you first & business class seats,” anecdotally that does seem to be the case 😉

  11. Ahah back in the day when I lived in London used to show up on the Ba first desk when flying in economy with the fam automatic free upgrades to business 90% of the time when flying over to USA was so funny. Just asked every time and usually they said yes. Then in like 2012 stuff changed big time dunno what happened

  12. @John T that’s because most of them don’t have a clue about any of that. It’s easy to forget that this OMAAT community and others like it are a very, very small subsection. Very few, including those in the industry, follow any of this news and know details like that. There’s a reason it’s a full-time obsession lol.

    My personal experiences with random upgrades have always been when I went to board and my ticket was not accepted because they oversold my seat, so they moved me to the front. I’ve had it happen 3 times, all on international flights (although not in years, unfortunately).

  13. I used to fly on buddy passes frequently when my aunt worked for US Airways, and they did have a dress code when it came to upgrading to first class as a non-rev. Once, a flight from PHX-BOI was completely full in economy and the gate agent told me that he would give me the open seat in first, but since I was wearing denim shorts, he wasn’t able to. I offered to hurry and go buy a dress or pants in one of the shops, but he ended up upgrading an economy customer and gave me their seat. 🙂 I do think that’s where the confusion stems from.

  14. I always dress nicely when flying…not a suit & tie, but not a tshirt and spandex either. Years ago our flight from IAD to Brussels was overbooked. We were first asked to take a $500 voucher to travel the next day. When we said we couldn’t, they came back to us about 10 min later and asked if we would mind losing our ore-ordered meals in order to be bumped into business class. Out of a sea of hundreds we were the only ones wearing a sports coat, slacks and a nice dress. Don’t know how it works today.

  15. I received an operational upgrade once for a traveling party of 4 on a 2-hour flight on AirTran (nothing to brag about). Economy was oversold and at check-in they tried to scare us into buying upgrades saying, seats may be unavailable, blah, blah.. Knowing they’ll owe us at least $400 each for involuntary bumping, I didn’t take the bait and went to gate with “unassigned seat” boarding pass. Finally a few minutes b4 boarding the airline upgraded all 4 of us to business.

  16. When I was on active duty in the Army I was upgraded a few times by Delta and United on domestic flights but this was many years ago. And once, about a decade ago, after spending three days attempting to return from Rome to San Diego after numerous operational issues on Continental I was upgraded in Houston on the last leg.

    Since almost all of my flying is business related, I normally dress in business casual. I subscribe to the theory that generally one is treated better by everyone if they make an attempt to dress nicely, whether it be casual or business.

  17. The topic drives a lot of traffic. I have KL/AF status and extremely rarely do I see op-ups. I do get shadows quite often; it is no coincidence the economy seat next to mine is empty, or taken by a deadhead.
    I also carry an entry-level status on LHG/*A, and have gotten Transatlantic op-ups every now and then (always flying outbound from hub). Showed up early, got a boarding pass with seat assigned at gate, and voila. Probably a combination of overbooking and marketing to build loyalty. But who knows? Maybe I was just nice to someone.
    Flying LHG to Europe, I learned to go to check-in early and ask if they’re selling upgrades. They go for a fixed price.
    A few months ago, the COVID-19 shifting regulatory landscape meant that I had to buy a *A ticket on short notice, spend countless hours in transit, mostly United hubs, before a LHG flight back to Europe. I went landside to check-in and bought an upgrade, paying with my card, or so I thought. A week earlier, when leaving Europe, in my lack-of-coffee haste, I put on a linen jacket instead of a wool one. So, I figure that looking dead tired in a wrinkled linen jacket in the dead of winter for a widebody with 12 pax total might have had something to do with the fact that I still haven’t been charged.

    Of course, my mom once saw some FAs in line to buy coffee before boarding. The line was long, they looked to be in a hurry, and she was ahead, so she bought it for them. Guess which flight they were operating? That can work.

    In conclusion: you want to ride up front? Pay for it. Otherwise, it’s a cold algorithm that decides. But humans are still in the loop, so it can only help if you’re kind and likeable.

  18. This was a holdover from the 80s. British Airways, at least, was quite clear about this. I think this was before Executive Club/Avios even existed. Now they have status and tiers to make decisions about operational upgrades. Here is the “dress-based” system in action at 42:23:
    Believe me, I dressed very well when I was on BA staff travel. It didn’t help much–not even then.

  19. Sorry, but this is wrong. Just because you have never received an upgrade due to this does not mean it’s not possible.

    I personally know someone who is good looking, dresses well, and is very flirty with the gate agent and a majority of the time it yields either an upgrade or paid seats for free contra the normal rules. Is it fair? No, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

  20. I don’t expect to be upgraded based on how I look (and when I fly economy its typically for shorter flights (2 hours or less so flying first is almost meaningless). However when I do fly first I tend to wear something nice. Not a suit but business casual or semi dressy because that’s how I like to present myself. I am not that old but a bit old fashioned when dealing with service people. I am exceedingly polite to the folks that serve me even if it is not always returned. It always surprises me how slovenly some people appear when they travel/or in public.

    Aside from maximizing yield in first, I would think that airlines would be careful about how much discretion is given to gate and reservations on updates. The last thing an airline wants is for a rumor (founded or unfounded) to start about who tends to get an upgrade and who doesn’t.

  21. Once I was upgraded from Business to First (JFK-ZRH on LX) and it was a pleasant surprise. They called my name minutes before boarding and it came pretty unexpected. I was KF Gold at the time which might helped and the flight of the night before was cancelled. Therefore I guess Business was just overbooked. Was a nice christmas gift though!

  22. I have a fail proof method which scores me upgrades 70% of the time. l leave my fly unzipped, and go free balling under my khakis pants. Works every time.

    P.S – Benny, the snide remark about Rue Paul was not necessary, he is bald. Life is hard enough! :(…

  23. Just to add to that: there are many social situations where you’d rather not cop to having bought a ticket up front — people might think you’re fabulously wealthy or irresponsible with your cash or similar. I’ve used the “bought with miles” line when, in fact, I used cash. Others might make up a story about dressing nice and getting the upgrade. Stuff does happen. I once got a BA LHR-JFK upgrade when I missed a connection and was put on standby for the next flight. In line when the gate opens, it’s my turn, and an agent goes over to the one about to handle me:
    “Shall I take over?”
    “Please, these people are looking awful.”
    He calls me up.
    “So,” I smile jokingly, “am I supposed to become abusive now?”
    “Here, this seat has a broken IFEN. Would that pose a problem?”
    “Not at all.”

    The IFEN at the upgraded seat was not broken.

  24. Maybe this is not the case in America, but there is absolute truth to the being nice myth. I know many people who have been upgraded just by being friendly to the flight attendants; once on BA LHR-JFK Economy-Club midflight, just before meal service. I also had a friend upgraded on Emirates when returning home from Seychelles after a funeral. He was upgraded Economy to Business on SEZ-DXB, and then was upgraded economy to first DXB-LGW.

    So perhaps you personally being nice doesn’t get you a free upgrade, but it does happen for some.

  25. The myth is actually nostalgic memories of the time before algorithms drove everything. In the 1980’s transatlantic in Economy included cocktail service, full dinner service, after dinner drink service and a hot breakfast before landing. sigh. However, then as now, dressing appropriately and being polite and cordial will improve all interactions. Never bite the hand that serves you drinks or handles your boarding pass.

  26. In 09 I was upgraded from Y to J on BA flying IAD LHR. No idea what happened, but I assume the flight was oversold (I was the first one in line at the check-in counter when it opened). I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

    When the machine made a funny sound when it scanned my BP, I was afraid they weren’t going to let me on the plane or they were going to charge me extra. I didn’t really comprehend that I was sitting in J until I found my seat and sat down. I thought, “I can get used to this.”

  27. Is there a policy for passengers that volunteer in an oversold situation regarding how they are rebooked? For example, I did in the distant past volunteer on an oversold flight and asked if first class was available on the rebooking and was granted this request.

  28. Ben,

    A couple of years ago I got my friend and myself upgraded to business by walking up to the gate agent and saying we were very attractive, could she upgrade us to business?

    She said it paid to be funny and upgraded us. I can’t believe she thought I was joking

    Pretty sure I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt

  29. Lets say if all the upgrades have cleared and there are still seats left in First Class (let’s use an AA domestic flight as an example), are flight attendants allowed to move you up? I’m an executive platinum with AA and if I’m traveling with my family and two in our party clear the complementary upgrade, and there are empty seats next to us, can the FA’s seat all of us together? Especially on a sub 900 mile flight where there aren’t any extra amenities so they don’t have an incentive to not allow it.

  30. 10 years ago, I was flying on my honeymoon to Paris on Lufthansa. I guess my wife was told to wear her veil to the airport as sometimes airlines will upgrade people traveling on honeymoons. She didn’t want to do it (for obvious reasons) but she did. Sure enough, when we were checking in, the check in counter person without saying much to us kept typing on her computer and taking much longer than a normal check in should take. I asked her if there were any problems and she said “I’m just trying to find two seats next to each other for you.” I was confused by this since we had two seats next to each other (in economy). She then asked us to wait a bit, walked to the back, came back and told us that she was able to upgrade us to business class! So yeah, while I realize what happened to us is definitely the exception and not the rule, these types of upgrades DO happen.

  31. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this Lucky. But once upon a time before everyone had some sort of status and everyone started doing the credit card points hustle, airlines would definitely upgrade if the person politely asked and was smartly dressed. Of course the seats had to be available but it was possible and it was at the employee’s discretion.
    Probably doesn’t happen much these days since everyone has miles and status, but to say it is an urban myth is wrong.

  32. Back in the day, my travel agent gave me this advice. I dressed up for international flights and was routinely upgraded to first on the outbound. Mostly Lufthansa. It never worked coming home. That was in the 80s.

  33. Here’s something that did work for me a couple of years ago: I was flying LAX –> Shanghai on AA. I recalled seeing a sign the last time I had flown from PVG offering a day-of-flight upgrade for something like $500 — perhaps it was a test of monetizing unfilled seats. As I was checking in at LAX, I asked the gate agent if they had any upgrades for sale, and explained the sign I had seen previously in Shanghai. He said “no”, but offered to put me in Business for free. I happily accepted. FWIW I was dressed reasonably well with a button-down untucked dress shirt made by Tailor Linda at SH’s South Bund Soft Spinning Market on Lujiabang Road, but what probably mattered more was that I was an AA Platinum at the time. Worth a try: all they can do is say no.

  34. Years ago my 5 year old son broke down into pitiful sobs and tears after learning that we were not upgraded. The flight attendant took pity on him and we both moved to first class.

  35. Ben stated “what’s changed” with a couple bullet points.
    But what has really changed over the years are the FF Elite programs and their upgrade benefits.

    As an ex Gate AAgent from 1983 thru about 1995, the only elite level we had was “Gold” and these members were few and far in between. There was eventually an upgrade program, but it required the use of stickers, so given the “cost”, the few Golds on a flight weren’t always requesting an upgrade.

    In those times it was very common for coach to be oversold with only a few seats sold in First. We’d first “bump up” the 2 or 3 Golds on the flight (and/or not collect stickers from anyone who pre-reserved an upgrade). After that, if we felt we needed more op-ups, then we had full leverage on who to choose … friendly attitude and proper dress is what what scored the upgrade.

  36. Back in the day, my wife and I traveled with our 18 month old too cute daughter. We were in the NW World lounge and went up to the agent and put up on the high desk as we conversed. I asked if she was cute enough for an upgrade and the agent said yes, but only if she asked for it. We all laughed. Lesson is to teach you children to say “upgrade”.

  37. My partner and I were both upgraded in a UA flight from LHR to ORD back in the summer of 2012 on a b747 when I was only a gold. Apparently they were filling the plane up from standbys in econ and E+ and bumping selected passengers up to business class. Only time I’ve ever been comped internationally.

  38. Maybe not in the US, but people in Asia, particularly East Asia, often pre-judge others by how they dress. There is even an old Chinese proverb that says “you respect one’s attire before you respect the person.”

    If someone was able to score a flight upgrade on Asian airlines in Asia by dressing up, I would not be surprised at all.

    Of course, if people do score upgrades by racking up haute couture instead of miles, your site would suffer, so I don’t know if your conclusion is subjective or objective.

  39. Only ever been op-upped once…and that was Qantas LHR-SIN-MEL circa 2006. Awesome upgrade.

    That was the first time I ever flew J…they clearly knew what they were doing as there was no way back after that 😀

  40. It definitely used to happen but it’s now much rarer, and I can’t imagine any airline that runs an upgrade list does it. Two years back my in-laws both got a bump from premium economy to business when one of them had a medical problem. They produced a letter showing it had happened while they were on vacation (and they were clearly returning home). They offered to pay some of the cost but were told there was no need. Both had zero status on the airline.

  41. Op up two weeks ago ORD IAH on American. Why ? Because I have elite status ?

    Ages ago my mom worked as a gate agent on a flight from jfk to lax that was overbooked. So she approached a businesswoman in a suit and asked to see her boarding pass because the flight was overbooked. The woman refused so my mother told her nevermind I was going to upgrade you to first class. She then upgraded an elderly couple instead. The best part was my mom smiling ear to ear as she boarded the business woman and wished her a good flight.

  42. Don’t airlines now have precise operational upgrade prioritization guidance to explicitly prevent the gate agent from using their own judgement and all the subjectivities that may entail to decide who gets upgraded? Like they go down their elite hierarchy list, then alliance elites, then fare class and then who checked-in first or some combination of those things?

  43. We’ve travelled with our young children a fair amount and on more than a few flights, the flight attendants have upgraded passengers seated at the bulkhead so they could give it to us instead. While I don’t doubt this is partially out of self-interest, if the flight is longer than 8 hours, I will take any small comfort I can get.

  44. I find dressing up to travel just so odd. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about domestic air travel in the United States or intra-EU travel. As for long haul international flying, the notion of dressing up to spend 14 hours in a lie flat bed also seems preposterous. Quite honestly, when I see people wearing suits on airplanes, I tend to think they’re either inexperienced, pretentious, or most likely… both.

  45. Years ago, I once picked up my father at FRA arriving from the US in a tux. Last night of annual meeting, formal dinner, flight that same night.
    No, he didn’t get upgraded, even back then.
    But I don’t judge people in business attire. I don’t know where they’re coming from or going to. Besides, if your suit is uncomfortable, you’re wearing the wrong suit.

  46. Before the airline affinity progams, prior to 1982, dressing up could get you an upgrade. I know several check in and gate agents who did this. It was difficult because most passengers dressed down. No children upgrades either. Common sense which doesn’t exist any more. Only political correctness. White people were mostly upgraded prior to 1982.

  47. I’ve only had one operational upgrade, and it was not for dressing well. I think it was because I wasn’t acting like a jerk. I was in an aisle bulkhead seat just behind biz class flying home from Shanghai. I know I wasn’t the highest status person in coach as I saw the boarding passes for some folks near me and they were Diamond while I was just Platinum.

    One seat was open between myself and another business traveler-type, and an older Chinese (I assume since it was Shanghai and that’s what she spoke) woman came to the seat holding a 1-year old. She got a panicked look on her face and started talking to the flight attendant in Chinese. It was quickly clear that she had thought there were two seats for her and the baby, but there was only one. The other fellow immediately started loudly saying that he wasn’t going to sit next to a f*** baby for a 14-hour flight. The woman sat down while the attendants discussed the situation, and I figured I’d make the best of it and started smiling at the baby and letting it play with my fingers. No more than a minute later the head attendant came up, told me to grab my things, and took me to business class to open up the seat.

    So like most things in life, it pays to be nice. I don’t expect to ever see that situation again but it was a great reminder that my attitude is what is going to make or break my enjoyment of the flight.

  48. Travel and Leisure must post this every month. It annoys me. I do admit that being polite and smiling at a gate agent never scored me an upgrade, it has gotten me better cattle car seating and an empty row. More often when I get the “sorry” I always smile and thank them for trying, a more desirable seat becomes available, but always in the back.

  49. A few years ago, my husband and I were upgraded from economy to business. Our plane was delayed so people were just kind of hanging out. My husband was chatting with the gate agent, and it looked like they were having a good old time. Later, the plane came, and we boarded into economy. This is the awesome part…the gate agent came on the plane, found us, and said, “come with me.” She escorted us up to business and said, “you guys can sit here.” My husband and I just looked at each other like, “is this really happening?” We could feel ourselves becoming urban legends.

    I fly a lot and this has happened all of once, so hey, you never know.

    We were wearing jeans…but you’re never fully dressed without a smile. Especially for the gate agent.

  50. What about flight attendants letting you sit where you want or letting you sit in business/first? There is also a common misconception that they to have control.

  51. I would like to note that this seems to be a article mainly concerning US travel and airlines. True, yes, but flying internationally can be different . I am OW Sapphire mainly accrued/earned on Qatar Airways. Have we been upgraded for a birthday to business class? . Yes, Have we been upgraded because business class was nearly empty? Yes. How about flying to Delhi from Doha? Usually upgraded. Who is going to get upgraded? Dressing up does make a difference along with a bit of status. Who would they rather upgrade to business class? Plus we usually dress up a bit anyway because of dress codes on some lounges.

  52. Years ago, dressing up, being drop-dead gorgeous, and having a clever personality to impress the gate agent did help quite a bit, but was never a guarantee: Example: I worked for the airlines and always had to stand-by and in 95% of my travels, I was usually boarded in First as a courtesy from all the airlines (and dressing up in a coat and tie was a necessity in those days when interlining, so I guess I am now showing my age). But back then I even was able to get a few of my friends upgraded when they traveled with me on a revenue ticket, but if they did not dress up I wouldn’t even ask the gate agent if there was even a possibility. (My handsome friends always got upgraded if a seat was available –go figure!). But then the age of the frequent flyer elite status came to life, and the “good ole days” were over for the most part, even for airline employees who were in essence “entitled” to an upgrade if a seat by chance was available before the doors closed. Now, not even my friends who still work for the airlines have a chance because of mile upgrades and elite status upgrades. So bottom line today for those wishing for an upgrade, forget it! The only solution is to be savvy by start collecting those miles, start saving those miles and/or be ready to buy that premium cabin ticket and/or upgrade! Today I only rely on my mileage balances as I wouldn’t even attempt an upgrade on my “good looks”, “flirtation skills” or my incredible OTT Ralph Lauren wardrobe.

  53. I did get lucky last October flying Alaska from Los Cabos to Spokane via PDX. I was a solo traveler and booked a regular Economy ticket. During this time Alaska still had the middle seats blocked unless you were part of a couple or group.

    When I booked the reservation I booked mid plane right behind the wing (Window seat of course) I didn’t really play much attention my ticket checking in, well because I never had a reason to think otherwise. Needless to say it was until about 10-15min prior to boarding that instead of 19A it said 6A which was the bulkhead in Economy plus.

    So basically I had a bulkhead seat with free beer on a 4hr flight from Mexico….. I’m not going to complain

  54. About 18 years ago I was at VIE getting ready to fly out to JFK when I heard two gate agents talk amongst themselves. I clearly saw one point to a couple and say “they look well dressed” and then subsequently call them up.

    But yeah, I’m sure it’s extremely rare these days.

  55. A B6 FA friend told me that they can get fired for upgrading someone to Mint without a VERY good reason.

  56. My wife once scored an op-up on SQ with no status. I was flying in J and she was in Y. Economy was an overbooked school group and almost no one else. We both went to J checkin and the manager gave her an op-up since my wife was one of the Y passengers who was not a student or chaperone.

    Did she get the upgrade by dressing well? Probably not the only reason, but she was in professional attire whereas the chaperons were all dressed casually.

  57. @Simon +1

    It’s true that FAs used to have more discretion and that they didn’t have long lists of elites waiting for upgrades. So, if they had folks coming from a cancelled flight or they were oversold, they’d just upgrade the people standing in front of them.

    When i was a young kid in the 1970s before AA started the first loyalty program, my mom and three of my older siblings and I were upgraded (probably on Branniff) because they were oversold and we were the party standing in front of them needing seats. My siblings are quite a bit older and even though i was a little kid, one was old enough to drink (18) and one looked old enough and she, of course, let the even younger one drink. Underage drinking just wasn’t then thing then that it is now. I think my mother just gave up on the whole thing and kept an eye on my. I vaguely remember it being a bit wild, but the FAs seemed to be fine with it all and maybe even a bit amused.

    Then of course there was the time about 15 years ago when I was traveling with a British colleague and he just turned on the accent for the gate agent and got us both upgraded even though we were certainly way down the list.

    My least favorite memory was the time that I flew PDX-ATL on DL and then after arriving saw on my account that I’d been upgraded. Apparently since I’d already boarded, the agent processed my upgrade and then put someone else in the seat — as F was completely full, but coach wasn’t. This was recently enough that the info was in my account but long enough ago that the lists weren’t published and there was no on board wifi or push notifications. Boy was I pissed off by that one.

    But most of my seat time in F has been the old fashioned way — pay or get to the top of the upgrade list.

  58. That is probably true on almost all flights. On hundreds of flights and dozens of upgrades I made the same experience. Except for one flight with Oman Air from CMB to MCT. Wife and I were booked in Economy Class but both were holding their Gold Status. The Check in lady told me the flight is overbooked and we would get the upgrade. However, we would have to change our clothes since Both were wearing shorts. They wanted us to wear long pants and a proper shirt. After changing and getting her approval we received the upgrade. After boarding we were the only ones who were not wearing shorts nor sweatpants

  59. My parents got upgraded to first class without status one time because one of the flight attendants was a client of my father.

  60. There used to be a time, pre-2001, that I could get an occasional upgrade. When I worked for Club-Med I used to pass out Club Med gear to Check-n Counter/Gate Agents and that worked if the flight wasn’t full. Christmas 2001-2003, I got domestic first class by wearing a Santa Hat and passing out candy canes to everyone working. Usually the ticket agent or gate agent bumped me. Once, after I gave them to the FA’s and Pilots, After the door was closed a FA came and got me and moved me up front. But since then , not gotten anything without paying.

  61. One of the great joys in life is being upgraded when you don’t expect it – whether it be operational, status or just plain luck related. It’s when I haven’t anticipated an upgrade through something like mile redemption but on standby, when you hear the beep at the gate on boarding, your new boarding pass is handed to you and suddenly the thrill and pure joy of travel runs through every vein and you walk just that little bit taller with a wide grin to your newly minted seat allocation.

  62. Do let me flip it. Will dressing poorly keep you from getting an upgrade? Having asked numerous gate folks the answer is yes. If not driven by status etc a poorly dressed passenger is going to get bypassed for the upgrade.

  63. just because it hasnt happened to you doesnt mean it isnt true or doesnt happen, Ben.

    just read all the hundreds of examples above 😉

  64. I got my first first experience recently. It was due to the fact that a guy got a broken seat and they moved me around a few times playing musical chairs. I didn’t complain. When I got to go up front, the first class guy next to me expected I’d be just so excited. Ummm k??? This is US first class I didn’t even get a soda cause it was covid. It’s literally not that exciting.

  65. I often (used to…) dress up a bit on long hauls. Not to score an upgrade (thanks to OMAAT I usually fly Biz!), but for practical reasons. First, I will often wear a sport coat if I’m planning to eat at nice restaurants at my destination and it is much easier to wear it (and let the FA hang it up during the flight) than pack it. Second, I think there is an advantage to looking like a boring, serious adult when going through arrivals immigration.
    Hope we will be flying again soon!

  66. I got upgraded about 10 years on a transcon flight that was oversold. I had volunteered to be bumped if necessary. When it wasn’t necessary, the gate agent literally looked me over and said (half to herself) “You’re not wearing jeans, it’ll be OK,” then gave me an F boarding pass.

    While you’re certainly right that upgrades are much more systematized and monetized today Lucky, I don’t agree w/the hard line analysis in this piece. I.e. I would not be surprised if gate agents still use similar thinking in cases of IRROPS and oversell.

  67. Once upon a time – back in the 1970s and 1980s, the then ‘norm’ for attracting an upgrade WAS being well dressed. My wife and I did this many times on Gulf Air, Lufthansa, the then Swissair, British Airways, Continental Airlines and Emirates. The upgrade was usually from Economy to Business but also Business to First on Lufthansa and on Emirates. On two occasions on Gulf Air I was double upgraded – from Economy to Business and, then later in the evening, from Business to First. I do appreciate that, today, it is totally different but, somehow, back in the 70s and 80s it was a sort of ‘game’ to see how often you could be upgraded.

  68. On numerous occasions, the gate agent has asked for volunteers to be bumped due to being oversold. I volunteered and two times my name was called to come back to the podium only to be told that they did not need me to be bumped but in return for helping them out, I was upgraded.

    On Asian carriers I have been upgraded from the very cheapest economy fares to business class for no reason. On these times, I was dressed neatly and was white. I mention “white” because almost all the passengers up front were white and the back was Asian – coincidence? – maybe yes, maybe not! (Philippines Airlines and CX).

  69. 50 years ago, this was all very true. A friendly smile, a cheerful greeting, being dressed nicely all worked in obtaining those upgrades. As an Eastern employee in the seventies, we were required to wear coats and ties in order to get that empty first class seat. Back then first class had very few revenue passengers, prices were relatively fixed, and airlines competed primarily on service.

    What changed? First was deregulation and the elimination of the CAB. Airlines could set any price they wished and fly wherever they wanted to, at least domestically. So, they started watching their costs very carefully as they tried to figure out how to gain and maintain customer loyalty in a price-sensitive environment.

    The second change, and in my opinion the most important, was the advent of the frequent flyer programs. Upgrade became the mantra for those of us who flew a lot and over the years I saw more than one confrontation between two frequent flyers about who should get the upgrade.

    Up until about five years ago, you could obtain top tier in a frequent flyer program for only a few thousand dollars a year. The girlfriend and I did over 2 million actual flight miles over a 12-year period. Over a thousand upgrades and all of them were free. It was a game that I enjoyed playing very very much, but the airlines made the change that ended it all for me. They put in a a minimum amount that you had to spend in an order to achieve that status level.

    Final nail in the coffin was covid-19. First class is no longer what it used to be and will probably never be again.

    Thankfully, you can still play the game with the cruise lines and quite frankly, I think the perks are even better the Airlines had. That too will change however and probably sooner than we want.

  70. Considering that my seat neighbor last month in F (MiIA-JFK) wore a pair of red shorts 3 sizes too small and a black (dirty) tee shirt reading in big :


    Methink that there is no dress code anymore for First Class, paying on nonrev, upgrading or not.

  71. This also reminds me of the on-going story that flight attendants will bring you free drinks and food if you bring them treats. I’ve never heard of that happening to anyone except to other flight crew flying non-rev. So it appears to be a myth they created themselves so passengers have more of an incentive to bring treats for the flight attendants.

  72. When is this stupid “old wives tale” story going to die ? Things like that happened in the 1950’s, 1960’s – when there were no mileage programs and membership. Any totally rare exceptions were few and far between.

  73. Shush, Keep the urban myth going. Have you seen what some people are wearing on airplanes today? Anything that could dress better would be nice!
    It’s been about twenty years since cabin crew had any leeway over unused seats.

  74. Used to work diplomatic protection for a middle eastern royal family back in the 90s. As part of the job I had to have a green SIDA badge, which allowed runway access, to inspect their plane and escort contractors.

    That badge used to score me a ton of upgrades. Only ever bought a coach ticket for personal travel, but rare was the time I wasn’t in first or at least an exit row.

  75. On a very thinly related subject of travel attire – when traveling on the flight privileges of an airline employee who happens to be your friend, don’t show up in a tube top, Daisy Dukes, and flip-flops and then have a shouting match with the agent when you’re denied boarding. Yes, I witnessed that exact scenario. *smh*

  76. Back in the early 2000, myself and my partner travelled business class standby on my sister’s United buddy pass LHR to LAX and were told we would have to change our clothing as we were not appropriately dressed. We were dressed causally in jeans and t- shirt, that were new items of clothing. We had to purchase new clothes in duty free at a cost of 250 pounds to be allowed travel in business class. So I guess there is an element of truth in dressing well.

  77. Years back, yes dressing up gave one a heightened chance for the crew to do an upgrade after the doors closed but today, alas. That said, my Aunt was a PanAm Stewardess & frequently took myself & my elder brothers on amazing journeys. I’ve had a passport since I was 6 & am on my 16th at the age of 67 as I’ve filled up the extra pages so many times. I dress up each & every flight. Especially when traveling up front & I will continue to do so until I move on to my next life.

    I was thought that dressing up & most importantly being appreciative in one’s interactions with the flight crew is a true sign of respect. & Yes, you make someone’s life better & many times you get a sign off appreciation in return. On long haul International runs, I always bring a simple box of sweets for the crew. Again a sign of respect.

    So many people these days appear to think that flying is some kind of ‘Right’ which gives them some kind of supreme entitlement.

    Flying is a Privilege. Period

    $0.02 deposited

  78. Good grief; there are a lot of comments here.

    Lucky, you and I are different generations. My Grandmother told me to always dress up when I travel and I have followed that advice nearly without fail my entire adult life.

    I’ll concede you may have a point when it comes to American, United, and Delta — but I rarely fly those airlines.

    I wear a suit, dress shirt, and bowtie when I travel — and stick out like a sore thumb — but they are comfortable to wear (since I have the right size neck width on the dress shirt — most people don’t). I will tell you that I get free upgrades at least annually and sometimes more often.

    The other reason for dressing up is because I often get terrific service in the air — even in economy.

    In short, I highly recommend it and disagree sharply with your conclusion for the exception of the three airlines above.

  79. Prior to 9-11 and even shortly after it actually did work as i witnessed first hand
    But it was and is an art form truly
    I knew very attractive well dressed women and men casual and business casual that could flirt and schmooze to the front of the cabin
    They were pros at it providing there was empty space
    Did it on American flight to London years ago from JFK with a cheep coach ticket in 2000?
    Being charming kind professional and well dressed actually worked on rare occasions.The trick was never to have expectations.Over the past few decades I believe its become far less common with stricter guidelines and protocols put in place and less inventory as well to boot to upgrade too.

  80. Saw a young couple on United LA /Syd on their honeymoon
    get upgraded to Business class as well
    They weren’t so lucky on the way home though 🙂

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