The Business class cabin on my Qatar Airways flight between Doha and Jakarta (June 28-29, 2016).
The Business class cabin on my Qatar Airways flight between Doha and Jakarta (June 28-29, 2016).

How to get a flight upgrade for free

  Indonesia: Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

"We are pleased to upgrade you to Business Class. " Sitting in front of the Qatar Airways boarding station at Doha Airport, I can not believe my ears.

"Oh, thank you"I answer in a low voice. While I just want to scream with joy, there, in front of the counter! ! !

"Enjoy your flight"

The agent of the company is busy with my boarding pass, my passport and his computer keyboard, without looking at me, monopolized by the screen. I must have a lot of stars in my eyes. And a radiant princess smile from the air.

???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ????

But I would not want to interrupt this rare and delicate and wonderful and very mysterious procedure of moving in the Business class cabin a passenger who initially bought a discounted Economy class ticket (a bargain: 450.89 € one way - return to Paris-Jakarta via Doha) ...

So I play it low profile, I wait politely and remember the "why? Which burns my lips. I miss a little energy too, having spent more than 6 hours in a first Paris-Doha flight (in Eco class but with an empty seat next to me), then queued at security checks and surveyed the aisles of Doha airport to the right door.

My old boarding pass is already in the bottom of the bin, torn in two. The printer is crackling. The man handed me my new boarding pass and returned my passport with a big affable smile: "Enjoy your flight. " Argh. Yes, yes, yes, thanks, "Thank you so much ..." But he is already turning to the people behind me. Takeoff time is near.

Luxury, calm and voluptuousness

This is not the first time that I travel in Business Class. I did not take the time to tell it at the time, but it was during my July 2013 tripwhen I went diving in Borneo. For the return, with the Emirates company this time, I had exchanged miles accumulated for an upgrade on the Dubai-Paris flight section. (I did not have enough miles for an upgrade on the entire flight.)

But there, for this new trip to Indonesia from June-July 2016, with Qatar Airways, this is the very first time in my life (and I fly several times a year for almost twenty years) that I am upgraded for free! ! ! Without asking anything or trying anything special. This is to say if the event is rare ...


In the corridor that connects the boarding lounge to the plane, I feel a little thrill of happiness, stepping steadily to the left, where there is the "Business Class" sign, instead of continuing straight to the door to the Eco Cabin ...

I discovered then the pink and felted atmosphere of the Business class. The color of the lighting will change according to the different phases of the flight.

The Business class cabin on my Qatar Airways flight between Doha and Paris. June 28, 2016.
The Business class cabin on my Qatar Airways flight between Doha and Jakarta (June 28-29, 2016).

The steward begins by offering me a glass of champagne while waiting for the takeoff and lets me discover the menu for the meal that will be served soon after. Before the bubbles under water, long live the bubbles in the air! ! !

While scrolling on the screen the movie safety instructions, turned on the mode of humor with football stars because we are in full Euro football, I discovered the travel kit offered to passengers: pajamas, socks and slippers, toiletry bag with chic products, earplugs and mask, big noise-canceling headphones, big pillow and thick blanket ... I sigh with pleasure.

I'm pampered even before takeoff ...
I'm pampered even before takeoff ...
Safety instructions in "football" mode ...
Safety instructions in "football" mode ...

Shortly after takeoff, I attack the meal. I opted for an assortment of Mediterranean mezzes as a starter, a curry beef massaman in main course to put me already a little in the Asian atmosphere and a cheese platter to finish - cheeses which I shamelessly give myself, in anticipation weeks to come, where rice will be more often my ordinary ...

All is served on a white tablecloth, with glass on foot, real cutlery and small basket of real bread. It's so good, luxury ...

Between two movies and two bites of cheese, I try to use the wifi system. Not very convincing. Baited by the first free minutes, where I saw that it worked pretty well, I then spent a few dollars to extend the service ... for not much! The connection became unstable and rather slow, then completely absent with a message that the countries overflown do not allow the service and invite to try again later.

Jetlaguée, exhausted by the previous flight, I quickly surrender to the comfort of my seat-alcove, which hides me from the neighbors and becomes my bubble during the eight hours of flight.

My alcove-alcove any comfort ...
My seat-alcove any comfort ...
This seat can become a sunbed or bed, with plenty of intermediate positions ... The dream!
This seat can become a sunbed or bed, with plenty of intermediate positions ... The dream!

In fact, the real luxury in Business Class is that the seat is transformable into a real bed, where you are completely lying down. The absolute dream for me who can not sleep sitting (or so little). Thanks to my bed, I'll manage to get a few more hours of sleep during the trip and arrive a little less than usual in Jakarta, where I have to go on a flight to Bali ...

During this parenthesis of luxury in the air, I took only a few photos to the iPhone, furtively. How to say ... Of course, ridicule does not kill, but all the same, I did not really want to look like Mr. Bean discovering the First Class (see the first minute of the video below) ... ????

How are passengers upgraded?

Let's go back a little bit back to Doha airport, when I'm still dazed to have a Business Class ticket in my hand ... A sign blocks my view from the departure lounge and I can not see if the next passenger receives the same preferential treatment.

Because you have to know that I'm not the only lucky one, that day ... The gentleman who was in front of me, in the line of the boarding counter, has also been outclassed! I discreetly watched the scene - a little feverish, a little jealous - when I waited my turn, hoping very much to see me propose, me too, a "free upgrade", a free upgrade. And that's what happened ! ????

It is a "chance" that we rarely enjoy, as a passenger lambda (as I said above, it had never happened to me, in twenty years of travel). But this is not entirely due to chance. After reflection, I think that in my case, it took the conjunction of the six factors below for this little miracle to happen:

  • The flight was likely full. That is, there were at least as many registered passengers as seats available on the plane, all classes combined.
  • The company had to make overbooking on the Eco class. This is normal and normal practice, there is always a percentage of cancellations, no show of passengers. And in the case of "overflow," there is always the option of reassigning a number of Eco-class passengers to unoccupied higher-class seats, or at worst, to another flight.
  • I was in transit and introduced myself very late to boarding. Indeed, the correspondence between my two flights, Paris-Doha and Doha-Jakarta, being very short (barely 1:20), I managed to arrive at the very end of the embarkation in Doha (new security checks to be taken on the descent of the plane, then travel time in the aisles of the airport to reach the door). I suppose that in case of overbooking, passengers who come at the very last moment to boarding are those who are playing the ultimate configuration of the aircraft, in the management system of airlines.
  • I am recorded well in advance on this flight. I checked in online, the day before departure, on the company's website. My boarding passes (Paris-Doha and Doha-Jakarta) were then reprinted at the check-in counter of Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris, about ten hours before the departure of the Doha-Jakarta flight on which I was outclassed. The company's computer had therefore confirmed for a long time that I would continue my journey on Doha-Jakarta.
  • I was traveling alone. When it is necessary to reconfigure the occupation of the cabin of the plane, it is obviously easier to move a single passenger than a group or families. (Another argument in favor of solo trip!) Even though several readers report to me that I have already been able to benefit from an upgrade while traveling with others, with the family ...
  • I am registered at Loyalty program the company. I have a loyalty card with all the airlines that I borrow, this system to accumulate "miles". However, I'm not always "faithful" when I go to the hunt for air tickets: I usually opt for the company offering the best rates (I am registered to all newsletters to be alerted of promotional periods) but with correct times (the price is not my only criterion, I prefer to pay a little more for not having an endless wait in an airport if there is a match, for example). But being registered as a "loyal customer", however, may have worked in my favor, when, faced with the situation of overbooking, the computer and / or the agent responsible for boarding started the procedure of selection of a number of passengers in the Eco class to redistribute in the unoccupied seats of the upper classes.

Many myths are conveyed on the internet, with so-called "tricks" or "secrets" or "advice" to be outclassed, such as to take care of his outfit, for example ... The reassignment of seats is mostly managed by a program computer, I doubt that a pretty dress or chic pants can soften the computer (for my part, my outfit was comfortable and quite presentable, but not elegant)!

Doha-Jakarta: eight hours of flying around ...
Doha-Jakarta: eight hours of flying around ...

On the other hand, it is true that we can always hope to be one of the lucky ones when the flight is complete or there is overbooking. But on a flight that is not full, it's much more unlikely.

Note that fifteen days before departure, I received an e-mail from the company, offering me an upgrade (pay) specifically for this section of flight Doha-Jakarta (which I did not do, the amount being still substantial). But that's the proof that there were empty Business Class seats at the time and that the Éco cabin was perhaps already too full ...

Some links

If you read English, I invite you to go to the forum FlyerTalk browse this long and instructive testimony of a former US agent, responsible for finalizing shipments, which tells how the upgrades are organized, with different scenarios:

→ Operational upgrades from a gate agent's perspective

Another interesting reading on AirTravelGenius (in English too), about how these last-minute upgrades called "operationalnal upgrades" are handled by airlines:

→ How to Get an Airline Upgrade on Your Flight

Finally, two amusing stories (always in English) of travelers really determined to be outclassed and who have succeeded ... Proof that the computers supposed to optimize the filling of planes do not always decide everything and that the human factor can also play a role (I lived it myself two and three years later, read the paragraphs I added below).

How to be upgraded to First Class like a boss

→ Scoring a FREE Business Class upgrade! ! !

Oops, I did it again ...

July 2018, small addition: Yesii, I have STILL managed to upgrade myself at no cost! ! ! Again on the Doha-Jakarta flight of Qatar Airways ... This time, I discovered during the stopover landing of the Paris-Doha flight that I had just reached the Silver status of the loyalty program. Status that allows in particular to appear in the priority queue of check-in, check-in or boarding ... What I did so.

I had no earlier presented the virtual copy of my new Silver card on the screen of my iPhone, received by e-mail between the two flights, that the young woman at the counter, even before I clearly express my request was already checking to see if there was availability. My boarding-pass Eco disappeared, immediately replaced by a boarding pass Business Class ... ???? And there you go!

My boarding pass for the Business Class ... (Doha, July 2018)
My boarding pass for the Business Class ... (Doha, July 2018)
The Qatar Airways Business Class cabin. (Doha, July 2018)
The Qatar Airways Business Class cabin. (Doha, July 2018)

I still can not believe it. Nine hours flying in such comfort, it's just a fantastic privilege. That I savored as it should. From now on, I will not hesitate to ask politely but frankly to each of my check-in if there is a possibility of an upgrade, with miles accumulated or gracefully. We are not safe from a good surprise ...

And you, have you ever had the chance to be upgraded?


March 2019, another small addition: as I wrote above, now I do not hesitate to ask politely if by chance there is a possibility of graceful upgrade on one of the flights I must take, at each stage, whether at the check-in or at the time of boarding. And sometimes it works ... On a new trip, to the Philippines this time, in February-March 2019, I was lucky to be upgraded TWO times! ! ! Once to go, the other time back, on the section Paris-Doha, always with the same company.

One way, I asked the question at the check in Paris and the answer was negative. But, in the departure lounge, I was surprised to hear my name called to the microphone. "Do not tell me it's for an upgrade! " I started by telling the agent who was waiting behind his counter. "Why, you do not want it? " he replied, laughing. "Oh, but if ..." And he handed me a new boarding pass, for the Business Class ... I tried to find out why I had this chance and a manager, who listened to us, confirmed to me that several factors could play when they decided to upgrade a passenger: "Sometimes the eco class is a bit full, and after that it can depend on the loyalty card you have ..."

I must therefore have benefited from this graceful upgrade to my current status Silver (status that allows me already not to queue in the Eco file but to access directly to the counters of Business, First and other VIP or priority travelers , to benefit from personalized service on board, access to lounges airport, overweight luggage, etc., so many small benefits really very significant).

When I returned to Manila, I was told no to check-in and boarding. Normal, the plane for the flight Manila-Doha was far from full. But I had empty seats near me, so I had a very comfortable flight. Then, when embarking in Doha for the second flight, I politely asked again if there was a possibility of "Complimentary upgrade" by handing out my Eco boarding pass. The young woman who looked after me checked on her screen and ... "Yes, you got it! " she exclaimed. And I was able to travel to Doha-Paris again in the luxury of the Business Class!

Yes, I'm varnished ... ???? ????

  Indonesia: Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016