The AP is out with the perennial “if you want a free upgrade, dress nice” story. These stories always evoke an eye roll from me, yet their persistence over the years suggest that hope springs eternal.
George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com claims he has been “inexplicably upgraded” while wearing “a nice suit and tie”, noting that other passengers were “looking like Richard Simmons.”
Ann Lombardi, an English teacher, states:
To those people who say, nonsense, this can’t happen, I disagree wholeheartedly. This has happened to me from coach to business class a number of times. I just smile and say thank you for your help. I might tell a little story about myself. It may be the combination of being nice, dressing decently and the luck of the draw.
She claims she was upgraded from economy class to first class on Emirates earlier this year.
I was just standing in line, I got to boarding, the woman pulled me aside and gave me my boarding pass and it said 1B. I said, ‘Is there an extra digit left out (on the seat number)?’ and she said, ‘No, we decided to upgrade you.
Finally, Kim Curtis, a San Francisco banker, is quoted–
I always give the gate agents and the ticketing agents compliments. I know it sounds corny but I figure they deal with a lot of difficult rude people so I try to be the exact opposite of that. I’ve asked for and gotten upgrades to business class, I’ve gotten upgrades to a better seat. I’ve also gotten something as simple as a free glass of wine.
There’s a huge difference between a glass of wine and free business class upgrade…
My Op-Up Stories
I’ve been officially op-upped twice in my life. The first time was also on Emirates. We were traveling from Melbourne to Auckland and at the check-in counter I simply asked if “upgrades were available for purchase”. The check-in agent consulted with her colleague, then returned moments later with business class boardings passes. She explained the flight was very oversold in economy class and wished a pleasant journey.
The second time was another Fifth Freedom route on Lufthansa from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok. Once again, coach was full and we were upgraded–this time at check-in without even asking.
These were operational upgrades, upgrades that were necessary to due to an oversell situation.
U.S. Airlines are Different
The AP story also quotes airline spokesmen from Alaska and American who deny that upgrades are ever given for dressing nice. In the USA, where elite upgrades are complimentary on most domestic routes and pecking order is based upon status and fare paid, op-ups are extremely rare. When they do happen, airlines follow carefully established protocol. Thus, I dismiss as absurd the notion that anyone can achieve an operational upgrade on US-airline for dressing nice.
But on foreign airlines, I’ll at least leave the open the possibility. Were my brother and I dressed nice for our operational upgrades? Yes we were. But the key for the Emirates trip was asking, not dressing nice. The key for the Lufthansa trip was status, not dressing nice.
Thus, it never hurts to ask. But don’t think your nice clothing is going to make any difference.