Budget Travel

Your membership includes:

  • Access to our exclusive booking platform with private rates.
  • Newsletters with weekend getaways, trip ideas, deals & tips.
  • Sweepstakes alerts and more...
  • Don’t have an account?Get a FREE trial membership today. No credit card needed. Sign up now.
  • FREE trial membership. No credit card needed. Limited time only. Already have an account? Log in here.
    By creating an account, you agree to our Terms of Service and have read and understood the Privacy Policy
Close banner

Trip Coach: Share Your Upgrade Strategies

By Fran Golden
updated September 29, 2021
(Delta AIr Lines

You may dream about going past the magical Business/First Class curtain on airplanes and into the fancy room-with-a-view in hotels, but how can you get there without paying?

There are strategies you can use to improve your chances of snagging an upgrade.

Loyalty to a particular airline, hotel company, cruise line or car rental firm certainly helps—especially when you gain "elite" status in their frequent traveler program.

Experts say a friendly smile and few kind words for the check-in agent also goes a long way when it comes to upgrades.

I've seen "pro" upgrade-seekers in action. One pal even brings chocolate as a gift for airline gate agents and flight attendants and says it frequently works in getting him a better seat — on one overseas flight I observed, chocolates didn't get him out of coach but did get him near constant attention including extra water and a cheese plate from First Class.

An interview with a fellow who tracks upgrades revealed you're more likely to get special treatment at hotels and car rental firms if you book directly, even if you pay the same price as at discount travel sites.

Another pal says he always books the cheapest rental car because they tend to sell out, leaving the car rental company no choice but to upgrade him.

We want to hear your experiences, questions and techniques when it comes to getting upgrades.

How did you snag a complimentary First Class seat?

Did you trade in that economy car for a mid-size at no extra charge?

What was it like getting that lavish suite even though you paid for cheaper accommodations?

Has your credit card or membership in an organization helped you get an upgrade?

How did you get the ocean-view cruise cabin for the price of an inside?

Are upgrade coupons online worth the effort?

We'll feature reader comments and answer your questions in the Trip Coach column in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel.


Would You Pay $80 for an Upgrade?

Should We Tip Flight Attendants?

Would You Say No to an Upgrade?

Keep reading
Travel Tips

When Will Egypt Be Back On the Tourist Map?

Ongoing political violence and demonstrations in Egypt, including the killing of 24 Coptic Christians by security forces this past weekend, is making it hard for Egypt's tourism industry to rebound. Yet bookings are still gradually returning. "We are optimistic even with the violence we had last week," said Mohamed Hegazy of the Egypt Tourist Authority. "We are still in a transition period. Definitely you can predict some of these demonstrations and some of these minor incidents. But it's not targeting any tourists. It's a political situation." Hegazy said that Egypt welcomed 121,000 U.S. tourists between January and August of this year, which represents a 46 percent drop compared to last year. "Despite all of these issues and actions, U.S. tourists are still flying to Egypt," said Hegazy. In spite of uncertainty in the lead-up to parliamentary elections scheduled to take place by the end of November, and the ensuing presidential elections slated for sometime in the first half of 2012, travel companies say they are seeing a gradual return in travelers to Egypt. Pamela Lassers, media relations manager for Abercrombie & Kent, noted that A&K; has had twice as many bookings for Egypt in the previous two weeks than it had since its 2012 dates and prices were released on Aug. 24. "Interest in travel to Egypt rebounded in the fourth quarter with clients who had postponed trips earlier in the year rebooking for travel October through December 2011," said Lassers. Also, Adventures by Disney is going forward with its family-friendly Egypt itineraries. "We are happily continuing to offer and operate our Egypt trip," said Heather Killingbeck, director of program development and operations at ABD, which offers a Pyramids, Pharaohs & Ancient Treasures trip to Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, the Nile and Sharm El Sheikh. But the cruise lines have been less bullish on Egypt heading into 2012. Carnival Corp. altered nearly 300 itineraries this year in the Middle East and North Africa, impacting about 9.5 percent of the company's itineraries, and it has moved out of Egypt for next year. Celebrity Cruises last week canceled five 2012 Holy Land sailings, which visit ports in Israel and Egypt, on the Celebrity Silhouette and will operate 13-day Eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic cruises instead. "Those that have planned and committed with a deposit — and are mentally ready — continue with their plans," said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours. "Those that are still in the early stages of planning for 2012 are waiting and will probably book after the elections." More from Budget Travel: State Department downgrades Egypt warning Fares to Europe May Spike in 2012 Due to International Showdown No Online Booking Fee? Turns Out That's Only Sometimes True

Travel Tips

No Online Booking Fee? Turns Out That's Only Sometimes True

Remember back in 2009, when it seemed like every online travel agent was making a big deal about removing airline booking fees (those nasty "processing" charges that can range between $7 to 12?)? Within a couple of months of one another, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity all announced that they were doing away with fees. They weren't the first booking sites to do this either—Priceline and Hotwire had removed their fees on most tickets as early as 2007. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('f105ebe9-8f89-42f5-8996-19cbe88deb45');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) Many of these sites still advertise the "no fee" promise, but, as it turns out, that's only true when you book a flight that is serviced by the same carrier. Book a trip that has you flying in on American Airlines and out on Delta, for example, and you'll be paying a fee for that itinerary. In fact, the only site mentioned here where you won't be hit with these extra fees is Hotwire. The truth is in the fine print. Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, and Travelocity all have a disclaimer (some more readily available to consumers than others) that explains the fee. What's a traveler to do? Well, the answer seems clear—unless you're booking through Hotwire, if the prices are the same, always choose an itinerary with a single airline over one served by several airlines. If the multiple-airline trip is significantly cheaper, even after you factor in the fee—that still may be the way to go. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Introducing the $450 Checked Baggage Fee Beware of Fake "Direct" Flights Which Airlines Give Refunds When the Fare Drops?

Travel Tips

Gowalla's New Focus as a Travel Guide

The best known location-based service may be Foursquare, a mobile app that broadcasts your whereabouts and makes "mayors" out of frequent visitors to cafés and other spots. But rival tool Gowalla is more useful for the average traveler—especially in light of its full redesign in late September. Now aiming to be "a social atlas to the world," the free Gowalla website and apps for Android iPhone/iPad now include guides to 60 major cities, parks, and regions across the globe. The guides are based on the recommendations of users, "check-in" popularity, and input from guest experts. Click on the London guide, for instance, and you'll see photos of the destinations most recommended by Gowalla users and contributors, plus helpful lists such as Top Ten Things To Do for Under £10 (with touring the British Museum coming in number one on that list). You can also create little "stories" to share publicly, based on what you did at particular places. Tag photos of other users (with the permission of your friends or family members), and let the world know of the good time you had at a particular attraction. You don't have to share information publicly to benefit from the guides, though. You don't even have to sign up for the site to see them. Take a look online at Gowalla.com risk-free. The hurdle with Gowalla faces is the same one any social-networking site must leap: It's only as helpful as the number of users who have uploaded news and opinions about a location. Copenhagen, for instance, is a destination that woefully lacks help travel tips in Gowalla. On the bright side, the tool is based on opinions from real people, whose past reviews and travels can be independently verified by their geo-location data. So you're less likely to see bogus anonymous reviews as you see on sometimes see on other mass-opinion websites, such as TripAdvisor. Now if Google bought Gowalla to complement its recent purchase of restaurant survey database Zagat, the tool could become really powerful. (Psst! Sergey! Listen up!) What are your favorite social networking tools for travel? Sound off in the comments. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Most Useful Travel Websites The Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps Airport Survival Guide—We Want Your Tips!

Travel Tips

Bing Makes Navigating Airports a Breeze

Paris. Shanghai. LAX? Airports may not usually be listed among the world’s most exotic locales, but they can still be destinations in themselves. Unfortunately, they can also be confusing and time-consuming: searching out a café for a quick coffee before a flight or finding the correct baggage claim upon touchdown can make one’s airport experience more stressful than it needs to be. With the new, free Airport Maps tool for its Bing search engine, Microsoft plans to change that. Users can now scour online maps for 42 airports in the United States, plotting out snack stops, ATM locations, terminals and restrooms. The tool offers more than just static maps. Bing users can benefit from several useful features:Seamless integration into Bing Maps. Just search for the name of an airport—or its city or code—and then zoom and drag to your heart’s content. Clickable destinations. Want to check out a menu before you decide on your lunch? Just find a restaurant within the airport, click its color-coded location, and Bing will serve up additional information—including company websites, if available. Mobile functionality. Bing allows you to send airport information to your mobile phone, so you’ll stay informed even away from your desktop. Microsoft might be the latest company to release an airport travel tool, but related applications for smart phones have been gaining steam for some time. Mobile travelers can check out the following tools for a smoother experience at the airport: FLYsmart. Served up for free by Clear Channel and Geodelic Systems, FLYsmart offers airport maps and directories just like Bing, but it also provides convenient real-time flight information. Instead of rushing out to the terminal to check your flight’s status, sit back in an airport bar and enjoy a drink, knowing that up-to-the-minute information is right in your pocket. FlightView. Planespotters will love FlightView, which provides nationwide flight tracking and weather delay maps. And that’s just the free version; the $3.99 FlightView Elite app also offers arrival and departure boards and weather conditions at airports across the country. B4YOUBOARD. A free app from Airside Mobile and travel-food experts HMSHost, B4YOUBOARD allows hungry travelers to order food delivered straight to their departure gate. Currently the program is limited to selected terminals at the Minneapolis–St. Paul and JFK airports. Apps and online tools can be helpful, but nothing beats experience. What are some of your strategies for making airports more navigable, interesting, or even—yes—fun? — Ryan Murphy MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Most Useful Travel Websites The Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps Airport Survival Guide—We Want Your Tips!