How to win at travel upgrades

Everyone loves an upgrade. But, very few people know that getting the most out of an upgrade is an exact science.

Sometimes it involves spending a bit of money for a huge reward, other times it involves timing your arrival at the hotel reception so you can swoop in and score a freebie, and sometimes it really does just come down to being in the right place and the right time and batting your eyelids.

Here are six upgrade secrets for those who want to experience that little bit extra on their next holiday.

1. Choose your destination wisely

If you want to treat yourself to the sneaky champers and extra legroom of business class, you don’t necessarily need to pay four times the cost of an economy ticket.

Recent research from Flight Centre revealed the cost ratio between business and economy tickets can vary greatly depending on where you are travelling to, and it’s not always the closest international destinations that have the smallest difference between economy and business ticket price.

If you’re travelling from Sydney, Flight Centre found Auckland is the city that offers the cheapest business class upgrade (with business tickets costing 2.3 times economy fares), closely followed by Frankfurt (at 2.4 times an economy fare). A flight to Hawaii up the front of the plane would cost a Sydneysider 2.7 times the price of an economy ticket.

Hawaii was the cheapest destination for Brisbane’s aspirational jetsetters. A business class seat on a Brisbane-Honolulu flight costs just less than double its cattle class equivalent.

Down in Melbourne, the cheapest upgrade was found on flights to Manila (2.5 times the economy fare), followed by Hawaii (2.7 times) and Manila (2.8 times).

2. Reward yourself for spending money

If your holidays involve flying and you’re using a credit card that doesn’t offer frequent flyer points, you could be missing out on some top level upgrade perks.

Flight upgrades are one of the best ways to get value out of your frequent flyer points. Business class is a much more achievable goal if you’re only paying for a third of it because your points covered the rest. For example, if you had been using your credit card a bit (to pay off bills, school fees etc.) and amassed 16,000 Qantas points, you could find yourself sitting at the front of the plane the next time you fly to Auckland.

Here are three cards that will do the job nicely:

American Express Platinum Edge Credit Card: 1 frequent flyer point for every $1 spent on AMEX, 3 points per $1 at the major supermarkets, and a complimentary Virgin Australia domestic return flight each year.

HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card: 1 frequent flyer point per $1 on Visa, and a bonus 20.000 Qantas points if you join before 31 December 2014.

ANZ Rewards Platinum Card: 3 points per $1 on AMEX, 1.5 points per $1 on Visa and complimentary travel insurance.

To compare credit cards that offer frequent flyer points and other perks, visit Mozo’s rewards card comparison tables.

3. Timing is everything: be fashionably late

There’s no point arriving at your hotel at 10am and asking reception if they have a spare room at the top of the building; there’s probably someone still sleeping in it.

According to hotel upgrade experts, if you check in towards the end of the day, staff will know who has cancelled or not shown up, and you will have a better chance of smooth talking your way into their suite.

4. Don’t expect a rags to riches story

Often bargain hunters looking for an upgrade fail because they expect too much. By choosing a mid-tier alternative when you first book, sales staff will feel less like they’re ripping their company off by upgrading you (and have a much easier time explaining it to their boss).

For example, it is much easier for your Fairy Upgrader to turn a VW sedan into a Mercedes than it is for her to make a Merc of a Honda hatchback.

The same goes for hotel rooms: don’t book the cheapest standard room available and think you can sweet talk your way up to the penthouse. Choose a room in the middle of the hotel’s price range, and work from there.

5. Join the club

Hotel loyalty clubs are a way to guarantee that upgrade feeling every time you travel. While some club fees can add on a cost to your holiday, often the benefits are worth it.

By joining the free Rydges Priority Guest Rewards program, you can save a minimum 10% off the lowest rate every time you stay in a Rydges hotel, and can also earn free nights of accommodation and access special offers, discount and rewards. Over at the Accor Advantage Plus loyalty program, members pay $319/year to receive a complimentary night of accommodation each year, as well as up to 50% off in-house dining.

Having a member’s card with your name on it is probably also a good way to make hotel staff want to be nice to you. And, on that note...

6. Keep it personal

Is it your birthday? Your anniversary?

Without oversharing, subtly letting this information slip into your friendly conversation with the flight attendant can help you get that special upgrade: they’re much more likely to give those two extra seats up the front of the plane to the couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with their first overseas trip than to Mr and Mrs Jones in seats N 3-4.