The first tip for scoring a free airline upgrade is to never use the words "free" or "upgrade" in the same sentence. Believe it or not, you're not the first person who has thought of buttering up the ticketing agent for an undeserved upgrade.
The first step is to become a member of the airline's frequent flyer program. If the coach section is oversold and the ticket agent is scanning the flight manifest for potential upgrades, he or she is going to give priority to the gold and silver status members who have proven their loyalty [source: Gibson].
The next tip is twofold: Check into the flight early, but board the plane late [source: CheapFlights.com]. By checking in at the airport hours before your flight, you have the advantage of being one of the first people to put in an upgrade request. Don't ask directly for the upgrade, of course -- "more legroom" or "closer to the front of the plane" are the standard euphemisms. By boarding the plane late, there's more time for coach to oversell. When the crew starts scrambling for new seat assignments, there you are with your carry-on in hand.
Sharply dressed solo travelers have the greatest odds of getting an upgrade at the gate [source: Wysong]. Single travelers are much easier to relocate quickly than a family of four, and if you want to fit in with the business class crowd, you have to look and act the part. Business casual is all right, but leave the sweatpants at home.
Another idea is to forget first class altogether. For many frequent business travelers, especially on domestic flights, the undisputed best seats on the plane are on the emergency exit row or the bulkhead, where legroom abounds [source: Elliot]. Again, the best way to grab those seats is to check in early and make a special -- but always friendly -- request with the ticketing agent.
Of course, not all upgrades are free -- and why should they be? Most airlines allow you to trade in frequent flyer miles for upgrades and some of the best bump-up deals can be found at the last minute by haggling with the ticket agent. If the agent has extra seats, he or she might charge a little more, but still far less than you would've paid in advance [source: Gibson].
For lots more travel tips, see the links on the next page.