Frequent airline travelers know that sitting in the economy section of the plane can be rough. The space is limited, the service is less timely, and the restrooms always seem to be full. Upgrading to business class can eliminate many of these problems, but most people are unwilling or unable to spend the money it takes to upgrade.
While you may have to splurge to sit in your section of choice, there are also strategies you can use to help increase your odds of getting an upgrade without breaking the bank. This is especially true for travelers who are flying solo and are able to be somewhat flexible with their plans. Utilizing some of the tips in this article will likely improve your chance of getting that cheap (or free) upgrade so that you can enjoy the luxuries of business class.
Set Yourself Up for Success
One of the best ways to find yourself in an upgraded seat is to establish yourself with the airlines that you fly with most frequently. Many airlines offer rewards programs for frequent flyers, and members can earn points to apply for an upgrade or a decrease in the cost of an economy ticket. Some of these programs even offer access to additional perks, such as pre-flight lounge rooms, that may be of interest as well.
In general, the more you fly, the more points you will earn toward future flights or other relevant rewards, and if you’re able to fly with the same airline consistently, you are more likely to bank additional points with that airline.
Some airlines offer credit cards that can be used to accumulate points as well, and there may even be opportunities for doubling your points depending on the type of purchase (for example, double rewards for restaurant or gas station purchases). Be sure to read the fine lines when acquiring a new card, as you will not want to miss out on any special opportunities, since deals for maximizing your points are often presented when you first open the account, and these deals tend to be time-sensitive. 
Align Your Circumstances
Some airlines may require certain criteria for passengers to be considered for upgrades to business class. For example, there may be limitations as to how far a person can upgrade based off of the original ticket price, meaning that a passenger with an economy ticket is less likely to be eligible for an upgrade to first class compared to a passenger who began with a business class ticket. Therefore, if you’re truly wanting to increase your chances of getting upgraded, you’ll want to avoid purchasing the cheapest seats in the first place. 
Likewise, there are additional circumstances that may actually decrease your risk of getting upgraded. Airlines are less likely to provide upgrades to passengers traveling in a group, as it is rare that there is enough space left in business class to accommodate the whole group. Travelers who are flying across several connectors are also less likely to be upgraded, especially if they hold tickets for different classes across the connector flights. 
Unfortunately, traveling with either oversized luggage or pets can also decrease your chances of being upgraded to a higher class. Individuals flying with a small child who does not have a seat (infant in arms) are unlikely to be moved as well. 
Although you may not be able to align your plans with the criteria listed above, it is important to keep this information in mind in the event that you are able to fly with more flexibility in the future.
Seek Out Opportunities
Another way to increase your chances of getting upgraded to business class for cheap is to physically seek out opportunities to be upgraded. This strategy is especially helpful as the timing of the flight grows closer, as airlines do not want to be left with empty business class seats. If you are a rewards member for the airline, you may even be invited to utilize your points to bid for an upgrade in order to help fill the empty spaces. [1-2]
If you search for deals online, be sure to look at third-party websites, as the actual airline website is less likely to offer these deals (and if so, they will probably be taken up pretty quickly). Some websites even have auctions where travelers can place their bids on upgraded tickets within a week of the scheduled flight. 
Travelers who are comfortable purchasing one-way flights will want to consider doing so to see if they can catch a business class deal for cheap. This allows for you to bid for the seat closer to the actual fight without having to worry about getting your round-trip tickets in order. Be sure to shop around on different websites to ensure you are getting the best deal. 
Be As Flexible As Possible
Passengers who are able to be flexible with their travel are the most likely to find themselves upgraded to a better seat. Since most people traveling for business fly on Mondays or Fridays, consider purchasing your ticket for other days of the week, if you’re able to make it work. It can also be helpful to fly at less common times of the day. 
Another hack for getting a cheap upgrade is to utilize lesser known airlines, as they tend to be more economical than the larger companies. For example, Icelandair, Aero Mexico, and Turkish Airlines are all budget-friendly options that are less popular among the frequent business class population. 
If you’re able to wait until closer to the flight, you can sometimes take advantage of flight overbooking. Consider calling the airline or arriving at the gate a little early to see if the airline has overbooked and needs to bump any passengers to another flight. Being willing to adjust your plans at the last minute may qualify you for a seat upgrade. 
While these strategies are by no means guaranteed to get you into business class for a cheaper price, they will certainly increase your chances of getting the upgrade you want. Whether you want to plan ahead or you prefer to play it by ear, making adaptations to the way you travel and being willing to be flexible with your schedule can definitely pay off.