the best lesson i ever learned from my father: always ask for an upgrade.

i was exchanging messages with my family on my way to the bangalore airport, and the last one i received was from my father wishing me a safe trip. because it was in my head, as i walked into the airport i had an epiphany: i should ask for an upgrade! my father – and my brother – always ask if an upgrade is available, and more often than not they luck into them. i never had the guts to do it before last year, but sometimes it pays off.

all airlines do upgrades differently. some will give it to you for free if you are a frequent flier and they have a lot of people waiting on standby for a flight. others will offer paid upgrades at the airport at a fraction of what the cost would be online. and still others allow you to bid for upgrades, subject to availability.

i took advantage of the last option when i flew from the states to india in december, and i am so glad i did. generally a one-way business class ticket on etihad would run you a minimum of $3000 – and usually upwards of $5000 – but about a week before my trip i received an email asking if i wanted to bid for an upgrade. you put in how much you’re willing to pay [there’s a minimum based on the length of the flight], and then three days before the flight they start offering seats to the highest bidders. on a whim i bid the minimum and ended up getting upgraded on both legs for about $200 total! i got lounge access in chicago and abu dhabi, pajamas and a full bed for my long-haul flight, awesome food and service, and i got it for about half the price of a business class ticket. not a bad deal, i say.

and then, when i was travelling from bombay to bangalore at the beginning of the year, i casually asked the jet airways representative if there was an upgrade available. he didn’t say anything, just that he would check, and without my knowledge he upgraded me for free! when i was boarding my flight, the person at the counter swapped my old boarding pass for a new one and sent me on my way. it was amazing.

so when i was walking into the bangalore airport a few weeks ago, it struck me that this flight would have a business class and that i should find out if there were upgrades available. there were, but only for a fee. i thought about it for a few minutes, reminded myself that i was treating myself to a holiday, and went for it. it gave me access to the lounge – which included unlimited food and drinks – and i ended up with the first row entirely to myself. plus i had a delicious dinner and was the first one off the plane and into the shuttle to the terminal. it had its perks.

i did the same for my return to bangalore. this one worked out even better, as i had about 3.5 hours to kill, and the sri lankan airport doesn’t offer a lot. there are two restaurants [one of which is a burger king that serves a chicken whopper. no thanks], a few overpriced souvenir shops, and some very uncomfortable chairs. when i got to the terminal area and saw those options, i was very grateful i had opted for the upgrade. the lady at the check-in counter had told me i didn’t get lounge access for upgrading at the airport, but i just walked in to the lounge and showed them my boarding pass, and they let me stay. the best part was that they had gherkins at the snack table, and i think i ate at least 20! they were so good, and i’ve not had them in so long, and i just couldn’t stop myself from going back and refilling my plate every half hour or so.

i know i’ve been very lucky with these upgrades in the last twelve months, and i am hoping that luck continues for my return home for christmas.

so the moral of the story is this: always ask for an upgrade. worst case scenario is that they tell you no, and you go on with your life. but if it works, it can be a really fun experience.


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