What’s Your Best Free Travel Upgrade?

What's your best travel upgrade?When you’re flying, there aren’t many better feelings than getting a surprise beep at the gate and being handed a new boarding pass for a better seat up the front! The same goes for booking a cheap hotel room but being upgraded to a luxurious suite… or perhaps booking a budget rental car and receiving a free upgrade to a luxury sports car instead.

Everyone loves a free upgrade. It may not happen often… but when it does, it’s universally a small moment of joy for travellers!

Almost everyone has a story about “that one time” they got an amazing free upgrade. This week, we’re inviting all Australian Frequent Flyer members to share their favourite stories. We’ve already heard from many AFF members, and there have been some great memories shared so far!

Very occasionally, airlines and hotels have upgraded people celebrating a special occasion. LPS144 writes:

My wife and I got upgraded to a full blown suite at the Cordis in Hong Kong and it genuinely was our honeymoon.

Sadly, these kinds of discretionary free upgrades are very rare nowadays. Although many people like to believe they can score a free upgrade with their good looks, wit or charm, the reality is that most upgrades are now given because the product booked is oversold.

For example, airlines will sometimes give operational upgrades (or “op-ups”) to Economy class passengers if Economy is oversold but there are still available seats in Business class. It’s cheaper to do this – and generates far more goodwill – than to bump somebody from the flight entirely. Generally, a computer algorithm decides who to upgrade first – and it’s normally frequent flyers with the highest status tier.

Of course, operational upgrades don’t just happen on planes. Stevo.1702 couldn’t believe his luck when he was bumped from an inside cabin on a 7-night Alaskan cruise.

Walking down the corridor looking for our room I’m keeping an eye on my right where our room should be. My partner exclaims ‘here it is’ to a room on our left. I’m all of the sudden off-balance thinking I’ve totally lost my bearings on which was is forward and which way is aft on this monstrous vessel. We open our room to find a balcony stateroom. In a moment of shock, we closed the door. Looked at each other and tried the key again. It opened.

After a while of waiting, expecting someone else to enter the room and find we were double booked through some error we set sail. We finally discovered that they oversold the inside staterooms and oceanview staterooms and the next available room for us (because we had no assigned room from our booking) was an extra-large balcony stateroom.

It made our holiday immeasurably better. Hubbard glacier from our own balcony was a treat we frankly didn’t deserve.

Hvr was once completing a “mattress run” at a Hilton hotel in Bangkok and had booked the absolute cheapest room. On the last night, the room Hvr booked wasn’t available… but that certainly wasn’t a problem either!

She then took me up and showed me though the suite which had seven rooms. I literally got lost in it. I doubt I used all the features but I tried. It had two bathrooms, the main overlooking Bangkok from up high. I pity anybody who saw me in the bath but the view was too good to close the shutters.

oznflfan tells of a trip back from New Zealand in 1996. The flight was fully booked, but this member really needed to get back from Christchurch to Sydney…

Checked with supervisor and came back and said how much do you really want to get back? Confirmed again, and she suggested I can fly behind the pilot. Not sure what type of plane it was, but older four seat cockpit (maybe 747).

Was Pilot and trainee pilot in front, and co-pilot and me sitting behind in the cockpit. My wife (to be) sat in the pilots sleeping room off the cockpit.

Awesome flight.

Sometimes free upgrades are given as compensation for a service failure or other issues. Flying Fox had once booked a hotel in Tanzania, but when they arrived the power wasn’t working. The hotel manager came out with drinks and informed Flying Fox that they would need to move to another resort. Luckily, it certainly wasn’t a downgrade to the local backpackers…

Into the hotel mini van and after a 10min ride we stopped at some huge gates, huge walls and security guards. We were escored in and it turns out that the new place was something that I would see on travel shows that I wouldn’t ever pay for. It was a grand compound with armed guards, only 16 couples maximum at any one time (no children allowed), silver service meals x3 per day with basic drinks all included, all activities included (we had a free day of diving for two of us) private beach, inifinity pool etc etc. The resort was setup for movie stars and the mega wealthy etc.

During our stay the maximum number of guests that I saw was 3 other couples. I believe that for two nights we were the only couple there. Totally amazing and luxurious place that I couldn’t afford.

Was wonderful to taste how the wealthy people of the world holiday!! So much better than my YMCA expectation.

Of course, most free upgrades are simply sheer luck. I’ve personally only received free upgrades on less than 1% of the flights I’ve ever taken. The only way to guarantee an upgrade is to pay for it – be it with money, points or a cheeky upgrade bid. But when a surprising free upgrade does happen, it’s something quite special.

Share your favourite upgrade story on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: What’s the best travel upgrade you’ve received?


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]