Qantas introduced changes to its upgrade rules as part of a revamp last week, but moving towards the front of the plane still isn't easy and you'll normally need points. Here's what you need to know to score an upgrade on domestic flights.
Picture by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
First, an important reality check: you can't ever assume you'll get an upgrade, even if you have lots of accrued frequent flyer points. If an airline sells all its business-class seats, there's simply nowhere for people to move. If it doesn't happen, accept it gratefully.
- Stick with the same airline
- Travel when it's busy . . .
- . . . but not too busy!
- Respect baggage limits
- Volunteer to get 'bumped'
- Be on time
- Use the power of love
- Travel solo
- Be nice to everyone
- Use points
We covered our top 10 strategies for scoring upgrades last year, and all those points still apply to both international and domestic flights (we've summarised them in a list to the right). Here we're covering the specific rules that apply to Qantas and Virgin Australia, the two main domestic operators.
Qantas has long offered the option to request upgrades for domestic flights using points subsequent to booking via the Qantas site (up to 24 hours before flight departure). Before last week, if a seat wasn't available, you couldn't be waitlisted, and had to keep returning to the Qantas site to check for upgrades. A new option allows you to waitlist yourself for an upgrade in case a seat becomes available; if it does, you'll be sent an SMS. This does happen; business class bookings are fully flexible, so passengers change their minds more often than with cheaper fares.
Qantas Club, Gold and Platinum members can request an upgrade at the airport (this still requires you to use points). You can also now request partial upgrades (useful if you were flying on a route such as Melbourne-Brisbane-Townsville). Occasionally, you'll get upgraded without asking for it, though this is rare unless you're a high-status flyer. For international flights, upgrades can now happen at the gate if a passenger fails to show, but that hasn't yet been added to domestic flights.
Virgin upgrades using points can be lodged up to 4 hours before your flight departs, which is more generous than Qantas' 24-hour limit. Offsetting that, there's no official at-the-airport option, though you may get occasional no-points upgrades as a higher status flyer. According to the Virgin site, requests for upgrades need to be lodged via the phone contact centre. As with Qantas, higher-status flyers get priority if there are competing upgrade requests.
We aren't offering upgrade guidelines for other airlines in Australia (Jetstar, Tiger and Rex), since for domestic routes they often don't operate multi-class flights. (Jetstar is the exception, but I've yet to hear of anyone getting an upgrade into its business class section.)
The closest you'll usually get with these airlines is an exit row set with extra leg room (assuming those haven't been sold to customers willing to pay a premium). In my experience, the best way to score these is to be amongst the first to check in for the flight and to ask nicely, but it's hard to guarantee (and if you check in online in advance the choice won't be offered to you).
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman still has fond memories of the time he got upgraded from discount economy to first. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.