How To Get Domestic Flight Upgrades On Qantas And Virgin Australia

How To Get Domestic Flight Upgrades On Qantas And Virgin Australia

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.

Best flight upgrade strategies
  1. Stick with the same airline
  2. Travel when it’s busy . . .
  3. . . . but not too busy!
  4. Respect baggage limits
  5. Volunteer to get ‘bumped’
  6. Be on time
  7. Use the power of love
  8. Travel solo
  9. Be nice to everyone
  10. 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 Australia

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.


  • About 15 years ago, I flew Garuda from Bangkok to London. When my traveling companion and I boarded, we discovered our seats were double booked – someone else had been assigned the same seats and was already in them. This was on economy, which was fully booked.

    Given that there was no place else to sit, my friend and I were pretty pleased – we figured they’d have no choice but to upgrade us to business or first, which we could see was virtually empty….

    Nope… they made us stand at the back for the duration of the flight – including take-off and landing! Yes, I know that’s extremely illegal and I did report them to the authorities and formally complain to the airline when we arrived in the UK. I’m told they received a decent fine, but they refused to ever refund or compensate us (or even acknowledge the complaint) and, eventually, I gave up.

    Never again, Garuda, never again.

  • I was on an Emirates flight a few years ago in economy when this guy was refusing to let the person in front put their seat back by pressing his knees into the back of their seat. This on a 16 hour night flight. His logic was he paid for his ‘space’ and they were invading it. This jerk then insisted that he be moved to business to remedy the situation, ie. he would calm down if he was transferred to business. It seemed to me like he’d done this before.

    The captain came back, assessed the situation, and told the flight crew to move them to Business class. Just as the jerk guy got up to move, the attendant said ‘not you sir, the passengers in front’. The whole section of the plane applauded!

    • Good story, and if the guy was doing it to be a jerk, then it’s a great outcome too.

      I’m 2m tall and to fit into economy seats I have to sit with my legs on an angle to be able to fit them behind the seat in front. Unfortunately for the people in front of me they just aren’t able to recline their chairs as there is no room to move.

  • Dress for the seating class you want not the ticket you have.This means smart business casual for business class and designer label or expensive looking leather/fur for first class, this also applies to your baggage.

  • I believe the only way you will get an upgrade with VA is if it is an operational requirement (eg; they oversell economy) but it will only be offered to high status pax, as a VA platinum I have only got two upgrages in two years due to this. Very very uncommon but it can happen, and more often than not it is done by the actual gate agents rather than the person checking you in. I dont think dress will have much of an effect when flying with Virgin on scoring a free upgrade…Cant speak for QF.

    • +1 for gate agent upgrades.

      I’ve been bumped into Exit Row seats a few times while travelling domestic, and once even upto Business Class. All of this with Qantas.

      I’m a frequent flyer, but not high enough in the tier to normally warrant the treatment. I reckon its more to do with the aforementioned attributes such as what you’re wearing, how “fresh” you are (i.e. don’t stink inspite of long flights) and your general demeanour. Bonus points for friendly smiles to the overworked and underpaid staff ALWAYS results in good karma and sometimes even seat upgrades.

  • Suffered a painful bout of DVT on a QF int flight a few years back and had to stand up to keep the leg straight. I was happy to stand up all night to relieve the pain but was told I had to resume my seat. When I said I couldn’t because of the pain the cabin staff became indignant and insisted I sit. I suggested I could keep my leg straight in a business class seat (they were all empty). Finally after about three hours they told me to sit in a business class seat but all through the night I was reminded that I shouldn’t be sitting there. I was told that I couldn’t be there during breakfast and that I couldn’t fly Qantas again unless I supplied a medical certificate after I arrived back in Australia. They made me feel like a criminal. Back in Australia I had ultrasounds and check-ups and thankfully did not have a clot, but I will never be able to forget the way I was treated that night.

  • Good ole Qantas! Premium prices with 3rd class service. Then they wonder why people choose other airlines. The service on Qantas has been sub-standard for years.

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