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Business Class for Cheap: How to Get a Free Flight Upgrade

Rouselle Isla

Rouselle Isla

Last updated February 28, 2024

Whenever we think of flying, we usually picture sitting in a cramped and loud cabin, enduring a seatmate with no regard for personal space, and eating an expensive but unappetizing meal. But this doesn’t have to be the case, especially with a seat in business or first class.

Such seats can make you feel like you’re on a different flight. There’s ample legroom, comfortable seats, privacy, and an array of food and drinks throughout your flight.

However, the price is a significant drawback. You might have to pay double or even triple the price of an economy seat—way beyond your travel budget.

Luckily, if you know how to get a free upgrade to business class or first class, you can enjoy a luxurious flight without shelling out a lot of money. 

How to Get a Free Upgrade to Business Class or First Class: 10 Tips

The biggest question in your mind would probably be, “Is it better to buy first-class or upgrade?”

It’s cheaper to purchase an economy ticket and get an upgrade to business or first class via last-minute upgrades. The cost to upgrade can drop significantly if the airline can’t sell its business or first-class seats at full price. Airlines would rather get some revenue from them than not sell them at all.

Whatever your chosen airline—local ones like Philippine Airlines, or international ones such as Emirates or EVA Air—if you want to know how to get a free upgrade from economy to business class, check out these helpful tips.

👉 Take Advantage of Peak Seasons

The most important tip on how to get a free upgrade to business class or first class is to fly during the busiest times for family vacations or travel. This is when business or first-class seats are more likely to be unoccupied.

The more crowded the economy class is, the higher your chances of getting upgraded.

👉 Use an Airline-Branded Credit Card

how to get free upgrade to business class - book using airline-branded credit card

Certain credit card providers partner with big airline companies. With these credit cards, you can earn points whenever you make qualified purchases.

Use these points to get gifts and discounts or redeem flight-related rewards. Under certain circumstances, you may even get flight upgrades.

Here are some of our top recommendations for airline-branded credit cards in the Philippines:

💳 UnionBank Cebu Pacific Gold

UB Cebu Pacific Gold
  • 1 Go rewards point for every ₱200 spend
  • 1 Go rewards point for every ₱100 spend at Cebu Pacific
  • Access to exclusive Cebu Pacific seat sales
  • Free life insurance of up to ₱400,000

💳 UnionBank Cebu Pacific Platinum

UB Cebu Pacific Platinum
  • 1 Go rewards point for every ₱200 spend
  • 1 Go rewards point for every ₱100 spend at Cebu Pacific
  • Access to exclusive Cebu Pacific seat sales
  • Free unlimited access to NAIA Terminal 3 - Pacific Lounge
  • Free travel insurance 

💳 RCBC AirAsia Credit Card

RCBC AirAsia Credit Card
  • Welcome gift of 8,000 AirAsia Points upon spending ₱20,000 within 60 days of issuance
  • 2 points for every ₱25 AirAsia spend
  • 1 point for every ₱22 international spend
  • 1 point for every ₱28 domestic retail spend
  • Priority check-in, boarding, and baggage on AirAsia flights

💳 PNB-PAL Mabuhay Miles Now Mastercard

PNB PAL NOW
  • Welcome gift of 1,000 Mabuhay Miles 
  • 1 rewards point = 1 mile
  • Exclusive year-round PAL online discount
  • Free travel insurance with coverage of up to ₱1 million

💳 PNB-PAL Mabuhay Miles World Mastercard

PNB-PAL Mabuhay Miles World Mastercard
  • Welcome gift of free 2,000 PAL Mabuhay Miles 
  • Additional free 10,000 Mabuhay Miles when you make ₱100,000 worth of PAL transactions within 1 year from the date of card issuance[1]
  • 1 rewards point = 1 mile
  • Exclusive year-round PAL online discount
  • Priority check-in at PAL Business Class counters in NAIA Terminals
  • Dual currency billing option

💳 EastWest Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Platinum Mastercard

EastWest Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Platinum Mastercard
  • 1 KrisFlyer Mile for every ₱45 spend
  • Free Priority Pass™ membership in over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide
  • Low foreign currency conversion fee of 1.70%

👉 Use Your Miles and Loyalty Points

By joining an airline’s frequent flyer program, you can get flight upgrades for future trips. The first cluster of free flight upgrades goes to their loyal frequent flyers.

Plus, airlines reward loyalty points. To earn miles quickly, get a type of credit card that lets you earn miles every time you use it. Start accumulating miles and rewards points to redeem free flights and purchase flight upgrades.  

Compare the best credit cards for airline miles:

Credit Card Air Miles and Travel Benefits
Metrobank World Mastercard®
metrobank WORLD MASTERCARD
APPLY NOW
  • 2.5 rewards points = 1 Mabuhay Mile
  • Exclusive airport discounts 
HSBC Red Mastercard
hsbc red
APPLY NOW
  • 1 air mile per ₱25 or ₱30 spend, depending on the transaction type
  • Exclusive travel deals worldwide via HSBC’s home&Away Privilege Programme
Security Bank Platinum Mastercard
security bank platinum
APPLY NOW
  • 11,667 rewards points = 1,000 Mabuhay Miles
  • Access to airport lounges worldwide
  • Access to Marhaba Lounge
Security Bank Gold Mastercard
Gold_Contactless_2022-2026-1
APPLY NOW
  • 11,667 rewards points = 1,000 Mabuhay Miles
  • Access to Marhaba Lounge
BPI Signature Card
BPI Signature Card-1
APPLY NOW
  • 8,000 points = 1,000 PAL Mabuhay Miles or airasia rewards
  • Access to airport lounge
  • Up to ₱20 million travel insurance
BPI Platinum Rewards Card
BPI Plat Rewards
APPLY NOW
  • 8,000 points = 1,000 PAL Mabuhay Miles or airasia rewards
  • Access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide
  • Up to ₱10 million travel insurance
PNB-PAL Mabuhay Miles NOW Mastercard
pnb pal mabuhay miles now
COMPARE NOW
  • ₱58 spend = 1 rewards point = 1 Mabuhay Mile  
  • 1,000 Mabuhay Miles welcome gift
  • 5% discount on select Philippine Airlines international flights booked via the official PAL website all year round
  • Pay bills in peso even for transactions abroad
PNB-PAL Mabuhay Miles Platinum Mastercard
pnb pal mabuhay miles platinum
COMPARE NOW
  • ₱48 spend = 1 rewards point = 1 Mabuhay Mile
  • 2,000 Mabuhay Miles welcome gift
  • 5% discount on select Philippine Airlines international flights booked via the official PAL website all year round
  • Option between single and dual currency billing

Read more: Fly for Free When You Convert Your Credit Card Points to Miles

✈️ How Many Miles to Upgrade to Business or First Class?

So you’ve racked up the points and earned the miles. But how many do you need to upgrade your flight?

The number of miles or points to qualify for a business or first-class upgrade varies per airline. It also depends on your travel dates, place of origin, destination, and the cabin type you originally booked.

For example, let's say you want to know how many miles you need to get a PAL upgrade to business class. It depends on the route and the Service Class Upgrade (SCU), a Travel Award under the Mabuhay Miles program which grants a one-step upgrade to the next level of Service Class upon fulfilling certain conditions.[1]

  • If you’re flying from Manila to Canton, Macau, Quanzhou, Taipei, Xiamen, or Hong Kong on Economy and wish to upgrade to Business Class, you'll need 12,000 Mabuhay Miles.
  • If you're headed to Fukuoka, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Shanghai, Singapore, or Bangkok, upgrading from Economy to Business Class will require 15,000 Mabuhay Miles.
  • For long-haul flights to London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancaouver, you'll need at least 40,000 Mabuhay Miles to upgrade to business class.[2] 
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👉 Check the Aircraft and Cabin Layout

how to get free upgrade to business class - check aircraft and cabin layout

When booking your flight, you’ll see what aircraft you’ll be flying on and the cabin’s layout. If it’s a wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 777 Dreamliner, it offers more business and first-class seats. Thus, these aircraft types most likely contain more unbooked or unoccupied seats in such sections.  

A few hours before your departure, log in to the airline’s website like you’re booking the same flight again. From there, you can see how many seats are still available in the business and first-class cabins. The more unbooked seats, the bigger your chance of getting a seat upgrade.

👉 Check Emails from the Airline

Most of us usually ignore promotional emails as they just contain ads. But sometimes, airline companies send vouchers or loyalty point bonuses that entitle you to a flight upgrade. So if you have an upcoming flight, check your inbox regularly and read your emails carefully.

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👉 Fly Solo

Are you traveling alone? Solo flyers have a better chance of nabbing a free flight upgrade than those who travel in groups. Big groups, families with over three guests, and couples are harder to seat than solo flyers.

When you’re flying solo, the flight crew can easily seat you anywhere in the first or business-class cabin without anyone noticing.

👉 Remember That Timing is Everything

how to get free upgrade to business class - timing is everything

When is the best time to upgrade to first class? It depends on the situation. Whether you get to the check-in counter early or late, both can be potentially beneficial.

If you’re early for your trip, you may be one of the first lucky passengers to get an upgraded seat. However, you can also get upgraded to business or first class if you’re late or if the flight is overbooked.

Whatever the case may be, try to score a flight upgrade while at the gate and let the gate agents know you’re interested in one. Once you’re on board, there’s not much flight attendants can do.

Gate agents usually have a list of frequent fliers eligible for flight upgrades. You can easily get bumped up to business or first class if you're on the list. It also helps to know the airline’s membership upgrade policy before you make a request.  

👉 Keep Your Cool During Flight Delays

Everyone hates delayed flights. But sometimes, they can serve as your ticket to a seat upgrade. If you keep your cool, you might get a special treat for your troubles and inconvenience.

According to flight attendants, passengers who are kind and always smiling are usually the first to be considered for any last-minute upgrades.

👉 Have a Good Reason for an Upgrade

Pregnant or suffering from back problems? Seat not reclining? Unresponsive entertainment system?

Make sure to alert the flight attendants and share your flight issues with them nicely. Offer a legitimate reason to increase your chances of getting a free flight upgrade. There’s no harm in asking.

The same goes for when you’re celebrating a special event. Let the flight crew know you're celebrating an occasion, whether it’s your birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon. If you don’t get a flight upgrade, you might at least get a drink on the house.

Related: Be a Wiser Traveler: Learn the Air Passenger Bill of Rights

👉 Consider Flight Upgrade Auctions

how to get free upgrade to business class - flight upgrade auctions

Technically, this option isn’t free. Nevertheless, it increases your odds of getting a flight upgrade without spending a fortune.

Major airlines like Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific allow passengers to bid for premium-class seats. If you’re the highest bidder, you'll get that business or first-class seat.

Related reading:

UNOBank_Loan_-_Travel_(Sep_2023)_1200x350

Final Thoughts

First-class seats are expensive because you’re paying for comfort. You enjoy more legroom, spacious seats, better meals, and superior service from the flight crew.

Plenty of people travel without ever experiencing flying first class because of the steep prices. So consider if a first-class flight is worth it, or if you’re better off on an economy seat. This way, you can use the money to pay for other important purchases.

Lastly, before you spend your hard-earned money on first-class tickets, learn how to get a free upgrade to business class or first class without having to pay extra.

🛡️ Enjoy Peace of Mind with Travel Insurance 

Ready to book that flight? Don't forget to avail of travel insurance as well. Enjoy financial protection from lost luggage, accidents, and other travel-related mishaps for as low as ₱299. 

Compare your options below and apply via Moneymax: 

Provider
Premium Starts At
Coverage
Features
OONA Insurance
oona
moneymax buy now
₱299
Up to ₱5 million coverage in medical, hospitalization, and travel inconveniences
  • 24/7 worldwide protection and assistance services
  • Unlimited emergency and medical evacuation, repatriation, etc.
  • Cashless medical assistance
PGAI Travel Shield Insurance
pgai
moneymax buy now
₱361
Up to ₱2.5 million coverage in medical and emergency expenses benefit
  • 24-hour worldwide assistance
  • Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation 
  • Cashless settlements of claims up to the policy limit
PGA SOMPO TravelJOY Plus
pga sompo traveljoy
moneymax buy now
₱463
Up to ₱2.5 million coverage in medical expenses
  • Covers infants and adults up to 85 years old (up to 99 for Schengen countries)
  • 24/7 hotline assistance and mobile support
  • Cashless benefits in case of emergency treatment or hospitalization

Sources:

Rouselle has over eight years of writing experience in the personal finance niche. She has written feature stories, articles, and how-to guides on various personal finance and trending lifestyle topics. Before that, she briefly worked in banking and was a licensed life insurance advisor. When not writing, Rouselle likes to read books and binge-watch films and series. Follow Rouselle on Linkedin.

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