Most cash bookings can be upgraded with Avios either at the time of booking or later on, depending on availability. Only the lowest economy (World Traveller) fares (Q, O and G) cannot be upgraded with Avios at any time. There must be reward flight availability in the next cabin for you to be able to upgrade to it using Avios. You won’t be able to upgrade with Avios at the airport or on board.
In addition to setting alerts for all the trips you know you want to take, travelers should be prepared to book spontaneous flights, too. Like the DealRay app, Thrifty Traveler and Scott’s Cheap Flights are subscription services that will notify you when there’s a serious deal worth booking — even if the destination hadn’t been on your radar at all. Instead of a push notification, however, they send e-mail blasts to subscribers.
Sidestep.com: In early September, Sidestep added a unique fare alert product that allows you to track a specific airfare. To use this service, you need to first search for a fare between two cities. Once that's done you'll see the option to track the fare, and you can choose to track either nonstop or connecting/direct flights over a flexible travel date period of between 7 and 30 days in either direction of the dates for which you originally searched, which is a unique feature. Sidestep does not (yet anyway) offer a fare listing service.
With a few extra functions and a smarter user interface, this combination will be the best flight tracking tool in the market. The ability to track your flights after purchase and be notified if there is a chance of a partial refund has the potential to save a lot of money and adds a layer of value the websites on the list don’t have an answer for.
And it is not just a combination of luck and automation that will shut you out of upgrades — at some airlines, it may be a matter of policy. “Most airlines state, in no uncertain terms, that their policies prohibit arbitrary upgrading, both at check-in and onboard,” says Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer. “It’s a firm rule, with no room for negotiation or interpretation.” Petersen agrees about the root cause: “This becomes understandable when you consider that upgrading is now often done electronically, rather than by queuing up at the check-in counter.”
If you don't have access to a service such as Flight Alerts, check in with the airlines 24 hours prior to departure. If an upgrade is still unavailable at this point, check in online at the airline's Web site. Most airlines establish a waitlist for upgrades at the airport. Priority is usually given to those who have checked-in the earliest and with online check-in available 24 hours prior to departure; this will greatly increase your chances of getting that elusive upgrade.
Matt is the Managing Editor of Point Hacks. Originally from Sydney, he won the green card lottery and now bases himself in the US for half the year and abroad for the other half. His favourite destinations so far have been Japan, Iran, the US, Israel and South Africa, and his top flight experiences in Cathay Pacific First, SWISS Business and Singapore Airlines Economy Class.
The second upgrade tip is to check the upgrade availability frequently. Although upgrade seats may not be available at the time you purchased the coach ticket the inventory for upgrades is constantly changing, right up until the time of departure. You can check with your airline every day or several times a week or you can use an alert service from some online services such as ExpertFlyer.com. ExpertFlyer.com now offers Flight Alerts, a service that allows you to program your actual flight or series of preferred flights for an upgrade or award. Flight Alerts will automatically search for open availability and notify you immediately once it locates a seat. The notification can be sent to three (3) different addresses including personal or work email, cell phone or PDA so no matter where you are or what you're doing, you will be notified the moment Flight Alerts finds the Premium seat you're looking for. Flight Alerts, or a similar notification program, can also assist you in finding seats using only awards miles.