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Tips for Travel Upgrades

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What’s up our suit sleeve this time? Executive Travel has 12 hints for scoring top travel perks when booking a hotel room, renting a car, jumping on an airplane and more.

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These days, flying economy is a lesson in lowered standards. If your norm is the fetal position in seat 22B—praying the person in front of you takes his hand off the recline lever—it’s easy to lust over scoring the elusive get-out-of-jail-free upgrade. Travel perks, though, are harder than ever to come by.

“It’s increasingly rare that an ordinary coach traveler gets the pleasant surprise of someone saying, ‘I’ve actually got a seat for you up front,’” says New York 1 cable TV news host Pat Kiernan. Kiernan, who regularly flies from New York to Canada, says it’s virtually impossible to get a bump up to business because airlines are working hard to sell those premium seats up to the moment that the plane doors close. And when there are seats left open, they’re given to elite-level frequent flyers.

So what can an ordinary traveler do to improve their upgrade forecast? If you can’t marry an airline employee—and even that has limited perks—the first thing to do is to think of your travel experience holistically. Airline upgrades may be the most popular bonus, but your chances of getting a hotel or car rental promotion are much greater. And when you consider your perks in terms of the time you’ll spend enjoying them, it makes more sense to focus your efforts on scoring a corner suite or luxury sedan rather than a business-class seat that you’ll relish only for a few hours.

Taking the road (or flight) less traveled will also go a long way in your quest for a free upgrade. “Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the days for the best deals,” says Bestfares.com founder Tom Parsons. “Basically, whenever the business guys aren’t flying is a good time for everyone else.” Parsons says travelers aren’t only more likely to get promotions on off-peak flights, they’re also more likely to see deeply discounted business- or first-class tickets. And remember that most airlines offer upgrades for purchase—sometimes at a steal—24 hours before takeoff.

If you’re just not willing to shell out any green, you can try and play the airlines at their own game. Kiernan says he’s scored several “mini upgrades”—from economy to premium economy—the last few times he’s flown. “It’s not nearly as big a win as a move up to business class,” he concedes, “but if you opt not to preselect a seat in regular economy, eventually they’ll have to cough up the ‘premium’ seats for free.” It’s a gamble, though—one that might land you right back in 22B.

For more strategies for scoring travel upgrades, click here.

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