No, dressing up will not give you a flight upgrade

There is a lot of misinformation and very bad advice on the internet so I think this should hardly be noticed. But it’s travel specific, and since Travel + Leisure can’t help itself, I don’t think I can help myself either.

Do airlines upgrade people who dress up?

No, of course not, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Why would anyone think that? Oh, because Travel + Leisure Tweeted today about a story published last month about “what to wear to increase your chances of a premium upgrade.”

This really seems like a thinly veiled attempt to get some affiliate revenue by posting links to clothing that will allegedly get you an upgrade. Personally, I think it would be a much better business model to post affiliate links to credit cards that can score your first and business class seats, but for any of them.

The Travel + Leisure piece is based on a 2018 story where “cabin crew shares the outfit that bumps you into first class.” Every “stewardess” and “steward” the writer interviewed (that should have been the first clue not to heed this advice) suggested that dressing up can affect your upgrade chances, and it gives specific and unfounded advice about what you should must wear :

“For an upgrade, it’s all about looking good. Smart but understated. You should look like you travel often. But don’t get into branded clothes. It helps; anyone who may get an upgrade could be hit back if not dressed appropriately.”

I’ll go into a few different circumstances below, but let me be very clear: dressing up won’t increase your chances of scoring a first-class upgrade. Period of time.

No, a $38 turtleneck from Everlane won’t get you a premium upgrade

How do you score an upgrade?

Virtually every airline has specific protocols for granting upgrades. Under normal circumstances, there are several ways to score a first-class seat aside from paying for it in cash:

  • You can often redeem miles for first-class seats
  • If you have an elite status, you may be entitled to free available space upgrades, or you can get upgrade tools that you can use to confirm an upgrade
  • You can usually redeem miles for an upgrade, and sometimes there is a co-payment
  • Airlines sometimes sell premium upgrades for cash anytime between when you book and when you board

Now there are situations where flights in Economy are oversold, and there are empty seats in first class, and no one is on the upgrade list. In these situations, airlines may need to move people to first class, and that’s known as an operational upgrade.

Even in these situations, there is a very specific procedure for doing this. Policies vary by airline, but operational upgrades are generally prioritized based on elite status and/or the fare class you are booked in.

Sometimes you might be bumped into an exit row or an economy seat with extra legroom if you’re traveling alone and the airline needs to make room for a family to sit together, or something.

But no, believe it or not, the gate agent doesn’t send RuPaul into the gate area to see who is serving the best looks.

There are many legit ways you can be upgraded

Is there a dress code for first class?

In general it isn’t, and I think that’s where the confusion might come from. Airline employees are typically non-touring, meaning they can fly for free (or at a heavily discounted rate) based on space availability. In some cases, employees can even fly First & Business Class, but only after all other upgrades have been approved.

Some airlines have employee dress codes, and sometimes those dress codes are stricter if you want to fly in a premium cabin. That’s usually the only time there’s a dress code, or where dressing up can make a difference.

There are sometimes dress codes for airline employees

Airlines employees used to have more discretion

In all fairness about this mythical upgrade advice, I think there may have been a little more truth to it back in the day. Like, not that dressing up would necessarily get you an upgrade, but rather that gate agents had more discretion in upgrading people, whether it’s because they were trying to hit them up, they were friends, or whatever.

What has changed?

  • Airlines have done a much better job of generating top-notch revenue and creating ways for people to legitimately score upgrades
  • Aviation technology has improved a lot and essentially everything a gate agent does is tracked, and not following the policy can get them in trouble

For example, going back more than a decade, it wasn’t unheard of for a gate agent to violate policy and upgrade an employee friend for a passenger on the upgrade waiting list. But nowadays that almost never happens, as upgrade lists are usually published so that the person on the upgrade list knows what’s going on.

Airlines employees have policies to follow

What it comes down to:

Dressing up won’t get you a first-class upgrade, so dress for comfort when you fly. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to score a premium seat these days, from redeeming miles to having elite status.

But can we please stop the urban legend that dressing up is the key to scoring a top-notch upgrade?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.