Booking Your Travel Upgrades


It’s the busiest and the most expensive time of the year to travel. Wouldn’t you like your money to go a little further?

These days airlines are charging for everything from luggage to pillows and hotels and rental cars aren’t offering money saving deal either. The days of easy up-grades and free perks are slim to none but Money Magazine may have a few tricks left for weary travelers.

After questioning frequent travelers and people who are regularly upgraded Money Magazine put together your odds of a free upgrade on an airline, at a hotel or for a rental car and how you can improve them. For example, your odds of an upgrade from coach to first class are 1 in 100. You can turn this more in your favor by choosing a specific type of plan, scoping out the cabin and knowing which days grant you the better chance at a wider seat.

To find out how to score s little extra on your next trip keep reading. Wouldn’t it be nice if your money could stretch as far as your frequent flier miles.

On the Airplane
What it's worth. The upgrade from coach to first class on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to L.A. is worth $977.

Your odds: One in 100. With fewer flights, passenger loads are at an all-time high. "Discretionary upgrades are harder to get than ever," says Tim Winship of

How to improve them:
Pick your plane wisely. Passengers on certain Boeing 757s (with 26 first-class seats to 158 in coach) have a better shot than those on an Airbus 320 (12 first-class, 126 coach). Check out a plane's layout at
Scope out the cabin. The more empty seats in first, the better your chances of landing one. To suss out the load, go to the airline website just before check-in, start to book a business-class ticket, and click "view seat map," says John DiScala of
Ask at the right time. The best day for upgrades is Saturdays; fewer elite travelers fly then, says Matt Daimler of Go to the agent and say something like: "If you need to bump people from coach to first, please consider me. I'm low maintenance -- and my back is killing me."

At the Hotel
What it's worth. The upgrade from a standard room to a deluxe room at the Hilton New York in Manhattan is worth $85 a night.

Your odds: One in five. Good news for you: Occupancy rates for the first half of 2010 were estimated at a dismal 56% (down from 63% in '07), reports Smith Travel Research.

How to improve them:
Stay at business hotels on weekends. At the Omni Los Angeles, for instance, you can improve your upgrade chances by staying Thursday to Sunday vs. midweek, according to managing director Bob Graney.
Ask multiple times. Use the special-requests box on an online reservation, call the hotel directly, and talk to the desk clerk at check-in, says Julie Torres, head of front-office operations at Hilton New York. Say, "We're here celebrating [special event]. Any chance of an upgrade?"
Check in late. Most guests show up around 3 p.m., so arrive after 7, when the front desk knows which rooms are left, says Diana Su, who does PR for Starwood in Hawaii.

At the Car Counter
What it's worth. The upgrade from a compact to midsize car, via Hertz at the Los Angeles airport is worth $42 a week.

Your odds: One in 20. Many agencies cut fleets in 2008 and 2009, making upgrades less common.

How to improve them:
Choose the right car. If a company runs out of the vehicle class you reserved, it'll likely upgrade you. Book a midsize car -- it's most in demand, says rental consultant Neil Abrams.
Reserve at the right time. "Friday nights and Monday mornings are peak pickup times," says L.A. Hertz agent Berry Ross. That means there's less chance the car class you specify will be available.
Look for special offers on the agency's site, on your credit card site, or on coupon pages like