My secret to getting travel upgrades is similar to Warren Buffet's approach to the stock market: simple and boring, but effective. I have flown over two million miles on more than 1,000 flights, and since 1994 I have been upgraded on every flight I have taken while only paying coach prices.
There are no hyped-up gimmicks, tricks, or loopholes.
Instead, I opted for a fundamentally sound approach that has proven successful over a long period of time and in all market conditions.
So what's my technique? I build ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with a quality travel partner.
I recently needed to take a last-minute trip from Los Angeles to Dallas. Although my usual policy is to spend my money on discounted coach tickets and use my miles only for upgrades, the fare for this last-minute trip was so high ($2,000), that I opted to use an award ticket. However, since I booked the flight at the last minute, I had to use a premium award level, meaning I had to use more miles than if I had been able to plan my trip in advance.
What normally would have been a lopsided transaction benefiting only the airline, turned into a mutually beneficial transaction.
The airline gained value through my redemption of a premium number of miles, while I gained value by getting them to waive the $100 fee they would have normally charged for booking an award ticket at the last minute. Plus, I received a confirmed upgrade to first class on a very crowded flight.
Essentially, mutually beneficial relationships can be defined as the customer seeking the best value for his or her travel dollar, while the travel provider attracts repeat business by offering "the right customer" preferred services.
This idea of getting the best value for your travel dollars is the core of my travel philosophy.
The right travel provider. Choosing the right travel provider depends on the individual traveler's perception of the provider's quality, service, price, and the degree of importance the traveler attaches to these factors. Nevertheless, while every traveler has his or her individual preferences and needs, it is fair to say that all travelers want good quality and service, a fair price, convenience, and comfort.
Depending upon your needs, some of the questions you might ask yourself when deciding if a company is the right travel provider are: Was I able to check in for my flight from an electronic kiosk or even from my home computer? Was the fare reasonable and upgradeable? Did I have a pleasant flight?
If you're staying at a hotel, you might ask yourself: Was my room clean and quiet? Was the service friendly and accommodating?
The right travel providers are concerned with more than just profit; they care about all facets of their business operations, including their customers, employees, and investors. I have always sensed that there was a correlation between happy employees and happy customers, and companies.
I have often spoken with many employees in the travel industry and the ones who provided me the best service had always felt a strong sense of pride and joy with their job. Finally, in my work as an industrial organizational psychologist I was able to conduct an in-depth study that confirmed my suspicions.
No matter what your travel provider's internal policies are, you as a consumer will know the value they bring to you. If your travel provider is not doing its part to provide good value to you, then it is time to make some changes.
Tips for choosing a travel supplier.
- Consider travel providers who have the geographical availability you require.
- Ask yourself what airports and cities do you most often visit.
- Talk with your well-traveled colleges about their preferences.
- Read travel publications for consistently high ranking travel providers.
- Call the travel provider directly and inquire what they will offer you in return for your loyal business (elite status, bonus miles, free upgrades).
If you see a company as the right travel provider, the more likely you are to give them your repeat business. If that travel provider sees you as the right customer, the more likely you are to receive preferential treatment in return for giving that travel provider an economic advantage over its competitors.
This is the essence of a mutually beneficial relationship.

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