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Will Nice Clothes Really Score You Upgrades? Here’s What a Former Gate Agent Says!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

You’ve seen them; you know them: articles telling you to dress up for flights — because you might get upgraded for free! Simply because you’re wearing nice clothes!

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

Travel + Leisure wrote this:

Sometimes getting an upgrade isn’t about the right timing or knowing the right people. Sometimes, it’s all about having the right outfit.

There’s one way you can score a free upgrade to first class without having to do very much, flight attendants told with Who What Wear: just pick the perfect ensemble. And the good news is, you don’t need to be a fashion icon to do it.

And the Managing Director of valet parking service Airport Parking & Hotels shared his knowledge:

“For those who dream of flying business class, it’s worth keeping in mind that those who are well-dressed and polite can sometimes be rewarded with a rare flight upgrade,” APH told

“So although flip flops and leggings may be the comfiest way to travel, it may be worth keeping these items packed away in your hand luggage and opting for smart casual attire instead.”

I asked Rene’s Points reader Sandy — a former Delta and United gate agent — for her in-the-field expertise.

“I…Just Laugh”

I’m not saying your threads will never score you a random upgrade. Stranger things have happened.

But don’t rush to buy a new wardrobe.

“I have seen those articles and just laugh,” said Sandy. “In all my years working United and Delta, I would have never done that.  And I don’t know of any of my coworkers that would, especially at the smaller airports I worked.”

A Delta Air Lines passenger enjoys a Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey as pre-departure beverage while reading Rene's Points travel blog.
Enjoying a pre-departure beverage during a complimentary upgrade. Note that I’m wearing jeans — not an expensive suit or other fancy clothes.

Sure, there are data points here and there about magical upgrades. We know shena is a thing. And, yes, gate agents may decide some people aren’t worthy of an upgrade — like I experienced in November 2018.

Many of us know loyalty programs and software are very much part of complimentary upgrades. Mobile apps and gate information display screens show upgrade lists. Eagle-eyed elite members practically maintain a vigil watching their upgrade positions for flights.

“Before the UA app,” she said, “so many things were optional for gate and counteragents.  People got bored, they would start playing around with the software.  Software was very old and could be manipulated.”

But now?

“With today’s technology, it’s hard to get away with anything. The airlines would be all over that if they noticed a pattern.”

And all of this isn’t to say, though, that some employees know how to manipulate the system. A passenger — let’s say an employee’s friend — might be added to the upgrade list.

“[I’m] not sure how they could get them moved to the top of the list, but I am sure it’s possible,” Sandy told us. “Most likely a supervisor or savvy agent might know the workaround.

The question is, would they do it to risk their job? Just because someone wears nice clothes?

It sounds to me like if you’re going to get a complimentary upgrade that’s not the result of your loyalty program status, it’ll be because you know the right people.

Clothes Can Decide Upgrades — for Certain Passengers

“Back in the day, when we traveled as ‘nonrev,'” she said, if you wanted to be considered for a first class seat, you were required to dress up. Jeans, leggings, shorts were not acceptable.”

She wonders if some passengers saw the “nicely dressed people” getting upgrades  — but didn’t know the fashionistas were actually folks traveling on nonrev tickets and already friendly with the airline staff.

What Might Get You an Upgrade

There is another fabric that might score you an upgrade, though:
Save money with Amex Offers and cashback portals!
(Photo: ©

Let’s face it: first class monetization is all the rage. Even if it’s a dollar each flight.

Sandy suggests inquiring at the check-in counter about any upgrade opportunities.

“I have had luck on Virgin with this approach,” she said. “Granted, I was at the Platinum/Upper Class counter, not sure if that mattered.”

Bottom line? Sandy says, “I truly don’t believe by [only] dressing up for the flight you will score an upgrade.”

What Do You Think?

Have you ever gotten a non-status upgrade because you wore nice clothes? Or witnessed it happen to someone else? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!
— Chris

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Mike Flesher Reply

    Admittedly this happened decades ago, but it was common. I worked for Braniff International as a gate agent and a supervisor. Long before apps and even before FF programs, in the 70s and 80s, I routinely upgraded pax on oversold flights. First class was expensive and almost always purchased. If a flight was facing an oversale situation in coach, I and my colleagues would search the boarding area for well-dressed passengers who looked like they would appreciate a first class seat to Europe from BOS. Today that probably won’t work so well!

  2. Well, last summer I flew Aer Lingus SEA-CDG via DUB. I have no status with Aer Lingus. I asked about an upgrade, and the agent at the ticket counter said “sure!” I thought she was kidding until she handed me 4D boarding pass. I asked why, and she said they were oversold in economy, had already upgraded elites, and were looking for well dressed people. Even if that’s not the real reason, there is no other logical reason for my upgrade.

  3. Back in the ’90s, when we would travel overseas in the military, we would mention to the GA that we were just some poor Soldiers and would appreciate any upgrades. It worked about half the time.

    Nowadays, if I am forced to travel in uniform, some GAs pick me out and upgrade me.

  4. I’ve been denied business class for not dressing better on a Air France flight

  5. Regardless of one’s frequent flyer status or lack thereof I suggest business casual dress. Engage the gate agents with a smile and friendly conversation. Maybe a riddle – If two wrongs don’t make a right, what do two (W)rights make? ANS: an airplane. Treat them to theatre-sized boxes of peanut M + M’s or Starbucks gift cards. Enjoy the moment. Do not ask for an upgrade. If they have the authority to grant you one there’s a good chance they will. Having engaged gate agents in this manner I have often been asked what seat I’m in but with my usual seat 1A I don’t need an upgrade.

  6. Hmmm…let’s see…four rows of 1st…2 sides of the plane… equals 16 seats. On Delta: we have everyone who bought the 1st C ticket outright…the Diamond upgrades, the Plat upgrades, the Gold, the Silver, the holders of the Reserve card…and then after all that (for 16 spots mind you)…the good looking guy in the expensive suit! Sorry…not worth the effort!

  7. Since I fly over 100k miles every year on a certain airline for business. I think I would be justifiably upset if I knew that a non-FF person received my upgrade because they had a nicer jacket than me. Most of my trips are long international flights. If my loyalty perks are up for sale or transfer by gateside personnel I might not be so loyal. It often costs me extra to stick with my choice. My only reward is the opportunity to get upgrades based on my mileage “seniority”. They already sell my boarding priority for $10 extra to anyone buying a ticket. I have to spend a certain amount on the airline before I am likely to get upgraded. FF levels are miles and money spent.
    I’m old enough to think that business casual is the minimum acceptable attire for air travel. Your vacation starts when you leave the airport on arrival. Go to your hotel and change if you want to expose your skin.

  8. Back in the day, that’s amusing. Back in the day business casual was the required dress standard…if not business casual then we weren’t allowed on board as a non-rev.

  9. Never happened to me.I try to dress professional but see guys in shorts and flip flops or worse getting upgrades without any problem

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