Business travel can be a real pain — being away from family, running through airports and staying at mediocre corporate-approved hotels…it’s not always the most glamorous experience. However, if done correctly, you can upgrade your mundane travel to VIP status with a few easy-to-achieve tips. Our recommendation is to do your research, stick to one or two airlines and hotel brands, consider premium personal credit card benefits and ask for upgrades and offers along the way. In this article, we’ll share our favorite ways to upgrade to business class on your next trip.



How to upgrade to business class for a flight

Business class seat with business class meal in airplane

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Have you ever walked by the first class cabin on a plane and wondered how those people got those seats? It’s often easier than you think. While many people do pay for the luxury of sitting up front, there’s also a huge majority that earn their spot through mileage programs, full fare tickets or points upgrades. Even if you travel infrequently for work, there are a number of ways to maximize your travel experience and increase your odds of a comfortable and luxurious trip.

1. Airline loyalty programs

The number one thing to do is to join the airline loyalty program for any flight you take. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people put off signing up for loyalty programs and squander the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of points. If your flights are booked for you by your company, be sure to sign up for any mileage programs they have to ensure you earn miles for your flight. Remember, you still earn miles for flying, even if you didn’t pay for the ticket yourself. If you have a choice in airlines, pick one that you personally want to fly on your own vacation travel. Sticking with one or two airlines for work travel can lead to free flights and upgrades on future work trips and vacations.

Some of the big airlines offer pretty reliable upgrade opportunities. For example, domestic flights are some of the easiest upgrade opportunities:

  • American Airlines: Executive Platinum members can get complimentary domestic upgrades, while lower tier members can receive upgrades on flights 500 miles or less.
  • Delta Air Lines: All Delta Medallion elite members qualify for complimentary upgrades that are granted in order of elite status level starting five days before departure. Delta Platinum and Diamond elite members have the choice to select regional upgrade certificates each year.
  • United Airlines: Upgrades for Premier elite members are offered on a space-available basis on select United-operated domestic flights. Upgrades are granted in order of elite status level.

2. What is a class fare? And why is that important?

If you are able to book the flight yourself, you’ll want to pay attention to the fare class. Booking a Y fare class, for example, gives you a much higher likelihood of securing an upgrade to business. You’ll typically see the fare class denoted near the price for the ticket. The important thing to remember is that full-fare, or higher fare tickets, are more likely to get you upgrade offers that are achievable so you can use your personal funds to upgrade your work trip seat.

How to upgrade to business class for the airport

Business man at airport after doing a upgrade to business class

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Nothing says “miserable” like long security lines and a few uncomfortable hours on a lightly padded airport bench, sandwiched between two strangers as you wait for the sweet mercy of a boarding call.

Lucky for you, there are a lot of easy ways to have an amazing airport experience without breaking the bank. Time to get you skipping lines and lounging in comfort!

3. Sign up for Global Entry

The first thing you should do is sign up for Global Entry, which allows you to cut the immigration line when you come back into the US, avoiding long lines, and uncomfortable interrogations all together.

Global Entry also includes access to TSA Precheck, which allows you to access the special security line for pre-screened passengers. TSA Precheck typically has significantly reduced security lines at most airports and allows you to go through the machines with your shoes on and without taking your laptop out. The best part is that Global Entry also happens to be “free” with most premium credit cards, like American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve and a number of others.

If you’re not sure if Global Entry is covered by your credit card, here’s an easy way to find out. Google your credit card name and click on the benefits page. It’s usually the first or second benefit listed. I personally recommend signing up for Global Entry over signing up directly with TSA Precheck, because you get the benefit of both programs in one.

4. How does CLEAR work at the airport?

CLEAR logo on poster at Airport

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CLEAR is another must-have these days for the VIP business traveler. CLEAR offers the quickest way through security using biometrics. CLEAR pricing is tiered, with most travelers paying between $129-$179 per year. However, recently CLEAR was added as a benefit for American Express Platinum, making it a no-brainer for cardholders. I have CLEAR myself and security typically takes less than five minutes. CLEAR allows you to bypass the TSA identity checkpoint, using just your eyes to verify your identity. You are then walked through security by an agent to the front of the line — often awkward, but amazing! On busy days, it’s a lifesaver, and on slow days it’s still really cool.

The combination of CLEAR and Global Entry is the ultimate fast pass through TSA. CLEAR members who also have TSA precheck can avoid taking off shoes and unpacking carry-ons and literally cruise through the line.

5. Airport lounge access

Business class, business travel lounge in Dubai Airport

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Once you’re through security, you can keep that VIP life going with lounge access. There are three ways to access lounges: elite airline status, credit card perks, like vouchers, and credit card Priority Pass or lounge collection access.

Elite members of various airlines do get lounge access included in their status. For example, Delta Diamond members and above have access to Delta Club lounges globally. This gives you access to complimentary food and drinks (yes, including alcohol) as well as a comfortable place to relax before your flight.

Card holders of various credit cards, like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, come with two complimentary lounge passes per year. While this isn’t much, it is a nice perk for the infrequent traveler.

If you haven’t yet earned your top tier status in a loyalty program, not to worry! Premium credit cards can come in handy again. American Express Platinum members have access to Centurion lounges as well as 1,000+ additional lounges via the Priority Pass network. Platinum members also have access to Delta Sky Clubs if they fly Delta.

Chase Sapphire Reserve card members also have access to Priority Pass lounges around the world. These lounge networks are great escapes during business travel, especially if travel budgets are tight. Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with access to a number of airport restaurants, where Priority Pass members have access to a $28 per person credit to spend on food and beverages at the airport restaurant. This is a great happy hour option during a layover or meal during travel. Chase Sapphire Reserve also just recently added some airport spas as part of their priority pass offering, allowing travelers a few short minutes of relaxation. While you won’t be indulging in a 60-minute deep tissue, this is a great option if the lounges are full.

How to upgrade to business class at a hotel

Women in hotel bed having breakfast after doing an upgrade to business class

Photo: Anel Alijagic/Shutterstock

So you made it to your destination, but why stop with upgrades during the journey? Picking the right hotels and hotel loyalty programs can go a long way to continuing the VIP life.

6. How do hotel loyalty programs work?

If you have a choice in hotel bookings for your business trip, be sure to take into consideration the available loyalty programs. If you have hotel status with a brand like Marriott or Hilton through your American Express Platinum card, consider booking one of their hotels for your business trip to get that preferred room, hotel restaurant credit, and, sometimes, free breakfast. Even if you book through a company booking portal, you can still attach your loyalty membership number to your reservation. Simply call the hotel company to add the loyalty number to your reservation and you will be able to take advantage of the benefits of your membership.

Hilton Gold members, for example, receive a restaurant credit to use on property at US hotels, or free breakfast at international hotels. If you’re staying at a US hotel, that credit can typically be used outside breakfast hours so you can get yourself a cocktail or snack that your company may not cover otherwise. Most program elites also have access to nicer rooms and sometimes even suites if they’re feeling generous.

If there aren’t any big brands where you’re traveling for work, you still have options. Consider smaller brands that have loyalty programs you could leverage for future vacation travel. For example, IHG’s Kimpton properties offer great benefits and points earning options for travelers at cool properties around the US.

When booking some larger hotels like Grand Hyatt properties or Marriott properties, try to find one with a club lounge. Even if your company won’t allow you to book a higher room type than a standard room, you can still get access to hotel club lounges via elite status or discounted rates which hotels will usually offer upon check in. This can get you free cocktails at happy hour, breakfast and snacks throughout the day, and a great place to work outside of your room. As a bonus, eating and drinking free at the club lounge can also help you save your corporate budget for a nice meal or additional dining experiences that you may not otherwise be able to get away with.