Toni Osmundson on Unsplash Eye-catching Business Cards, Flyers and more. Go to Toni Osmundson’s profile Toni Osmundson @lifewithsydney

While general seating in an airplane can be cramped and unpleasant, first-class is a much better way to get to your destination. That’s why tips for getting upgraded are one of the things passengers are most curious about. First-class seats provide more space to move, better food and alcoholic beverages can–dare we say it–even make a tedious flight a pleasant place to stay for a few hours.

As most travelers know, unless you want to open your wallet or spend lots of airplane miles on an upgrade, getting a first-class ticket isn’t easy. However, for the right passenger, there’s an easy phrase that could help you land one of these coveted seats. It’s one of the ways experts advise to get upgraded to first-class.

Why obtaining a first-class seat is so challenging

As you might expect, there’s a reason that obtaining a first-class upgrade for free is so difficult. These seats have high profit margins that make them an enormous revenue generator for the airlines. They’re saving them for paying customers so that each flight will earn a carrier as much as possible.

With this profit motive, airlines will even keep seats open right up until the flight doors close, or never assign them at all. That’s because they know that plenty of business customers wait until the last minute to book a flight. If the right flight is otherwise full, companies might not think twice about paying larger fees for a ticket. If the only open seat in a plane is a first-class one, it is even easier for a business to justify the high fee to get an executive where they need to be on time.

Keep in mind that this kind of approach to first-class upgrades goes hand-in-hand with other revenue-generating changes that airlines have made in recent years. Many of the most popular or generally accessible airlines have adjusted airplane layouts to squeeze more seating in their cabin, and changed their revenue model so that passengers pay more for certain seating areas, for food and in-flight entertainment options, for added inches of legroom, and even for the ability to take their luggage on their flight. On top of it, an electronic flight booking and upgrade process makes it easier than ever for an agent to decline requests. With this kind of approach to passenger flying, it makes sense that carriers won’t seat passengers in first-class easily.

The phrase to use

To get your best shot at a successful request for a free first-class upgrade, ask to take your case to “revenue management.” This is the department within an airline that tells the carrier just how much leeway they have to assign seats and distribute other perks on each flight.

Once you’re speaking with that department, be sure to stay polite and calm. This is one situation where being nice counts and bullies don’t get very far. For the best chance at success, ask open-ended questions such as how many first-class seats are left unfilled and when these seats are expected to be released to other travelers for upgrades purchased with miles.

The catch

Unfortunately, simply asking to speak with the Revenue Management Department doesn’t guarantee that your request will be honored. VIP passengers that fly six-figure numbers of miles annually have the best chance of being upgraded. These are the folks that the airlines want to keep happiest and who are most likely to have enough extra miles in their bonus program that they can use for an upgrade.

Other ways to try to obtain an upgrade

So, you’re not a VIP customer but you still want to take on the challenge of going for a coveted first-class upgrade. Here are some things you can do:

  • Dress the part: This is one situation when appearance counts. If you’re looking like you belong in first-class, you’re going to increase the chance that the agent will honor your request.
  • Keep your cool, make your case calmly: Loudness, rudeness, and emotion won’t get you anywhere in this situation. Good manners might. Make your case civilly and try to turn this request into a conversation rather than a confrontation.
  • If you’re showing up late to the flight, don’t bother: If agents are busy boarding passengers for the flight, they’re not going to have the attention available to be able to honor your request. Showing up earlier, when they can give you their entire attention, offers you a much better chance of success.
  • Ask your travel agent for help: Because your travel agent is a professional, they may have connections and access to perks that you don’t. Ask for their help. With all of the people they recommend as airline passengers, you never know if they can score an upgrade for you.
  • If the flight is full or nearly full, you have a better chance: Believe it or not, you have a better chance at obtaining an empty seat in first class if the rest of the plane is sold-out or almost sold-out. That’s because if you move up to a different section, they can move someone else into your general boarding seat instead of having to pay to bump them to another flight.
  • Give up your seat on an oversold flight: If timing allows, be that person who volunteers to give up their seat when the flight is oversold. You’re more likely to earn an upgrade on the flight you actually take.
  • Ask for an upgrade to compensate for inconvenience: Mistakes happen. If you’re one of the unlucky people who have been inconvenienced by an airline, use it as a chance to ask for an upgrade.