Most air passengers will never fly in anything but economy class.
Premium seats are shockingly unaffordable. A one-way flight to London with Qantas in first class next month can cost from $9300 up to $14,275. Business class is less dear, but still remains beyond the reach of most people.
So unless you know your way around a hedge-fund, or happen to be flying the plane, there's only one way you'll find yourself turning left when you board an aircraft: the free upgrade.
Nabbing one is rare. A few years ago the website MoneySavingExpert.com polled nearly 9000 travellers to find out whether they had ever received a free upgrade. Less than a third of those questioned had done.
But there are numerous ways you can boost your chances.
Choose your route carefully
Most upgrades will be offered for "operational reasons", such as when the economy class cabin is full or oversold, but the premium cabins are not. Therefore travelling on a busy route, where this is more likely to occur, will help. Flights to beach resorts during the school holidays, when the majority of fellow passengers will be families, are a good bet. Monday morning flights to financial capitals – not so much.
Be loyal, and pay more for your ticket
Regular customers will normally be given priority when an upgrade is available.
"It is sometimes necessary to upgrade customers," said a BA spokesman. "This is rare and will normally apply to frequent flyers who are members of our loyalty programme first."
A spokesman for Lufthansa said: "Passengers who paid more for their tickets are more likely to be upgraded than passengers who bought a discounted ticket. The frequent flier program status is also taken into account."
If there are just one or two seats available up front, they will probably be offered to single travellers first.
Four per cent of those questioned in the MoneySavingExpert.com poll said they had received a free upgrade by simply asking for one at the check-in desk.
With some airlines, however, it won't matter how charming you are. A Virgin Atlantic spokesman, for example, said it does not give upgrades to anyone who requests one. The airline also recently revealed some unusual reasons given by passengers requiring an upgrade. They included the following:
"Manchester United lost today, I am really upset and need the space to get over it"
"My wife is pregnant – I need an upgrade as it is a really stressful time for me"
"My newborn baby has claustrophobia, we really need an upgrade so she has more space"
"I am Sir Richard Branson's dentist"
"I have lost all of my money in Vegas but really need an upgrade"
"It's a Sunday. No-one flies on a Sunday, so please can I have an upgrade?"
But have a good reason
If you've got a more genuine reason than those listed above, such as being exceptionally tall, pregnant, or even celebrating a honeymoon, birthday, or anniversary, it will go in your favour. A Lufthansa spokesman said "it never hurts to ask", and offering a reason such as these "would certainly improve your chances".
And be nice
It goes without saying that the lucky few who have received an upgrade after requesting one were polite, and probably smartly dressed. They didn't demand one.
If you've got a faulty entertainment system, or a chair that won't recline, you've got good reason to complain, particularly if you're on a long-haul flight. You may simply be moved to another economy class seat, but if none are free ... Equally, if you've got a legitimate grievance against another passenger – harassment, for example – you could ask to be relocated.
Be a VIP or know someone at the airline
The Virgin spokesman added that: "There is an upgrade list at check in (this could be journalists, travel industry VIPs, etc) and all these upgrades are agreed in advance and signed off at head office." So if you have a good friend who works for an airline, it can't hurt to ask.
Have you ever been upgraded by an airline? Do you have any tips to increase your chances of getting an upgrade? Post a comment below.
The Telegraph, London