Former Qantas flight attendant claims passengers requesting special meals won't get upgrades

The free upgrade is the Holy Grail of air travel. All the premium wine and legroom you can handle, without coughing up a small fortune for the privilege.

We've previously outlined in detail what passengers can do to increase their chances of scooping one (more below), but until now we'd never considered that a passenger's dietary requirements would make any difference. 

Nik Loukas, a former Qantas flight attendant and author of the plane food blog InflightFeed, claims that anyone with a special meal request - be it vegetarian, kosher or otherwise - can wave goodbye to their hopes of a move to business class.

How to get the best seat on a plane

Ever spent 15 hours stuck in the middle seat in economy class? Then this guide's for you.

"If there's a special meal request in your booking, the airline won't even look at you (for an upgrade)," he told Business Insider. "Because you've got a dietary requirement, and they might not be able to cater for you if they upgrade you."

Really? Qantas says it's not true. 

A spokesman said: "This is untrue and the type of meal our customers order has no bearing on their ability to be upgraded. If the upgrade is awarded, the special meal request will be provided in their new cabin."

London's Telegraph also put the claim to five different carriers. So far only Virgin Atlantic has responded - and its comment should reassure all the veggies out there. "This isn't true - dietary requirements have no impact on upgrades," says a spokeswoman. "If a customer orders a special dietary meal we can serve it in any different cabin." 

Surefire ways to improve your chances of moving up to the expensive seats include travelling alone, being a frequent flyer with the airline in question – and simply being pleasant. This week Monarch said those who book over the phone and are "nice" to its representatives may be rewarded with an extra legroom seat and priority check-in. 

Seven ways to get an upgrade

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 Frankfurt – 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 British Airways spokesman. "This is rare and will normally apply to frequent flyers who are members of our loyalty programme first."

Travel alone

If there are just one or two seats available up front, they will probably be offered to single travellers first.

Just ask - but have a good reason

If you've got a genuine reason, 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.

Be unlucky

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...

Be a VIP or know someone at the airline

The Virgin spokesman said: "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, but get in touch as soon as you know the details of your flight.

The Telegraph, London

See also: Points loophole: Fly Qantas first class for under $2000

See also: Five ways you can get upgraded on your next flight

Listen: Flight of Fancy - the podcast with Ben Groundwater

Is being an expat the ultimate travel experience?

To subscribe to the podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.