How to Get an Emirates Business Class Upgrade

Emirates does an exceptional job marketing and promoting their airline. Whether you're in economy or one of the First Class suites, there's not a bad seat on the plane. At least according to Jennifer Aniston. 

And for the most part, that's 100% accurate. The only bad seat on an Emirates flight is when you're near a terrible passenger. Economy is comfortable and impressively spacious for such a massive plane, especially when you compare it to other trans-oceanic flights. And the food! The food in Emirates economy is delicious and plentiful, with frequent meals and even more snacks. The service in Emirates economy is also top-notch with multi-lingual flight attendants who are efficient, masters of safety, and super friendly as well. Now, take all that excellence, and turn it up to 11 - that's what Business Class is like. 

Spinal Tap

For most of us, flying Emirates economy is a treat itself. And for that same group of travelers, flying Emirates Business or First class is cost prohibitive. So, we look longingly at those who get to board through their own separate lane, fly in lie-back seats, and have all manner of perks we dream about. With the new experience of getting upgraded on Emirates, I can tell you, I'm completely ruined. The trip back from Athens was much less satisfying flying in economy. Still wonderful by any standard, but I've had a little taste of the high life and I want more! 

Business Boarding Pass

The more you travel, the more you hear rumors about flight upgrades and you wonder how it's possible to get one of those exclusive seats. In January 2018, we got the coveted upgrade to Emirates Business Class from Newark (EWR) to Athens (AHT). We did many things differently on this flight that really helped our upgrade chances. I'm here to let you in on a few secrets to increase your chances of an upgrade on Emirates. 


Dress the Part

Since 2017, I've been eating better and focusing on fitness. Most of the time… Part of that journey is working on my wardrobe. I want a simple capsule wardrobe I can use for both travel and business, that I can dress up and dress down. Seemingly impossible, right? Not at all. It all comes down to having a smaller number of classic items that all work together to give you endless combinations of outfits. I digress… Despite the flight time of just under 11 hours, I wore extremely comfortable stretchy skinny jeans, comfortable ankle boots, and a comfortably understated grey shirt. My travel companions dressed similarly. No one looked schlubbly. 

 Pure joy after realizing the seat reclines...

Pure joy after realizing the seat reclines...

Why does this matter? Or better yet, why would anyone wear anything other than pajama pants and an oversized shirt on a long-haul flight? Both are valid questions, especially because as I write this, I'm quite literally in men's pajama pants and an oversized sweatshirt. 

When you're not dressed schlubbily (is that a word?), you carry yourself differently. Now, let's pause for two seconds and note that you must be non-schlubby AND comfortable. No matter what you wear, pjs or a suit, if you're uncomfortable in the clothes you wear, it shows. So, dress comfortably and non-schlubby because you carry yourself differently. I felt more confident in my outfit than my typical long-haul outfit (grey sweats and black shirt). I sat with better posture at the gate and walked with my head held higher during bag check and through security. Generally, I had a positive attitude, which itself will take you quite far…

Be Nice (No One Likes an Asshole)

Be Nice. Now, this should go without saying, but if you need validation that there are still assholes out there, check out the Passenger Shaming Instagram account for your daily fill of the worst types of travelers. Usually, I'm not a fan of public shaming, but there's something called common courtesy and decency, and once you cross it, you'll get called out. Okay, climbing down from my soapbox. 

Let's back up a bit to explain why being nice helped us get an upgrade.

We were schedule to leave Raleigh-Durham and go to Newark in the mid-afternoon with our Emirates flight departing at 11:00 PM. We had more than plenty of time between flights. I advocate leaving at least 90 minutes between connections and we had at least 4 hours. So, about 1 hour before our cab came to pick us, I got a note from Delta letting me know our flight was delayed with a new arrival of 10:59 PM. First thought: shitshitshitshit.

I hopped on the phone and got a lovely woman (shout out to Renata at Delta Customer Care!) to rebook us on a United flight to Newark. Here's where the plot thickens, our party was for 6 people, but Renata could rebook us as a party of two and a party of four on two separate flights. Arriving about one hour apart. The four of us went first and our other couple got delayed, and delayed a bit more. They were suddenly scheduled to arrive just 20 minutes before bag drop closed for our Emirates flight. And I started sweating bullets. By this time, four of us and our bags were with Emirates and patiently waiting at the gate. The minute I saw a gate agent at the Emirates counter, I hopped up and (confidently) walked over to speak with her. I clearly, calmly, and politely explained the situation to Helene, the gate agent, and let her know we had two more in our party who were on a delayed flight and on their way with bags to check. She sweetly let me know that times are firm and if they didn’t make it to bag drop, there's really nothing she can do, but Helene also radioed the bag drop agents with the names and booking reference numbers for the other two and explained the situation. While we waited, which felt like more hours than it was, Helene checked on us to see if we had any more updates and to reassure us that her team was going to do everything possible.

As boarding began, we knew our other two landed and were running between terminal, bag drop, bag check, and through security. But since they were running, we didn't know where they were. Shortly after boarding, Helene called our name and gave us new boarding passes with "Business Class" printed on them. While I was thrilled, I was also extremely nervous that all six of us wouldn't be able to make the trip. As we nervously made our way down the "Business and First Class" boarding lane, Helene caught us at the gate and let us know our two others made the bag drop… Now, they just had to race through security and get to the gate. 

Boarding Lane

They made it.

The moral of the story is, be nice. Be clear. Be calm. I guarantee if I had expressed frustration or exasperation or anything other than professionalism towards the Emirates staff, we would have never gotten the upgrade. Maybe being in a difficult situation swung the vote in our favor, but ultimately, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So, be nice. 

Miles and Miles and Miles

In addition to being nice to everyone around you, everyone in our party collects Emirates Skywards miles. While we don't have nearly enough to travel for free, we each have our own account with quite a few miles accrued. Even if you don’t use miles, it's important to try and collect them whenever possible. They definitely up your chances and, combined with a few other factors, they might seal the deal for an upgrade. Even if it's your first time flying with an airline, sign up for their miles program. 
Pro Tip: Be sure to check the various alliances (One World, Star Alliance, etc) for partner airlines. Many of these "code share" meaning you can you can earn Delta Miles for Virgin flights. Or American miles for Qantas flights. You don't need to be a member of every airline's miles program, but at least one for each alliance is helpful. 


Everyone's experience with upgrades is different. As far as I can tell, the real reasons behind giving free upgrades remains a closely guarded secret in the airline industry. The good news is, nothing bad will come from making some or all of these changes to your travel routine. The best news is, dressing well, being nice, and collecting miles can only increase your chances of getting those upgrades. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Special shout outs to Helene at Emirates in Newark and Renata at Delta for making a truly stressful situation much better. And many thanks to Helene and Emirates for the exquisite upgrade. 



Where to Travel in January

In addition to our Why Travel series, I'm excited to bring you the Where Travel series. Each month, I'll share a list of places to travel across the globe that are particularly awesome in that month. It may be a quick trip for you or half a world away. No matter where you're located, I hope you discover some amazing destinations. 

January is the start of a new year. Many people want to turn over a new leaf and make resolutions to help them stay on track with their goals. While most people focus on losing weight, saving money, and taking more "me" time, you should consider adding "travel more" to that list of resolutions. 

Here are some top destinations to visit around the world in January:

Europe in January

Scandinavia (Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
This time of year makes an amazing time to see the Northern Lights. Yes, it's bitterly cold, but seeing the Northern Lights is worth it. Be sure you pack super warm clothes and layer up to take the trip outside for the lights. The farther north you go, the more spectacular the Aurora. Scandinavia in January is particularly delightful if you love winter weather. 

 Reykjavik before a snowstorm

Reykjavik before a snowstorm

North America in January

Turks & Caicos, Caribbean
Recently, several friends and coworkers have traveled to Turks & Caicos and come back with rave reviews. It doesn't seem to matter where you are, the beaches, food, and drinks are all spectacular. January is a perfect time of year to visit this island nation because most Americans don’t vacation in January as they come off the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays. It's also still warm and comfortable with out the thick heat of summer months. 

 Providenciales, Turks & Caicos (courtesy of Amanda H)

Providenciales, Turks & Caicos (courtesy of Amanda H)

South America in January

Most of Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, making January a prime destination for those seeking warm weather. Chile is also one of South America's most stable nations, which is ideal for travelers. The landscape, culture, and climate are quite diverse throughout the country. While you're there, be sure to go the extra mile and visit Easter Island. 

Africa in January

Accra, Ghana
A friend of mine just visited Ghana for two weeks and called it the best place he's ever visited (he travels a lot, so I trust him). Accra, situated directly on Ghana's coastline is the region's capitol and full of diverse food, hospitable people, and a nightlife that won't quite. January is in the dry season with warm temperatures. If you're looking to get out of the normal tropical destinations, go to Ghana. 

 Accra, Ghana (Courtesy of Steve J)

Accra, Ghana (Courtesy of Steve J)

Asia in January

Beijing, China
January is the perfect time to go to Beijing. It's technically "off-season" although due the population and domestic tourism, you probably can't tell. I love visiting China in winter because the crowds are lighter. The added bonus is in winter, the air is crisper and clearer without humidity, making smog and industrial pollution unnoticeable. 

 Tianamen Square, Beijing 

Tianamen Square, Beijing 

South Pacific in January

Queenstown, New Zealand
Farther south than Chile, New Zealand is in the height of summer during January, but max temperatures hang around the mid 70s (F). Queenstown is not nearly as humid as Auckland and makes the best choice for those wanting a warmer destination without feeling hot. Not to mention, Queenstown might be, quite literally, the prettiest place in the entire world. 

 Lake Wakatipu, looking south to Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu, looking south to Queenstown

Where are you traveling this month? Let me know in the comments!

2018 Roadmap

 The long, unpaved road ahead.

The long, unpaved road ahead.

Several of my internet heroes, like Sean Ogle and Chris Guillebeau, post a review of sorts at the end of each year. Along the lines of Sean Ogle, Seinfeld, and last year, we have the Airing of Grievances, Feats of Strength, Overall Review, and Plan for 2018. 

As always, we'll start with the bitching and moaning to end on a happy note.

Airing of Grievances

    • Behind on photo editing
    • Didn't grow the email list nearly enough
    • No website monetization or paid partnerships with brands or tourism boards

Feats of Strength

From 2016

    • Posting consistently
    • Switched from My Life Abroad to Three Star Traveler and gained better focus
    • Created a post calendar for accountability

New in 2017

    • Visited Hobbiton (bucket list check!)
    • Improved in photography and editing
    • Created YouTube channel and regular video posting
    • Switched from My Life Abroad to Three Star Traveler and gained better focus
    • Started freelance content writing for others

2018 Roadmap

    • Maintain a consistent photo editing schedule
    • Maintain a consistent video creation schedule
    • Maintain weekly blog posts
    • Keep using my Passion Planner to keep life organized (update: I'm also using Google Calendar for Reminders if I don't have my planner in the moment)
    • Possible updates & improvements to the site
    • Get at least 100 email subscribers
    • Get at least 100 YouTube subscribers
    • Continue to improve monetization opportunities through freelance content writing, video creation, and brand/tourism partnerships


 Lord of the Rings Path in Wellington, NZ

Lord of the Rings Path in Wellington, NZ

This year was a great year for me and for Three Star Traveler. While I didn't achieve all of my goals, I now have lots of room for continued improvement. After visiting New Zealand and Australia, I'm excited for upcoming travel, both for fun, business, and for Dad's weightlifting. Stay tuned for regular posts, videos, and hopefully, many more photos.