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.