How to upgrade your airport experience for free

Accessing an exclusive airport lounge made easy. Source: Shutterstock.

GETTING bumped up to first class on your flight is now harder than ever.

Long gone are the days where dressing smartly and flashing a smile at the right person could see you waltzed into the first class cabin and get handed a glass of bubbly.

“Technology,” Head for Points blog founder Rob Burgess told Business Insider, “is making it harder for passengers to get bumped up a cabin without paying.”

Burgess explained automated check-in gates mean flyers don’t even have to go to a desk anymore. They check-in online and drop their bags off at the airport.

“The airline has probably already decided where you’re going to sit before you’ve even left the house,” he added.

With a free cabin upgrade out of the question, how can you improve your flying experience?

One way is to make the most of what commercial aviation has to offer while you’re still on the ground, in the form of premium airport lounges.

In most airport lounges around the world, there are free snacks, drinks and seating areas not plastered with sticky gum and screaming children.

And in some of the most luxurious airport lounges, you can find swimming pools, spas, gardens, and even a DJ mixing studio – we’re looking at you Virgin Atlantic.

How can you get a slice of the indulgent world without paying for a pricey first class ticket or day pass to a lounge? While these travel hacks aren’t failsafe, they’re certainly worth a try.

Buy a fully refundable first class ticket

This is an initially expensive and potentially risky way of accessing a first or business class lounge.

However, if you’re planning on getting a refund anyway, you don’t have to worry about the upfront cost.

First, read all the terms and conditions of the ticket to ensure it’s fully refundable without any penalties and make sure your chosen airline has a plush lounge in the airport you’re flying from.

Source: Shutterstock.

Once you gain access to the lounge using your premium ticket, cancel the first class ticket before boarding opens and purchase an economy ticket on the same flight.

Just don’t get too tipsy on all the free champagne in the lounge and forget to cancel your ticket.

Get a travel credit card

Some travel credit cards offer point schemes which can be converted into air tickets, while others offer discounted free car rental at your destination.

But for those interested in all-round benefits when traveling, the Platinum American Express card is the one.

If your credit rating is good enough to get one of these shiny bad boys, you can enjoy savings on Uber, visa applications, airfares and gain free access to over 1,100 airport lounges around the world.

Check out Credit Cards to compare travel credit cards and see which one is right for you.

Spot a kind stranger

Lingering around a first class lounge might look a little suspicious, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get lounge access.

When a person heading for the lounge approaches the door, politely say hello. If they smile back and look friendly, ask them if they can sign you in as a guest because you have a long layover and lots of work to do.

Most airport lounges allow members to bring one guest in free of charge.

If they agree, thank them profusely and then leave them alone once you’re both in the lounge.

Source: Shutterstock.

Doing this may initially fill you with dread, especially if you’re shy. But what have you got to lose? Nothing. You’re only set to gain.

Use other reward programs

Reward schemes don’t have to be tied to a credit card, just look at the car-sharing and food-delivery app Grab, for example.

The Asia-based platform gives users points every time they order food or book a ride through the app.

These points can be used immediately to get money off purchases. The more you get, the better the rewards are such a free cinema and concert tickets, free meals and even access to airport lounges.

Grab is currently active in 168 cities in eight countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Enter contests

Although contests to win access to airport lounges aren’t as common as contests to win a free Starbucks coffee, they do still pop up from time to time.

A few weeks before you travel, search “airport lounge contests” in Google and see what springs up.

Source: Shutterstock.

They might be airport specific but if you’re lucky there could be contests to win a year’s access to airport lounges around the world with Priority Pass.