My Free Business Class Upgrade

Jill Zacchia

It takes at least 18 hours in the air to get to Bangkok from Montreal. 18 hours of crammed seats, sealed processed foods and the inevitable crying baby. But this time, because of some inexplicable luck, I was rescued from coach and allowed into the exclusive and elite world of the upper class.

By Jill Zacchia · November, 2013

The Tickets

My partner and I decided to go backpacking in Thailand. In theory we were both more than happy to pay $1,000 for cheap airline tickets with United, but when it came time to book we quickly realized our standards were pretty high. We want premium airlines, we want our own TV monitors, we want less stopovers and we want the quickest route possible.

I'd like to think of us as premium backpackers.

As we went through the pros and cons of cheap airline tickets versus good airline tickets we stumbled across the holy grail of flight options. Qatar Airways (one of only seven 5-star airlines in the world), one stopover in Doha and ten hours less travel time than any other itinerary we found. All this for only $1,200. Sold!

The trick to finding our tickets was flexibility. We roughly knew when we wanted to travel but we were open to different days, different departure times and lengthening or shortening our trip to get the best price.

The VIP lLunge

Montreal Trudeau Air Canada VIP lounge

With our tickets booked we'd conquered half the battle. We were already thinking about riding elephants and partying on southern Thai islands when we got a present. Two passes to the VIP lounge at Montreal Pierre-Trudeau airport. My stepmom gave us a pair of tickets for free, and after our feature article on premium airport lounges I knew just how exciting this present really was.

Free food, free drinks and most of all, a place of solitude to relax before 18 hours of flying; it was the perfect way to start our trip. I thought the VIP lounge would be my only taste of high life on our trip to Thailand, but I was wrong...

The Upgrade

The flight to Doha took 12 hours. We left Montreal at 11pm and I must have slept for 11 of those 12 hours, only waking up to eat dinner and breakfast. Qatar is the best airline I've flown with to date. Comfortable seats, good service, great entertainment selection, and most importantly for a sleeper like me, complimentary eye mask and ear plugs.

My partner and I booked our tickets at the same time but through separate transactions - I remember counting 3-2-1 before we each hit the confirm button on our phones when we bought the tickets. But separate transactions means running the risk of not sitting together.

When we checked in we asked if there were any emergency exit seats together so my 6'2" travel-mate wouldn't be too uncomfortable. Score! There were some available, but when we boarded there was already a couple sitting in our seats. The woman had a bad leg and was making a scene about needing the extra room. The flight attendant seemed to be at a loss, so we agreed to trade our extra leg room for seats at the back of the plane (which we actually thought were even better).

Fast forward to our layover in Doha, we knew we wouldn't have seats together on our next flight to Bangkok because the flight was overbooked and it would be difficult to move around. Since we planned to sleep for another 6 hours we didn't mind the separate seats.

As we went to scan our boarding passes my ticket triggered some alert on the computer and the stewardess walked off to fix the problem. I felt terrible for stalling the line, but when she returned with a new ticket I couldn't believe my luck!

"The flight is overbooked, so you've been upgraded to business class," she explained.

Are you serious!? I had heard stories of this sort of thing happening but I never thought I'd be the chosen one, plucked from the pack for no apparent reason.

The Business Class Experience

Qatar Airways Business Class Seat Boeing 777

I immediately started taking photos of my seat. The TV monitor was bigger, the seats were roomier and reclined all the way back into a bed, and the service was incredible. I was already happy with my first Qatar flight in coach, but everything was amplified in business.

I sat in row 1, the first row in the entire plane! Now that's how premium backpackers should travel!

After a signature drink - mint lemonade - I wet my face with a hot towel and settled in. That's when the stewardess asked me what size sleeping suit I wanted. Free pajamas? Yes please! Qatar, you are my new best friend.

They really impressed me when the food came out. I looked at the menu and chose between three delicious choices for each service; appetizers, entree and dessert. The meal started with a spring roll that was so good I didn't even have time to take a photo I ate it so fast. Then I had a plate of hummus and pita followed by one of the best filet mignons I've ever had. Lastly I had pistacchio and Mango ice cream with Godiva chocolates. Yum!

After my big dinner I reclined back and fell asleep on my comfy bed, waking up only when we started to descend into Bangkok.

Even though I didn't pay for it, I felt like I belonged up there. The room, the food, the feel - it was all so humane! I believe everyone should fly business or first class at least once in their life, and in my case I hope its a bit more often.

But Why Did it Happen?

I don't quite understand why I was chosen for the free upgrade rather than anyone else. Was it because I sacrificed my initial seat on the first flight and they were grateful that I resolved the tension (the workers thanked us more than a few times for pacifying the woman). Or did it have something to do with the time in which we checked in?

Whatever it was, I'm grateful! If you want a free upgrade or free VIP lounge passes it seems like you have to know the right people or in my case, just get plain lucky.

Do you know how to get free upgrades or do you think you know why I was given a upgrade? Let me know in the comments.

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