How to get a first class upgrade on your next flight

While we gear up for a few days off from work, time spent with our closest friends and family and endless plates of food, Thanksgiving is not a relaxing time for many. As one of the busiest travel days of the year, you can expect flight delays, packed airports and bumper-to-bumper traffic, in addition to the inflated price of airline tickets we see surrounding the holiday season.  

And while many of these factors -- like flight delays -- are out of our control, there are ways to make your holiday travel less stressful. The biggest way to alleviate the strain of flying around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years? By kicking back in first class. But it's not as easy as you think. 

"The days of dressing up nice and asking a check-in counter or gate agent for an upgrade are over, thanks to record numbers of travelers with elite status in a Hunger Games-like struggle to get those premium cabin seats," said travel guru Brian Kelly, expert behind The Points Guy, to AOL Lifestyle. 

"Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to upgrades, unless you pay for them with cash or points.

While first-class tickets can cost as much as 70 percent more than the price of the economy tickets, there are ways to improve your chances of getting bumped up to a first-class seat.

Read on for Kelly's top tips for flying the high life:

1. Have elite status with an airline — the higher, the better. It also helps to have a luxury credit card that corresponds with the airline of your choice (Citi/AAdvantage Executive, Delta Reserve, United Club Card and Southwest Priority) so you can earn points that help with status and pay for upgrades.

2. You are also sometimes given the opportunity to pay for an upgrade based on distance when you check-in for your flight. Consider buying a full-fare economy class ticket for a better chance for an upgrade on a flight with plenty of business class capacity.

3. Some airlines give you the chance to bid on seat upgrades. If you have the points or the cash, you can get some real bargains compared with paying full price.

4. If a flight is oversold and they're calling for volunteers, take the voucher, but also negotiate for a business class seat on your new flight. And bonus — that comes with premium lounge airport if you don't already have it. If that same oversold flight has empty seats in business class, you could be upgraded if you have elite status with the airline. 

For more holiday travel survival tips, watch the video above.

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Secrets airline agents won't tell you
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Secrets airline agents won't tell you

Pardon us for staring at the computer -- we're really busy

From opening the door of an incoming flight to coordinating assistance for wheelchair passengers and children traveling alone to preparing the same plane to depart again, gate agents have their hands full. They also deal with last-minute seat assignments, upgrades, customer questions, and crew or maintenance issues. When they seem like they're tapping endlessly on archaic computers for no reason, they're actually accomplishing countless tasks in limited time. Delta Air Lines management once required gate agents to make eye contact with anyone within five feet of the desk every five seconds. Delta agents will tell you just how tough that is. Check out the 13 things airlines don't want you to know.

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We can't upgrade you for wearing a tie

The myth that dressing well gives you a better chance at a business class upgrade has been around for some time—and perhaps it was once true. Instead of picking the smartly dressed, though, today's agents follow a priority list, starting with elite frequent fliers. Not following that list, especially when customers can view that information on airline apps, is a big no-no. The only time an agent might upgrade someone for free is if economy class is overbooked and there are no more eligible passengers on the upgrade list.

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We can get you a better seat -- if you ask nicely

As eligible passengers are upgraded, more (and often better) seats in economy class will free up. Plus, seats that were previously blocked can now be assigned, so you could ask for an upgrade to a seat with more legroom. Try asking politely about half an hour before departure to see if you can move out of that middle seat at the back of the plane. Don't forget these other 10 etiquette rules for flying on an airplane.

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Don't panic if you don't have a seat assignment

This doesn't mean that the flight is overbooked or that you are not confirmed. Because many airlines block seats for families or those who need assistance, there may be times when you won't get a seat assignment right away; other seats might be blocked for frequent flier elite members or still open for sale. If you opt not to pay for a seat in advance—or couldn't pick one at check-in—never fear. Gate agents are working hard to get you an assignment before departure. Keep an eye on the standby list for your name.

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Occasionally, we can hold a flight for you

Airline computer systems can alert agents to passengers who might miss a flight because of a late connection. In fact, gate agents are monitoring the record of passengers who might be en route to determine if they should give their seat away to someone else (but only if it is clear the passenger won't make it). They even have a term for late passengers who scurry to the gate: "runners."

If a large group of passengers is delayed by a flight—or if the agents are boarding the last flight of the day—they might hold a plane. But they have to weight a lot of factors: For example, will the crew "time out?" (Pilots and flight attendants can only work a limited number of hours.) On the other hand, they don't want to strand any unaccompanied minors or elite frequent fliers. In other words, you could get lucky if you're running late—but don't count on it.

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If you're really late we'll give your seat away

If boarding has finished before you breathlessly charge the gate, there's a good chance the agent will have given away your seat. Agents have to print paperwork listing all of the passengers, plus weight and balance information about the plane, which pilots use for flight calculations. To let a late passenger on the plane, the gate agent would need to redo all that paperwork, delaying the flight even more. You're better off getting there early. If you have time to kill, here's how to never be bored at an airport again.

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The computer picks the compensation for bumping -- not the agent

When you're angling for more benefits, the agent can't do much—the computer is calculating how badly the seats are needed and how much of a travel delay it would cause you; then it derives your compensation. Most agents don't have access to airline lounge passes or drink vouchers, so attempts to finagle more goodies most likely will prove futile. However, you could politely request that the agent ask a supervisor if it's possible to offer more. Just don't get your hopes up. Airlines from the European Union—and U.S. carriers operating from it—are subject to strict guidelines on what they can offer passengers if a flight is delayed, canceled, or oversold. However, agents won't always offer extra up front, so it helps if you ask. Here are 12 tricks for stress-free air travel.

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Misbehaving can go on your permanent record

Seriously: Although each airline is different, agents can and do make comments on a traveler's record. While the agent may have to search for the info, your nasty behavior or comments in the past can haunt you when you travel—you could even be more likely to get bumped from future flights if you've been really disruptive. Don't miss these other 22 things your flight attendant won't tell you.

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