If you’re a frequent economy traveler, you may stare longingly at those first-class seats as you make your way to the back of the plane. First-class flyers not only get the great seats but they’re always the first to board, have way more leg room and get extra-special treatment from the flight crew. So, how do you get a chance to join the ranks of the first-class flyers?

Pay your way
Of course, the easiest way to guarantee a first-class upgrade is to pay for one. Most airlines will upgrade you for a few hundred dollars or for frequent flyer miles per ticket. Prices and frequent flyer mile trade-ins vary by airline, so be sure to check the fine print before you decide to upgrade. Don’t waste your money or miles on short trips.

Ask for it
You may be able to get a free or discounted upgrade simply by asking for one. Try politely asking the gate agent to consider you if he or she is offering upgrades on your flight. Make sure you’re at the gate on time – you will never get an upgraded ticket if you’re running late. When you’re asking, avoid being demanding or rude. If you’re refused, thank the gate agent and step aside.

Avoid empty flights
It seems counterintuitive, but an airline won’t give you a free or discounted upgrade when the flight is empty. Airlines have no reason to upgrade you if there are plenty of open seats. If the plane is filling up or other travelers need to be accommodated because their flights were canceled, you have a better chance at a reasonably priced upgrade.

If you allow yourself to be bumped from your current flight to a later one, you may be able to negotiate a free upgrade into the deal. When you offer to give up your seat, let the gate agent know that you want to be upgraded to first-class on the next flight. If the agent is desperate, he or she may just do it.

Share special occasions
Are you traveling for a big birthday? Heading out for your honeymoon? Occasionally gate agents will be willing to upgrade you for free if you tell them when you’re checking in. Donning an “It’s my 30th birthday!” T-shirt never hurts either.

Do you have any tricks for getting a free or discounted upgrade? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!