So much separates we the cattle people from the Olympians who fly first class.
In addition to the little swishy curtain, the perks of first class air travel usually include complimentary booze, leg room, and a greater baggage allowance.
Here's how you get an upgrade without breaking the bank or resorting to a hijacking.
1. Seat filler
A website called PlusGrade gives passengers the chance to bid for seats in first class.
Airlines auction off their left over seats (why didn't anyone tell United?) to people already registered for the flight in economy class.
Participant airlines include Virgin Atlantic, Air China, and Ethihad.
The upgrade can be done up to 72 hours before the flight takes off, but this can vary depending on each airline's regulations.
The single upgrade can't be applied across all your tickets if you're catching connecting flights. Each stage of the journey would need to be bid upon and upgraded.
Nevertheless the class hopping technique means you only spend what you're willing to pay on an upgrade.
2. Dress up
On the rare occasions that there are free seats in first class and no one is buying them up, an airline staffer might be gracious enough to upgrade you, but you really have to look the part.
Those who pay top dollar for the fancy seat can wear what they want. If you expect to be upgraded don't show up in sweat pants and a vest.
Airline staff are much more likely to upgrade a smartly dressed passenger who looks like they fit in than someone who has made minimal effot.
TLDR - skip the flip-flops.
3. Be nice
Never ever assume that because you paid for a ticket the airline is now somehow beholden to you. A little kindness and politeness goes a long, long way. A smile and conversation at the check-in desk or while queuing to get on the flight might not sound like much, but it's certainly an improvement on the grunts certain passengers give airline staff before, during and after long-haul flights.
Don't be a creep about it, but if you have a pleasant experience on your flight the people taking care of you will have a pleasant experience too.
4. Travel alone
According to Jonathan Marks, a global investment banker who has a habit of getting free upgrades, travelling alone (or being fine with being separated from your party) is a great way to get an upgrade.
5. Don't show up to the flight drunk.
This applies to flying in economy class too. Don't be that person. That person is a pain.
6. Timing is everything
Most flights are usually fully booked - otherwise the airline would be operating them at a sever loss financially, but there are some times where they are quiet.
The off-peak days (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) are the times empty seats can be found and staff might be more generous with the upgrades.
Similarly, if a plane is overbooked and you offer to catch a later flight that might just earn you the karma that gets you a nicer seat.
7. Be loyal
Almost every airline has a loyalty scheme or card nowadays and points often do mean prizes. Sometimes it's a simple as making sure you keep up to date with a company's emails to see if there are any sneaky deals or opportunities you can take advantage of.