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Shortcuts: Get an airline upgrade

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(CNN) -- Want to get an airline upgrade and stretch your legs in first class? Here's how to join the jet set.

Luxury lifestyle: Board the plane and turn left to enter a sophisticated world of champagne, glamorous fellow passengers, and enough legroom to keep statuesque supermodels happy. Leave behind the crush of cattle class, the bawling children, the line for the toilet, the man in the next seat who smells of spaniels, and the tiny TV playing Kevin Costner movies. This is the way to travel in style, and you deserve it.

Dig deep: And now for the bad news: Industry insiders will tell you the only sure-fire way to secure your berth in first class is to pay for it. That usually means shelling out more than twice the standard airfare and if you can afford that, you're probably already reading this in first class via the free broadband Internet connection while nibbling on the canapé we all hope you choke on.

Is that it? Well, not quite. Although free upgrades have the same mythic status as unicorns, dragons and good Kevin Costner movies, they do actually exist. And while there are no tried and trusted methods to get one, there are definitely ways to improve your chances -- and ways to ruin them.

Don't ask: No harm in asking right? Wrong! Everyone asks these days and check-in staff are weary of hearing about your stiff knees, your itchy kidneys or your friend's mom's hairdresser's cousin who works for an airline. Annoy the person allocating seats and you've guaranteed yourself 12-hours of spaniel fumes and Costner.

Dress smart: The only way you'll get upgraded to first class dressed like Brad Pitt is if you are Brad Pitt. There's no need to go overboard, but shirts and pants (or skirts) that end nearer your shoes than your midriff won't do any harm.

Be flexible: If you're willing to be bumped off an over-booked flight, airline staff will certainly look at you on the next flight. If you give up your seat to allow a couple to sit together, not only will you get away from the guy next to you mooning over his absent girlfriend, you might find yourself rewarded with a trip up front.

Be loyal: Sign up to frequent flyer schemes. Clocking up air miles will not only identify you to an airline as a regular customer who deserves to be pampered, but also entitle you to free flights -- providing you're willing to travel via Reykjavik on the second Thursday in February.

Wedding bells: If you're capable of planning ahead, one trick is to write in advance informing the airline that you are flying to your honeymoon. Generous carriers have been known to grant upgrades and lay on limousines. Obviously, this scam only works once per airline, requires you to look happily married (the free champagne should help) and, unless you can think of a dynamite excuse as to why they're absent, requires you to be traveling with someone who can at least remember your name.

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