On a recent trip, I was desperate to upgrade to premium economy on a Virgin Atlantic (VA) flight from New York City to London. But since I had bought the lowest class fare available (N Class), I wasn’t allowed to use points to do so. Who knew?According to the VA reservationist, the airline states this rule clearly under “fare restrictions” on my ticket. (Oops, I missed that one. Next time, I’ll make sure to read the fine print.)

In order to upgrade, I was told I’d have to pay upwards of $1,000. I called the airline every day for two weeks leading up to my flight, hoping that the rule would miraculously change. But on the day of my trip, I was still stuck in economy.

At check-in, I decided to try one last time. To my surprise, I was upgraded for only $200 more (Upper Class would have cost an extra $600), and there was no waiting list.

In the current economy, your chances of upgrading are easier than ever because of fewer business travelers (which was clear from the number of empty seats on my flight, add to that the current swine flu scare). In fact, business travel is down 6.8 percent since last year, according to the Washington DC-based U.S. Travel Association. It pays to ask. So, if you’re eager to ditch economy for a more comfortable seat on the plane, the odds are on your
side. Just don't give up.

Clara O. Sedlak is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.