I was reading What techniques, tricks or otherwise have you used to get upgrades on flights? and saw this comment -

Excellent advice. Once by checking in VERY early I got a downgrade. But it was voluntary and part of a GREAT deal. Free return ticket (Business) + all privileges (chauffeur, lounge, express luggage) + exit row (all of it, on one side) + cash + voucher). Flown Emirates whenever possible since and very happy to check in early. - pnuts

This comment was just below https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/4179/43215

Now how does checking in early tie with getting some benefit.

Also, I am not well-versed with airport procedures (international) hence what I know/remember is -

a. If you have a valid tickets for international flights you can enter in the freezing terminal upto 5 hours before your flight time.

b. You show your tickets and passport to security (in my/our case CISF), they look and judge and if all is in order you enter the terminal

c. Then if you have two luggage (one carry-on and other checked baggage), you can get the one on the plane shrink-wrapped to deter thefts.

d. You can then enter security with your bag/s, get them scanned, get yourself scanned, frisked and can then proceed to the check-in counter.

e. The check-in counter is usually closed or dealing with an earlier flight. For manual check-ins, the check-in counter opens usually 2 hours before the flight and there is usually a heavy rush of passengers the moment the check-in counter opens.

f. At the check-in counter, the bags are weighed (I guess the ones which go on plane as well as carry-on) and if found that combined weight is below what is allowed it's good. After that you are given your boarding pass which you need to show at the gate.

g. IIRC, the boarding pass also prints if you have checked baggage to be put on plane (not carry-on/s)

h. The gate usually opens about one and a half-hour before the announced flight time if things are on schedule.

i. At around 20 minutes before flight time, the gate closes and people are slowly boarded according to the tickets they bought, business and first class first, premium economy second and economy/cattle class the last (me).

Now in this scenario where checking in VERY early can happen ?

I do know that some airlines do allow virtual check-in 24 hours before flight where you can print your own boarding pass but AFAIK this doesn't have any benefit to the passenger. The boarding passes can be something that you can keep as a memory.

Now in all this, where does check in VERY EARLY figure ? Can somebody share ?

  • When you do online check-in, some airlines (Delta) ask you if you're willing to give up your seat, and for which amount. They only do it if the flight is overbooked, but you can do online check-in within 24 hours (on some airlines 48 hours).
    – George Y.
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 1:05
  • Lots of airports have no restrictions on entry, you can go in 10 hours or 2 hours ahead of your flight time so your A & B are regional restrictions. For E, international flights often open 3 hours ahead of departure.
    – user13044
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 6:48

3 Answers 3


I had checked out of my hotel that morning and imposed on a friend for that evening until around 22:00. So probably arrived at the check-in counter around 22:30. I had nowhere else to go and would have been very happy to while away a few hours in one of the Emirate's lounges (comfortable seating, free food and drink, newspapers, wi-fi etc). My flight was not due to depart until something like 03:30 the next day.

The check-in counter was not open for my flight. I was lucky to catch someone as they were just about to leave the counters unmanned, possibly for a couple of hours. What I suspect happened was that First was fully booked and some VIP decided they wanted a seat in First regardless. The airline is effectively wholly government owned and unlikely to say "no" to someone with enough clout, regardless of the impact on paying customers. So my theory is that a First passenger was going to be downgraded to Business.

However, still speculation, Business was also already fully booked. So Emirates needed to downgrade a Business passenger to make way for the downgraded First passenger. This would have been known as soon as the hypothetical VIP claimed a seat in First, hence by being ridiculously early I was given the chance. I suspect it was a VIP in part because I have some doubt that otherwise someone checking in an earlier flight would have known of the requirement to find a seat.

I did not set out to achieve the maximum 'compensation' but was reluctant to forego legroom (the other 'perks' were of little significance for me). The free ticket, 'duty free' voucher, retention of the expedited baggage, the limousine, use of the lounge were offered first. These are probably fairly standard 'offers' in such a situation. I hesitated but probably showed signs of being amenable since legroom was really all I cared about. Next I was offered a bulkhead seat. She was being persuasive but bulkhead seats often nowadays do not provide much extra legroom, since there is no room under the seat in front. I did not ask for three seats to myself but I think she knew how close I was to agreeing and gave one last push - not just an exit row seat but all three seats. Even at 20 feet tall I might not have been able, when seated, to touch the bulkhead in front of me.

I think the offer to refund the difference in fare might not have come until after I had agreed to downgrade - possibly I missed it and it was part of the initial offer. Anyway, I think I was given three boarding card sized documents - one for that, one for the 'duty free' and one for a free ticket. Originally I thought the latter was just one way (so not much use to me) but it turned out to be a return. This, with my contribution of £72, later got me half way round the world and back in Business.

However, I can't claim this as a "technique". I just consider myself to have been (somewhat uncharacteristically!) incredibly lucky. To work at all reliably you might have to know the VIP and persuade him to decide to choose the same flight as you, at the last minute!

I confess though, when someone tried to relocate themselves to one of my three seats I ran them off, because of their attitude.

I would have been more than happy with a Premium Economy seat, but that is not due for another 18 months.

I do not think this was routine over booking.


In the situation referred to, that would have been (e) but note that to be downgraded, the writer would have been travelling on a premium ticket of some form, and airlines are much more accommodating in terms of 'early' check-ins for premium travellers than for 'regular' ticket holders.

What's likely to have occurred is that the premium cabin was overbooked and the normal recourse of a further upgrade wouldn't have been available, so the check-in agent would then ask if anyone was willing to downgrade as they checked in - in this scenario, the early check-in gets asked first, although it's not guaranteed - often the airline may not realise there's a capacity issue until partway through check-in, so may not ask the initial set of passengers!

  • while that makes sense, I was wondering how 'early' is known and how 'early' can you check in. In both domestic and international it does say you should show up 2-3 hours before the flight takes off.
    – shirish
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 0:25
  • @shirish Every airline has a different policy about how early you can check in, and it may vary depending on the airport. Some will happily take your bags 12 hours before the flight, others won't even have their counter staffed at that time because they have no flights until later in the day. However, in the vast majority of cases, checking in very early will simply result in you having a large amount of extra time at the airport; it is rather rare indeed that an early checkin would lead to an upgrade or other benefit. Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 1:52

As a general rule of thumb, checking in early does NOT make getting upgrade benefits any easier.

Last minute upgrades are awarded based on a complex array of rules, that take into consideration your elite status with the airline or its partners, the fare class that you bought your ticket in, the date you bought your ticket and finally the time you checked in. However the only time that an early check in would be useful in a standard upgrade scenario would if two of you have identical qualifications and only one seat was available, they would then use check in time as the tie breaker.

Early check in does have a benefit for voluntary offers ie: take a later flight because we are oversold and get upgraded or a voucher (or downgraded as in pnuts experience). Here it is usually first come first serve, so if they are asking for volunteers during check in, someone who checked in earlier is higher on the list.

If no one volunteers, then they follow another set of complex rules to decide who gets involuntarily bumped. Those rules basically run opposite the rules for upgrades.

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