The Secret To Free Upgrades

smiling old manIt’s my ultimate dream…

To board a transatlantic flight, and get a complementary upgrade to first class.

Or to pay for a simple hotel room, and being handed the key to the penthouse suite. At no additional charge.

I love a good deal. Especially when I’m not paying for it!

And how about getting last-minute tickets to that sold-out play or musical? Wouldn’t it be great to run into someone who’s willing to sell you the best seats in the house at half-price because he can’t make it?

“Alright, that will never happen,” you respond, and I don’t blame you. 

Most airlines have instituted a zero-upgrade policy. Hotels will make you pay if you wish to stay in a nicer room, and that loud, sweaty guy in front of you will snag those cheap Broadway tickets for a show he doesn’t even like. 

Some things are just too good to be true, and they will never happen to you.

And yet, one of my friends seems to have the magic touch when it comes to upgrades. He’s in his seventies, and the other night he went to dinner and got a free dessert. Recently, he took a cruise to the Caribbean, and landed a spacious room with a view, even though he’d only paid for a small cabin.

He’s always getting deals and discounts, and I don’t know how he does it. Is he just lucky, or is he reaping the rewards of having been an amazing person in a past life?

Let’s forget reincarnation for a moment, and find out why my friend -let’s call him Ben- receives these complementary upgrades and discounts. I have a feeling it has to do with his mental make-up. His personality.

First of all, he’s the epitome of optimism. In Ben’s world, nothing is impossible. Ben doesn’t see obstacles. He spots opportunities. 

Secondly, he’s one of the most positive, altruistic souls I know. Ben is always complimenting people left and right because he sees the good in everyone.

And compliments make people fly.

Ben’s also a good listener. He’s the kind of person you’d tell the story of your life to, because Ben is genuinely interested, he doesn’t interrupt, and he doesn’t judge.

Ben doesn’t like to talk about himself. He wants to hear how you are doing. Ben doesn’t have a hidden agenda, or some intricate spiel. He happens to like people, and people like him.

And most importantly, he doesn’t care if you’re a captain of industry, or a burger flipper at the local greasy spoon. He will give you the same, warm Ben treatment, because that’s what you deserve.

You couldn’t find a nicer guy, even if you tried.

“But what about this saying Nice people finish last?” you may ask. “Isn’t there some truth to that? People walk all over doormats. They always have, and they always will.” 

I disagree. Nice people can be assertive. Sweet people can have a spine. A very sweet spine! Nice people do finish first.

Ben once told me:

“Most folks are willing to go the extra mile for you, but not if you’re a jerk. If you go all ballistic on a poor call center assistant, you know you’re going to be put on hold for a very long time. If you’re patronizing to a waiter, it may take a little longer for your food to arrive.

Being kind doesn’t cost a thing, but don’t expect any favors if you’re being disrespectful and rude.

Now, I know that’s not an earth shattering message, and yet I wish this world would choose kindness over conflict.”

Being a nice guy is not the only reason why my friend Ben enjoys his occasional perks and upgrades. When I asked him about it, he shared a very simple secret with me that has made all the difference. In fact, it is so simple and straightforward that most people don’t even think about it.

“My mother was a very wise woman,” said Ben. “And this is what she told me when I was five years old:

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Here’s an example.

One of my grandsons is a freelancer. The other day he was complaining about a rate a client had offered him. It was on the low side, but he took the job anyway, because he needed the money.

Did you ask for more? I said.

“No,” he answered. “I didn’t want them to go to someone else. Besides, they said they had a limited budget.”

A month later he ran into a colleague who happened to work on a similar project for the same company. And get this: They were paying this man twice the amount he was making! 

My grandson became really angry. He called his project manager and yelled: “Why are you paying this guy two times what I’m making while we’re practically doing the same job? That’s not fair, is it?”

“Calm down, said the project manager. “It doesn’t have anything to do with fair, and I’ll tell you why. With us, you negotiate your own rate. That’s how we do it. Your colleague gave us a number, and we agreed. It’s as simple as that. You could have done the same thing. All you had to do was ask.”

I’ll give you another example, said Ben.

My neighbor’s wife -a very nice lady- was moaning and groaning that her husband wasn’t romantic anymore. “We used to go out all the time, and we had so much fun,” she sighed. “These days he just sits on the couch, and watches TV.”

Have you asked him to take you out on a date, lately? I said.

“Of course not,” she replied. “It has to come from him. It has to be spontaneous. My husband is anything but spontaneous.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Ben. “She doesn’t understand the concept. If she wants things to chance, she’s got to take action. 

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Frankly, it’s the only reason I got that marvelous room on my last cruise. When I got on board, I started talking to the purser. He was an older guy, like me. It turns out, we went to the same high school, but we were five years apart. We even had the same favorite teachers, and we hated the same ones too! Then he asked me what room I was in, and I told him. He said it was very close to the engine. That’s probably why it was so cheap.

Then I looked at him, and said: “I don’t suppose there’s anything you could do about that, is there?”

He glanced at his chart for a moment, and said: “Let me see what I can do.”

Next thing I know I was out on my very own balcony, smelling the fresh, salty air. The engine room was far away. One night I was even invited to dine at the captain’s table. When you’re my age, it doesn’t get any better than that!”

He took a deep breath.

“You know,” said Ben with a smile. “People think these things only happen in books or in movies, and that’s not true. They do happen in real life, as long as you believe they are possible. You’ve got to believe.

Sometimes all it takes is a smile, a little kindness, and an innocent question.

Tell me: Is that too much to ask?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: the old man and the sea : santa barbara (2006) via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal

8 Responses to The Secret To Free Upgrades

  1. Maxine Dunn

    Hi Paul,
    I absolutely LOVE this blog post Paul! Well, I love a lot of them, but this one is just wonderful. Thank you for writing such an uplifting missive today!


  2. Nancy Raciti

    I enjoy your blog posts, Paul. And, when I first started doing voice-over work, you were so kind to me – and we hadn’t even met. Thank you!

    It was actually my experiences in the vo world that led me to start promoting kindness via If you’re interested in hearing that story, I’d love to share it with you.

    Also, I don’t expect you to approve this comment and have it post and promote my site. I just decided to reach out to you via the comments because I’m here. 🙂

    I appreciate your sharing your kindnesses and your business insights. Cheers to you!


  3. Kent Ingram

    Oh, man…here’s another one that cuts me to the core! Bravo, Paul! In my own case, I’ve had more negative reactions to my kindnesses than positive ones. However, that doesn’t mean I had NOTHING positive that came back to me. Of course it did. On the subject of asking for things, I’ve learned to do that, as I’ve gotten older. The advice is spot-on!


  4. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Be kind to one another 🙂 Good read to start the day. Thanks Paul !


  5. Lee A Pinney

    on a trip to France I booked a flight on KLM to Amsterdam, Schipol. About an hour into the flight, someplace near Albuquerque, the attendant that had been so kind to everyone while boarding approached me. She commented on my knees being jammed into the seat in front of me, and asked if I would mind following her.

    She proceeded to walk up to the Business Class, where she asked if I would be willing to give up my seat so that a couple could sit together. Being as she asked so nicely, I quickly replied with a certainly I would be willing to help you in this time of need. She winked, asked me to bring my carry on forward, and to enjoy the rest of my flight. With a mutual wink, and a nod I was off to gather my belongings.

    I have never had the desire to fly with anyone else ever since, and have had a wonderful experience each and every time I fly with them.


  6. Mark Middlestadt

    As I’ve gotten older, it seems much clearer, you get what you give! And it feels better!

    It must be Spring Paul, because you keep knocking them out of the park!


  7. 'Uncle Roy' Yokelson

    Paul – Before I got to Ben’s quote, my own mother’s words rang out in my mind: “You don’t ask, you don’t get!” I’ve used this method to get the occasional late fee on a credit card waived, and got a Samsung Note 3 for a penny. All for being a ‘nice guy’. I always say it takes the same amount of energy to be nice as it does to be nasty – so I choose nice!


  8. Ted Mcaleer

    Kindness and courtesy don’t cost a thing…No truer words spoken. Does open doors too. Great blog, “You’re UPGRADED!”


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