Are you dreaming of a way to find cheap first class flights? Sick and tired of flying in coach and just want to spread out beyond the crushing 28 inches of legroom most major airlines provide? Or maybe you’re curious what it would be like to not have to passive aggressively battle the person next to you the whole flight for use of the armrest.
Whatever you’re looking to get out of a flight experience, business class can provide it.
The differences are vast. As you board the plane and cross the threshold from first class to economy, the walkway narrows as the seats double. People are chaotic as they elbow and step on nearby passengers while stowing their bags or taking a seat.
It’s near impossible for someone in economy class to stand up from their seat mid-flight without yanking down on the seat in from of them, and sometimes taking a clump of someone’s hair with them. You might get the meal of your choice depending on how far up you’re sitting in the cabin. Just pray you’re not the poor soul in the last row, with someone reclined into them and the wafts of 2 toilets the whole ride.
Then there’s first class. You board when no one else is on the plane and all the overhead storage bins are empty. When you sit down, you get a snack and a beverage of your choice, usually something classy like champagne and Milano cookies. You sit in a recliner, allowing you to lay back without crushing the legs of another human being and actually elevate yours to boot.
Not a single seat is subjected to eau de toilette. They even yell at the commoners if they dare to cross the threshold and attempt to use the first class restroom. Spoiler alert — it’s not special. I do think airlines have been dropping the ball on this. If you’re going to have a first class bathroom, give me high end lotions like L’Occitane and charming extra plush toilet paper. IJS.
Given a choice between the two, any rational human being would opt to fly in first class. The problem is, most people can’t afford it.
Until now. It’s almost 2020, guys! We have so many ways to hack the system that you can fly first class for less than the price of an economy ticket.
So if you’re looking to see how the other side lives, read on for 8 easy ways to get your hands on cheap first class flights.
1) Use points or miles
Airline miles are like gold. When you have a bulk infusion of miles in your account, you can get to destinations across the world and fly 12+ hours in first class for the price of just taxes and fees. That’s how award travel works.
You can redeem miles (or points) for a practically free flight and are only responsible for taxes and fees, ranging from $5 to $100~ depending on where you’re flying to/from. When you search on an airline booking portal, you’ll see different point values listed for different types of tickets. Categories include basic economy, economy, economy plus, business and first class.
Frequent flyers use miles or points to score a better seat. Typically, you’re awarded enough points/miles to redeem for a first class flight when you open a new credit card and reach the minimum spend threshold within the first few months. Aim to meet the minimum spend threshold by paying existing expenses so you don’t incur additional charges in trying to get the reward.
Don’t have enough miles to get you somewhere? I hear ya. The point values for flights can vary depending on when and where you fly so I recommend you look at all your options.
If you’re not flexible on dates, consider being flexible on locations. Maybe 85k points can’t get you to Italy first class, but it can get you to London and you can connect to Italy on a regular economy seat from there, spending the bulk of your travel time in luxury.
2) Use a combination of miles and cash
Another option is to use a combination of miles and cash to pay for your ticket. This way even if you don’t have enough miles to afford a first class ticket, you can supplement your miles with cash and make up the difference.
This is a great way of spending leftover miles after a big award redemption. This is also an easy way to get first class flights for shorter flights. I once took an hour flight in business class using a miles & cash combination and it came out to $90 total.
Shorter domestic flights won’t charge as much for first class tickets as longer international flights so you can get more bang for your miles and bucks.
3) Bid on an upgrade
When airlines have unsold first class seats they’ll sometimes offer all the passengers an opportunity to bid for an upgrade. When this is the case you’ll get an email notifying you of the bidding process. There will be an opening bid price and the best bids are selected.
If you’re going this route, it’s always a good idea to bid slightly higher than the minimum bid. This way you increase your chances of being selected but don’t offer such a high price that you negate the savings in the first place.
Usually, this process takes place a week or two before a flight and is completed at least 3 days before the flight. Winners are notified 24-48 hours before the flight and refunded for any extras they paid for that are included in a first class ticket, like a seat assignment or checked bag.
3) Get flight alerts
I love flight alert programs. I think they’re a great way for the non-frequent traveler to stay in the loop about amazing airline deals. But they’re also valuable for those looking to fly first class.
A good flight alert program will let you know whenever there’s a fare drop, mistake fare or flash sale on airline tickets and that includes first class seats.
I’m signed up for Scott’s Cheap Flight’s premium list and while the bulk of the emails I receive are for economy fights, every month or two I’ll get a deal for a first class ticket, like the $542 roundtrip first class ticket to Costa Rica pictured above.
4) Check homepage deals on search engines
Certain airline search engines, like CheapOAir, Expedia and One Travel have a way to see homepage deals with the latest first class flights alerts. Deals are updated regularly. You have to be discerning since not everything is a “deal.”
For instance, as I write this I see a deal for San Francisco to Vegas for $400 roundtrip in first class. That sounds reasonable. Roundtrip NYC to Manila for $15k??? Not so much.
Let me break down why that is cause some of you might be thinking, “well Manila is far from New York so I’d expect that price.” But the thing is, for $3,000 you can open a new travel credit card and get enough points/miles to redeem for a flight to Manila for free. It’s a common route and point redemption values are reasonable. That way, you get to the same place in the same sky recliner and save $12,000.
Once the cost of flying first class become that exorbitant, points and miles are the better way to go.
You also have the option of searching Google flights and filtering your search to show only first class ticket options. What I like about this method is that you can browse the calendar several months in advance and see the cheapest days to fly to your destination before you even select a date of departure.
6) Sign up for paid daily bulletin services
There are subscription services that offer daily bulletins with first class and point redemption value deals. The sites are aimed at people who are big in the points game and have more than one travel credit card.
Think of these as elite flight alert programs aimed at business travelers. They can be more expensive than other flight alert programs but have deals updated daily for your local airport.
Two sites to mention are First Class Flyer and Mighty Networks. Mighty Networks is the cheaper option at $59/year; First Class Flyer starts at $99/year. Both have free trials available if you’d like to test the service before subscribing. They also have the opportunity for you to browse recent deals on their websites.
7) Get bumped
Every now and then, airlines oversell seats. In this scenario, they may ask for a bid from passengers online ahead of time to identify people who are willing to give up their seat and avoid a mess at the gate. In this case, it’s the same bidding process as when you’re bidding for an upgrade, only you state the amount you’d be wiling to take to be bumped.
Some airlines don’t have this system set up yet, however, or don’t realize the flight is oversold until the day of when too many people check in. This is the scenario you’re hoping for because this is where you have the most bargaining power.
When an airline is desperate to bump someone they’ll offer all sorts of compensation incentives, usually outbidding themselves and raising their offer if no one volunteers. I recommend you take the first cash or gift amount offered but ask to fly first class on the later flight. So long as there’s space available they’re likely to agree just to get the oversold situation resolved.
You don’t want to wait too long to take one of those offers unless it’s a popular day like Christmas or Thanksgiving since most people jump when they hear words “hundred” and “dollars.”
8) Just ask
This has never personally worked for me because you won’t catch me in an airport in a suit. I travel in tights and a hair bun and am proud of it.
However, there’s something to be said for dressing the part. I have friends who always go to the airport dressed up on the off chance of an upgrade. If you’re wearing a suit and look like you fit in up there, you’ll at least be considered.
Another thing that helps is getting there early and greeting the gate agent. Make sure to smile, be courteous and ask about their day before you let them know you’d like to be considered for an upgrade if available.
Make it a point to mention if you’re celebrating a special occasion like an anniversary or birthday. It also helps if you’re part of the airline’s loyalty program or have their travel credit card.
These are some easy ways to find cheap first class flights. Flying first class doesn’t have to be an elusive or unattainable experience. Anyone can travel in style! With a little patience and the right resources, your opportunity will come sooner than you think.
Till next time, safe travels!
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