Every business traveler wants to sit in a big seat at the front of the plane, but getting an upgrade these days is increasingly difficult. I caught up with Matthew Bennett, who runs upgrade advice site FirstClassFlyer.com, for tips on how you can sit in first or business class without breaking your travel budget.

  • Get What You Ask For. With so many new, low, domestic first-class fares in the marketplace, always ask for the lowest heavily discounted first-class fares before upgrading with miles. For example, if you call Delta Air Lines to use your miles to upgrade from Los Angeles to Atlanta, they'll tell you the lowest upgradeable economy fare is $958 round trip, plus 30,000 hard-earned miles. But ask for the lowest heavily discounted first-class fare, and you'll be quoted $722 round trip--no miles required!
  • Combine Business and Pleasure. You can usually add a few vacation days in exotic places like Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean for little or no extra money. For instance, these days you can pay as little as $1,100 for a first-class trip between Boston and Los Angeles. Book Boston to Los Angeles to Honolulu to Boston, and the cost is only about $200 more. In effect, this gives you an incredibly cheap first-class ticket to Honolulu--and a nice mini-vacation to tack on to your business trip to Los Angeles.
  • Asian Sojourn? Check out Asiana and Malaysia Airlines, which offer free upgrades to those paying full-economy fares. There's nothing better than getting a deal on a business-class seat (for a good night's sleep) on those 12- to 15-hour slogs across the Pacific.
  • Get a Better Coach Seat. For about $500 more than a normal coach ticket, international long-haul carriers like ANA, British Airways, EVA, Singapore and Virgin Atlantic offer premium economy seats, which are wider and spaced a bit farther apart than those in the standard coach section.

Chris McGinnis is author The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.