6 Secret Tools for Flying First Class (Without Paying Full Price)
It's time to reimagine upgrading. Here's how to fly first class on every flight, business or personal.
Once you've experienced the luxuries of flying First Class, it's nearly impossible to return to the cramped, close-knit quarters of coach. The extra space, next-level service, convenience and perks of First and Business Class are necessary if you want your flying experience to be memorable and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed.
On the flip side, the exorbitant price of a First Class seat can make you feel like a sucker, and as we all know, with the way airlines price tickets these days, it's a strong possibility that everyone sitting around you paid a different price for exactly the same seat.
So how do you get the best deal for the seat you want?
I travel extensively for work, and my wife and I love to travel for pleasure. Flying is a part of our lives, and thankfully we can afford it, but there are times when I question whether paying for First Class is worth the extra legroom, priority boarding and "complimentary" drinks. Yet between myself, my wife and my executive assistant, no one has the time to do a deep dive into the inner workings of the airline industry's pricing structures.
One of my clients, Matt Bennett, aka "Mr. Upgrade," is an expert at shopping for airline tickets. He always says to me that shopping for airline tickets is very much about mindset. You'll likely find the deals if you rethink how you travel and shop for tickets. He taught me valuable mindset hacks, techniques and strategies for getting First or Business Class tickets for little more than the price of economy seats and has given me permission to share a few of them.
1. Buy miles and points
Typically we think of collecting airline miles through flying, but credit card points are much more valuable than airline miles because you can transfer them as needed to many airline partners, with better redemption rates than the airline you are most loyal to otherwise. You can buy up to 500,000 American Express points annually for 2.5 cents each, and you can also buy miles with many airlines for as low as 1.2 cents each when they're on sale.
Through the buy miles for cash strategy, you can get $30,000 First Class tickets for under $3,000.
Related: How to Choose a Seat on a Plane
2. Be flexible with your dates
Be on the lookout for flash Business Class fares and plan your bucket list and vacation travels around those. It sounds simple, but it's a strategy that works. Airlines sell cheap First and Business Class tickets when there is low business traveler demand, but you won't find them in endless searches. Sign up for premium cabin flash fare alerts from sites like FirstClassFlyer.com, as the airlines seldom promote surplus premium seat fares.
3. Be open to accidental bucket list experiences
This one isn't obvious, but it's brilliant. Sometimes we get stuck in our head that we want to do one thing, so much so that we put blinders on and can't see opportunities right in front of us.
Bennett learned this in his desire to go to Sydney, Australia. First Class tickets to Sydney typically cost $20,000+, but upon research, he noticed mileage seats available to Melbourne. He went to Melbourne, caught a Serena Williams match at the Australian Open, then hopped on an inexpensive commuter flight to Sydney. Accidental bucket list.
4. Try the Emirates waitlist strategy
Emirates flies to more places than you think, and their service is outstanding. Emirates is an Amex partner, so the fast and quick way to get on Emirates is to use Amex points (and remember, you can buy those points if you don't have enough).
If the airline's website is unavailable, pick up the phone and get on the waitlist. Emirates often allows you to waitlist up to three dates. About 50% of the time, a date will open up for free award travel at a reduced rate, especially for close-in dates.
5. Turn your business trip into a vacation
If you're traveling for business, look for leisure fares that allow stopovers and tack on a side trip. For instance, if you have a business trip to Miami, you can buy a ticket on American Airlines all the way to St. Thomas or Puerto Rico, with a stopover in Miami. Sometimes this can drive down the price of a First Class fare. You get a free side trip when you have a higher-fare business route and tack on a side trip that allows stopovers with the city you were otherwise going to.
On trips to Europe, you can often add Cairo (think Pyramids and Luxor) or New Delhi (Taj Mahal) for free. Sometimes it will even drive down your original, Europe-only fare, so it can be less than free to add the unforgettable side trip.
6. Freeze flash fares
Airlines often have surplus seats. You can cash in on these deeply-discounted fares if you can be flexible. Most airlines allow you to freeze flash fares for a small fee for a few days or up to a week. This locks in the price and gives you time to think about it and make your plans. You can also stack flash fares, holding multiple bookings for a small fee each, until you solidify your plans.
These strategies and mindset shifts are simple but effective ways for busy business professionals and worldwide travelers to save money on airline travel. Do the homework, know the best times to visit the places you want to see, then be open and flexible. And seek help when you need it.
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