How to Get First Class Flights at Coach Prices
Updated: Aug 24
Travel in Style with these Quick Tips.
First Class flights weren’t always my first thought, or any thought at all. I just didn’t think I could afford it. It was only by happenstance that I realized the affordability of first class. A few years back, I was trying to book a flight, and was shocked to see the prices. However, when I accidentally clicked on the first class seat link, I quickly realized that the first class experience was only $40 more than the coach seats were selling for. I couldn’t believe it. I had to spend the money anyway, and for $40 more, why not splurge. Additionally, first class seats come with complimentary checked luggage (usually up to 2 bags), AND those bags are tagged to come out first at baggage claim.
I use the airline websites to peruse travel options to ensure I always take first. It’s a little luxury that makes the travel day ahead that much more manageable. If you want to up-class your game, follow this advice.
Go though the airline sites directly. Discount fare brokers cannot guarantee first class upgrades without 1st class rates — and even then, if the seats get oversold, you’ll be the first to be bumped. Also, if your first class flights are changed on you by the broker, you may lose the seats you were counting on.
Be flexible. Flexibility is the key to securing first class flights that are up to half the cost of the max rate that week. And each week is different. The airlines factor in conditions like high travel times (like Spring Break, school starting, and all major holidays). Just because Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s are usually the lowest fare most weeks, it doesn’t mean it will be the lowest fare the week you’re traveling. And it doesn’t mean it will be the lowest fare for that week to your destination. Most airline websites have a grid of days surrounding your arrival and departure date that provide the cost options, and break them down not only by days but by category of seating. If you can move a day or two coming and going, you’ll be amazed what those little changes can do to the pricing.
Use the airline apps. I’m often surprised how many people fly today without downloading the airline apps. These apps are more than a way to get your ticket through your phone. Say, for example, I had to book a flight, and I just didn’t feel like first class was a good value. Just because I didn’t select it then doesn’t mean I’m out of the running. I can see how many first class seats are available, and gauge my opportunity to upgrade later at a much cheaper rate. Chances are, when I check in on my app (and the key is to check in as soon as you can), I’ll get an option to upgrade to first class flight … and at a significantly reduced rate. With the app, I can also select my seat, which is really important in first. Bulkhead, or the first row, are the least desirable seats. Because there are no seats in front of you, there is no storage, and everything must be stored in the overhead compartment. But let’s just say the value is great, but I’m in a bulkhead seat. With the app, I can check before boarding if a seat has freed up, and I can possibly change my seat. And if for any reason the app can’t display the seats, I can always check with the gate agent. If another seat has opened up, I’ll pop right into it.
Don’t expect the impossible. If you’re looking for a first class seat for $29 round trip, it just won’t happen. Likewise, first class seats during peak travel times like Thanksgiving and Christmas will come at a premium (unless you’re actually traveling on the holiday itself, in which case you might get a really great price). And when you deduct the fee for checked luggage, which is usually $25 per bag each way, it’s a great deal. (I recently saw “coach” seats which were charged a premium rate because they had more leg room … never mind that they were in the back of the plan near the bathroom!)
Build points for upgrades. If you are a frequent traveler, maximize points by using airline affiliated credit cards and frequent flyer miles. Some credit cards also give you more earning power if you make purchases through their websites. And you can usually partner your hotel frequent stay programs with frequent flyer programs to catapult your points into upgrades.
So be flexible, download the app, keep your expectations realistic, and give it a go. You’ll be enjoy your first class flights in no time!