Here’s How to Fly First Class without Breaking the Bank

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Feb 21, 2024

First-class flying used to be considered quite a treat. But now that airlines are cutting back on amenities and even comfort for economy passengers, more and more customers are trying to find ways to get great seats in the front.

Unfortunately, first-class tickets are typically wildly expensive for the average passenger, but there are a few ways to fly first class without breaking the bank.

First Class All the Way

Before discussing the many ways in which you can fly first class for less than anyone else, you might want to know what it’s really like up there in the front.

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View of a first-class seat on an airplane, equipped with a mini bar, television, lamp, and various other amenities

Source: Wikipedia

While the first-class cabin in every airline is slightly different, there are a few upsides they all have. First, the few people in first class have a private bathroom, meaning they don’t have to share with the other 200-odd people on the plane. Next, the first class typically has fewer children than economy, and it’s quieter, too. And third, the food and drink offered are not only free, they’re also usually much better.

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Using Credit Card Points Is a Great Way to Get Cheap First-Class Flights

If that’s all sounding pretty great, then you’ll be thrilled to know that the first way to get cheaper first-class tickets is extremely simple. All you need to do is sign up for a travel rewards credit card.

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Man using a credit card to make an online purchase

Source: Freepik

Travel rewards cards give users points on the majority of online and in-person purchases, and those points can be used to make first-class flights a whole lot more affordable.

Everyone Should Sign Up for a Frequent Flyer Program

In addition to opting for a travel reward credit card, it’s also a great idea to sign up for a commercial airline’s frequent flyer program.

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United MileagePlus frequent flyer cards displayed on a table

Source: Freepik

First, do a little research as to which airlines have the most flights to and from your local airport. Then every flight you take with that airline will lead to accumulated miles that can be used to get discounts on first-class tickets.

Many Airlines Have Special Offers Throughout the Year

Most commercial airlines offer special deals on their flights, including upgrades to first class throughout the year.

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Smiling Black man on plane

Source: Canva

A great way to stay up to date on those offers is to sign up for several airlines’ email newsletters. Then all you have to do is wait for the perfect deal to appear in your inbox.

Being Flexible Can Seriously Decrease Ticket Costs

Anyone who has ever tried to fly over the holidays knows that there are certain dates when ticket prices are far more expensive than usual. In the same way, there are times of the year and even the month when flights are much more affordable, even in first class.

Hand with a pen hovering over an empty calendar

Source: Freepik

If you can be flexible with your dates, there is a much higher likelihood that you will be able to find first-class tickets within your budget.

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Some Airlines Offers Last-Minute Upgrades

As the date of departure gets closer, if the first-class tickets aren’t selling but the economy and business seats are almost full, many airlines will email passengers the option to upgrade for a small additional fee.

Businessman checking his email at his desk

Source: Freepik

So whenever you have a flight booked, make sure to keep an eye on your email in case you get a great offer to upgrade.

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If You’re Not in a Rush, Take the Next Flight

Another fantastic way to get a cheap first-class ticket is to volunteer to catch the next flight. Airlines frequently oversell their flights as they anticipate some passengers won’t make it. However, if they’re overbooked, they will announce that they need volunteers to wait for a few hours.

Woman on her laptop, happy to be waiting at the airport before a flight

Source: Freepik

When that happens, they will usually be happy to upgrade you to first class on the next flight for little or no additional cost.

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A Few Airlines Will Let You Bid for an Upgrade

Although not all airlines do so, some will let passengers bid on first-class upgrades on their website.

Computer keyboard with a button that reads “BID” in blue

Source: Adobe Stock

And as many people don’t know about this offering, you could end up spending very little to have a much better seat.

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It’s a Little Risky, But You Can Ask at the Counter

If you’ll be miserable in economy, this tactic may not be for you. But if you’re willing to risk not getting a first-class ticket, a great option is to simply ask at the counter when you get to your gate.

Airline passenger talking to a ticket counter agent at the airport

Source: Adobe Stock

By that time, the attendant knows just how many people have checked in for the flight, and if there are several open seats in first class, they could offer you a great deal to upgrade.

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Is Upgrading to First Class Worth It?

It’s important to understand that many airlines have done away with first class on short domestic flights. Sometimes, they still offer larger seats toward the front, but they don’t have the same first-class experience as a separate cabin.

Empty business class seats on an airplane

Source: Freepik

Therefore, most passengers agree that these days, upgrading to first class is definitely worth it for long-haul and international flights but less so for shorter flights.

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You Deserve a Little First-Class Treatment

The bottom line is that first-class flying is definitely a more luxurious experience than flying in economy or even business class, and luckily, these seats can be found at an affordable price point.

Asian woman smiling on plane

Source: Canva

It takes a little effort ahead of time by checking with the airlines, signing up for a frequent flyer program, or searching for a one-time offer, but the leg work will be worth the extra legroom.

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