10 Secrets to Flying First Class for Free

First class

We’ve all heard how fabulous flying first class can be. The better food and drinks, super comfortable seats, and more attentive service definitely make it seem worth the price tag.  It all seems like sunshine and rainbows until you get a look at just how much extra cash you’ll have to pay for an upgraded ticket.  In many instances a first class ticket can cost up to 10 times the price of a ticket in coach.  Is the comfort really worth all that money?  Some say yes but for those out there who can’t just flip the switch and dole out thousands of dollars for more legroom, help is on the way.

If you’re pining to fly first class but you don’t want to spend tons of money, here are some ways to do it for free.

1. Gold Cards

Some credit cards, such as the American Express Gold card, give you tons of bonus points when you sign up. These extra points can be used not only for travel, but for upgrading to first class seating. If you choose to get a card that rewards purchases with airline miles, check to see which stores they’re partnered with. Buying certain products or shopping with particular merchants can earn you even more points towards airfare.

2. Watch Out for Discounts

Just as it’s super easy to book your flight online these days, it’s also easy to search online for discounted upgrades. You may have to do a bit of extra research to find these deals or hit a few sites before you find the ticket you want, but it’s well worth it to get into business or first class.

3. Be Flexible

Being flexible when it comes to your departure locations and dates can allow you to go first class without spending extra money. For instance, you may be able to get discounted premium cabin seats by departing from a city that’s close to yours with a less busy airport.

4. Rewards Programs

Rewards programs are a good way to rack up bonus points and miles, but if you go this route it’s best to join many of them instead of relying on just one or two. Not only will you have the opportunity to earn more points, you’ll have more redemption options — always be on the lookout for the chance to redeem premium flight seating.

5. Airline Branded Cards

Top airlines often have their own credit cards, and those cards not only come with convenience but lots of free extras. For instance, you may get the chance to upgrade your seating, check free bags, receive priority boarding and screening, and get lounge passes. If you’re a frequent traveler, the benefits of having an airline branded card can mean money and time saved. Consider priority screening: instead of standing in line for 45 minutes to an hour, you could be through the line, checked, and ready to go in about 15 minutes.

The lounge passes that come with airline branded credit cards are another major perk. Whereas it would normally cost you $30 or so dollars to buy a one day pass, a free pass will get you complimentary food and drinks, free wifi and reading material, and a more comfortable place to wait for your flight.

6. Dress the Part

Let’s say you don’t want to open any new credit cards and aren’t into rewards programs. Your next best bet is being lucked into first class. If coach happens to get overbooked and some passengers need to be upgraded for the sake of getting everyone on board, do you think the flight attendants will pick someone who is neatly dressed in business casual attire or wrinkled pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt? Simply dressing nicely can get you a first class seat.

7. Fly Strategically

One of the best ways to get a flight upgrade is to ask for one at the right time. Do it when flight attendants are super busy, and you’ll annoy them more than anything. However, if you end up on an oversold flight and passengers are asked to consider going on a later flight, that’s the right time to ask for an upgrade in exchange for volunteering. Weather delays are also another chance to get an upgrade for your troubles.

Sometimes you don’t have to be put out to get a flight upgrade, you just need to catch the staff at a time when they’re off-peak. For instance, if you buy a flight very early in the morning or on a day such as Tuesday or Wednesday, nicely ask if there’s any empty first class or business class seats that you can switch to. The worst answer that you can get is a “no”, but flights that are outside of peak times provide the most opportunity to get a “yes”. Also remember to ask appropriately. Instead of saying, “Can I get into first class today?”, say “In case you’re able to upgrade passengers on this flight, I’d appreciate being considered for the opportunity.”

8. Frequent Flier Memberships

If you find yourself flying a lot, you may as well get a frequent flier or loyalty club membership. Not only can you earn free flying miles and lovely little extras, if you fly enough you can earn a higher status that will provide upgraded seats and other elite benefits. It’s easier to obtain a higher membership status if you choose to primarily fly with one airline or if you fly with your airport’s main carrier.

9. Talk About Your Special Occasion

Are you flying on your birthday, anniversary, or another important event? Flight attendants are known for gifting upgrades to better seating on special occasions, so don’t be shy about mentioning it to them. Try saying something like, “We’re going on our honeymoon, we just got married! Is it possible to get an upgrade to celebrate?” Sometimes this tactic works, other times it doesn’t. On the occasions when mentioning your special day doesn’t get you a bump up to first class, you’ll often get a complimentary drink or other treat instead.

10. Use a Travel Agent

Sure, you can book your own flights, but travel agents often have established connections that can help you get upgraded and premium seats at no extra cost. If you have quality travel agents in your area and you’re looking to fly first class, contact them and ask if they can pull some strings.

If you choose to use a travel agent, don’t let the perks stop at your flight. Some established agents are friendly with GMs of resorts and hotels and can work their magic to get you upgraded rooms as well. It can’t hurt to benefit from their relationships with airline and hospitality staff, and using a travel agent is usually free after you book through them.


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