$141 First Class Ticket Karma — Landing in Coach One Way

I’ve written about the wonders of the Alaska Airlines $50 companion ticket that comes with their Bank of America co-branded credit card.

The small business version of the card comes with a $99 companion certificate which is paper and requires airport ticketing. You can’t even mail in the certificate like you can US Airways’ Bank of American or Juniper Bank $99 companion tickets.

On the other hand, like its $50 cousin, the certificate is pretty much unrestricted and represents the best way to get into first class on Alaska Airlines.

And for me that airport ticketing annoyance turned into a boon, as the outsourced agents at Reagan National ticketed both sides of the companion fare at $99 plus tax for first class tickets to Reno (via Seattle).

Alas, the day of travel came and the DC-Seattle aircraft was going to be arriving late, delaying my departure about an hour and meaning that I was highly likely to miss my Reno connection. Alas there was nothing out of DCA in first class getting into Reno that afternoon. I could have moved up my travel time a few hours (impossible) or headed out to Dulles (which would have meant leaving the office earlier, impossible). So I took my only late-departing option: Continental via Houston… in coach.

This was my first cross country flight in coach since June, 2001. To say I was apprehensive about it would have been a huge understatement. Now, it’s not that I don’t fly coach. I do my best to avoid it, but since I don’t bother burning upgrade instruments to confirm flights down to South Florida in advance, I’ll sometimes find myself in the back of the plane. No big deal for two hours. But DC – Houston – Reno? Egads. The last time was when I failed to clear Los Angeles – Dulles seven years ago, and then I had a whole row of United’s economy plus to myself.

Yes, I’ve lived a charmed travel life. I manage to book far enough in advance and with enough flexibility to confirm transcon upgrades in advance most of the time, and I’ve lucked out when I haven’t. I’ve been lucky enough not to have flights go mechanical which would have necessitated rebooking on flights likely already full up front. My long string of luck came to an end!

The bright spot of the trip was the quick pop-in to the Continental Presidents Club at National. It’s small, upstairs, and very bright. The bartender was a clueless idiot, though, leaving his post for 5-10 minutes at a time and taking drink orders but ignoring them. The front desk staff was friendly and found me exit row seats for Houston-Reno.

The second to last row of the 737 to Houston was painful enough, but I managed to work a bit in the tight confines. Stopped by a busy Presidents Club in Houston before the onward Reno flight. The exit row offered better legroom, of course, but the flight seemed never ending. Never did get the exit row safety briefing. Landing was on time in Reno, and I managed to escape my several hours-long confinement.

The return was much more pleasant. Reno is such a small station and virtually deserted on a Saturday morning. Following a short hop to Los Angeles onboard Horizon, I headed up to the Alaska Boardroom where they have flavored torani syrups to go along with the automatic espresso machine (it’s the little things…) A short air traffic control delay and then up in the air, we made up the time and the Captain let us know we’d even land a few minutes early.

The movies were bloody awful on the digE player, but the food was decent. Printed menus for lunch, even if the pork and the pasta both seemed uninspired. Still, the smoked salmon slices were large on the salad, the meal was served in courses rather than the tray-based affair, and we got ice cream sundaes.

An all in all humbling experience. 🙂

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. i LOVE your blog but you sound like a big baby in this post. i mean: “To say I was apprehensive about it would have been a huge understatement.” c’mon. this isn’t exactly like digging ditches on a hot day, is it?

  2. “I manage to book far enough in advance and with enough flexibility to confirm transcon upgrades in advance most of the time, and I’ve lucked out when I haven’t.”

    Is this booking in a Y-UP fare? Do you typically pay for Business/First or have you just gotten enough miles to always use them for upgrades?

    Thanks! (from an FF newbie)

  3. These things are quite relative, no it’s not digging ditches. But when you have gotten used to traveling a certain way it is a huge shift. Yes, I know how I sound. I was sorta poking fun at myself when writing it. Before heading to the airport I joked about it with a colleague who has been traveling regularly to Africa in coach. She laughed so hard, took real joy in my “predicament” 🙂

  4. Jason, I’m upgrading on United with confirmed upgrade instruments (CR1s domestically or Systemwides internationally) or miles. Have miles with tons of other airlines. And with Alaska, when not traveling on my own, I’ll buy paid first class using $50 companion tickets. But otherwise it’s pretty much always an upgrade…

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