Fly First Class

I still remember my first flight in First Class. I remember playing with the seat controls and the massage feature. I still have the menu. I can still taste the shrimp appetizer. Believe me, you never want to go back. But… first class is expensive. Fortunately, I don’t pay for it. You don’t have to either.

There are lots of ways to upgrade to first class from coach.

First, many airlines offer the ability to upgrade for free if you purchase a “full fare” coach ticket. These are the really expensive tickets that are refundable and don’t have a fee for making changes. Other airlines allow you to upgrade such a ticket for a fee. Still, I don’t buy full fare tickets. My employer won’t shell out that kind of money. After all, a full fare flight to California and back costs more than my month’s rent and car payment.

The next way to get into first class is to be a frequent flier and loyal customer. Lots of folks fly alot and split their flying across different airlines. If you concentrate your flying on a single airline you might travel enough to earn “status” which is rewarded with several perks – the best of which is flying mostly up in the front of the plane (other perks include priority security screening, priority boarding, priority baggage claim, waitlist priority, and bonus miles).

Most airlines require 25,000 flight miles in a calendar year to qualify as “elite.” Northwest, Continental, America West, and Alaska all give automatic free domestic upgrades to their elite members. United, American, and USAirways all use certificates than can be purchased or earned by flying. 25,000 miles isn’t that hard to accumulate — a co-worker of mine took a vacation to Australia last year. That plus a domestic roundtrip and she had elite status.

American Airlines even has a fast track to elite status. It’s called a challenge. With 5,000 full-fare or 10,000 discount miles in 3 months American will make you Gold (equivalent to 25,000 miles in a year). With 10,000 full-fare or 20,000 discount miles in 3 months American will make you platinum (equivalent to 50,000 miles in a year).

To sign up, contact:

ATTN: Member Services
P.O. Box 619688
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9688
Or fax (817) 963-7882
Service Center phone (800) 882-8880

Most travelers think that the only thing miles and points are good for is free tickets. Usually 25,000 miles = a domest ticket. Don’t forget that a few more miles will get you a first class ticket. A couple years ago I cashed in 120,000 miles on United for a first class ticket — which would normally cost roughly $10,000. I couldn’t ever afford the kind of luxury I received — fully reclining bed, personal VCR, Dom Perignon champagne, a concierge to carry my carryons for me, and more.

Miles can also be used to purchase upgrades. On United, for example, you can use 10,000 miles to upgrade any flight where there’s upgrade space available. What’s more, you don’t have to wait until close to the day of the flight to upgrade. A mileage upgrade is confirmable any time in advance. For cross country flights, I always check to see that first class is available before I book — and I’m assured not to have to sit in coach.

Some other ideas…

* Ask your frequent traveling co-workers if they have any extra upgrade certificates. I, for instance, come across extra certificates all the time. They come from the strangest places.

* You can purchase upgrade certificates on Ebay (in violation of most programs’ rules)

* You can try to talk your way up front. This isn’t easy without status, but occasionally when coach is oversold an airline will need to move passengers up front to make room.

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, 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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