I’m Flying Economy More and More.. and Loving It!

Four years ago I told you about my so-called travel life. It isn’t all suites in the air and on the ground.

Two years ago I even shared my renewed appreciation for coach.

Well I’ve been flying more coach recently. See the Most Valuable Way to Use Miles for Domestic Flights.

The truth is – under the right circumstances, it isn’t bad at all.

Although I get that my circumstances are not the same as the median traveler’s.

I’ve got a day trip (miles and points-related, so on my own dime). I used British Airways Avios for the 612 mile flight, 9000 miles roundtrip instead of spending $650.

I finally got Global Entry a year ago, so i don’t have to rely on my elite status to qualify for TSA PreCheck. This morning the PreCheck line was longer than the regular and priority lines (which were both the same).

Though I had booked through British Airways, I added my American Executive Platinum number to the reservation. I often get pushback from US Airways trying to do the same when flying Avios awards on their flights (of course I can do it myself at online check-in) so I just have them add my Known Traveler number to the reservation. BA assigns me premium seats on US Airways anyway.

I left home 75 minutes prior to flight departure. Without even a rollaboard that was 30 minutes early than I needed to, so I grabbed purchased breakfast in the lounge for $6. The American club now has free yogurt. I used it instead of the US Airways club next door because they know the drill on my free drink chits (I redeem for bottled water) via my British Airways Silver status.

I went down to the gate and saw something interesting.

Every upgrade request had been accommodated! That’s something you do not see often on airlines with unlimited complimentary upgrades.

I asked whether there might be any open seats, figuring I’d plead for an upgrade as an Executive Platinum on an award ticket. But first was full.

And I did not mind one bit. American’s ‘main cabin extra’ seating with additional legroom is perfectly roomy for a two hour flight.

With a middle seat open next to me, this was actually better than first class, or at least it’s better than US Airways first class since the seat pitch is about the same!

I even felt like I was in US Airways first class, since as a 100,000 mile flyer I get a complimentary cocktail and snack when flying coach. (The M&Ms I figured I’d save for later… not breakfast!)

While I don’t want to fly this way on an overnight flight (though I’m fairly convinced of the merits of ‘angled-flat’ business class seats), there’s really nothing at all wrong with it.

I’ve even got internet. What could be better in life?

I’m flying US Airways more and more, they have a ton of short haul flights up and down the East Coast from my base of Washington’s National airport. They don’t have the extra legroom seats in coach. That makes a difference, but up to New York or down to Charleston that’s perfectly fine.

And I’m still terribly spoiled, I do not want to fly US Airways coach across the country.

But more and more frequently I’m giving coach a shot, because the economics just work out. If I’m going to hit my 100,000 paid qualifying miles anyway, then on trips that aren’t being reimbursed cheap economy awards booked with British Airways points are a real option for me.

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. Exactly Cory… so much for my reliance on this blog to scheme myself into the Residences for free…

  2. I’ve started trending a bit the other way. I’ll often buy F instead of Y. Often AA only charges 1.5-2x more than coach for F (this is because coach has gotten more expensive and F cheaper). However, if there’s Avios coach availability on a n/s, I’ll snap it up.

  3. @ Gary — Why not shell out the 27,000 miles r/t for first class? (I would.) That is still a way better value than $650, especially if you have more miles than you can use in the foreseeable future (like me).

    FWIW, I recently flew ATL-DFW in coach (the HORROR) for 7,500 Avios. First class was only half full and coach was nearly empty, so I assumed that I could sweet talk my way into an upgrade as an EXP. I asked three agents (check-in, club, and gate), and all of them said no because they would get in big trouble for giving out a free upgrade on an award. This is a stupid policy that AA needs to change.

  4. “They don’t have the extra legroom seats in coach.”

    Try 10A/F on the A319 or 11 C/D on the A320 or row 10A-C or 23 A/F on the A321. Those seats feature more legroom than Main Cabin Extra, domestic F, or, in the cases of those with missing seats in front, international F!

    US doesn’t have an official extra-legroom coach product, but they have those magical seats that are great if you happen to grab them. And they open them up to AA elites right off the bat.

    I flew 4000 miles in these seats yesterday and was happy as can be.

    Re: lounges I’ve taken to going to the center pier at DCA and getting the best of both worlds – packaged cheese and the fluorescent orange snack mix from the US club, and chocolate covered pretzels from the Admiral’s Club.

  5. Joking aside, I actually am mostly an economy flyer. Upgrades are nice and I obviously don’t turn them down. But, unless there is a legitimate chance of me sleeping I don’t care enough about 1st or Business, even overseas. True longhauls like Australia or Asia are an exception. But Europe? Meh, a few movies and we’re there.

  6. I’m starting to notice that, in comparison to Economy+, many domestic first/business class seats aren’t worth it anyway. The food is cr**. The service from the flight crew is often very poor (hello can I get some water at least one time on this flight??), many do not offer individual video monitors, and if your not into the free booze, what’s the point? Anyway, there is not much to entice me to pay for domestic first class anymore using either $ or miles. If I get upgraded due to my status great, otherwise, I already get to board early, I’ll bring my own good food to eat, sit in an extra leg-room aisle seat and use my 2-in-1 computer to watch a movie without straining my neck.

  7. Gary, if you are short on points, all you have to do is ask and I will be happy to book you some seats up front! 🙂

  8. For US flights, how do you get assigned premium seats when using avios? I can get my record locator off Finnair for awards on US booked with avios but when I go to seat selection, the premium seats are only available for a fee.

  9. Eh, I’ve flown about 350,000 miles in Economy Plus in the past half decade and have done so with little issue. I’m not surprised that you are still alive and well after flying it, I’m surprised so many people act like they’d rather be killed than fly in coach.

  10. I like how you try to sound technical/erudite but end up looking foolish. “Median” traveler instead of “average”? The median traveler probably is a business traveler because of how often they fly so they probably are very similar to you. Why not just use simple language (that’s also probably more correct)?

  11. @Steve – US still charges fees for certain seats, even for elites. I have 6A on an ERJ for a flight tomorrow, but if I want 7A, I need to pony up $22 as an AA EXP #rolleyes

  12. On cheap flights, WN redemptions can work well, often better than Avios And you can try for an “infinite legroom” seat.

  13. You can add your EXP number to a US airways Avios ticket via the Finnair website. I’ve never had a problem with that approach and never had it fall off – quite useful for the few Shuttle Avios redemptions I’ve made

  14. This is almost false advertising. The headline reads “I’m Flying Economy” but then it turns out to be about a flight in Main Cabin Extra with an _empty_ middle seat.

    I can do the math. Yup, an E seat with an empty middle is actually as much room as a J seat these days. Nope, not a bad flight at all.

    OTOH, flying in E with an empty middle is nothing like flying in E AS the empty middle. 🙂

  15. There are certain routes that even a CP like myself don’t get upgrades on, PHX-SAN, PHX-LAX, and PHX-SJC, these flights are usually connection from the east coast, I don’t mind sitting in Y on these flights, and I usually sit in the back close to the Galley. I have gotten free drinks and snacks because the FA’s appreciate my loyalty.

  16. Don’t understand if you are so happy to be flying economy why you asked for the upgrade.

  17. Gary- I have a very off topic question, so I am not sure you will answer this. If not, maybe someone else can help me. I am trying to book award travel to Cathay Pacific to Indonesia on short notice. The only way I can find availability for my family is to wait until the last minute. The problem is that I cannot find flights home. Can I book a one way ticket and then book the return once I am there or will I have problems getting in to their country? Sorry, I’m new to this. I’m be grateful if anyone can provide insight.

  18. I can’t imagine wasting miles on first class, when instead I could cash them in for MORE TRIPS! A plane-ride is just a plane-ride, whether your seat is narrow or wide; whether you’re served brie or 6 peanuts. But it’s the destination that gives the memories.

  19. @Lindy, I definitely agree with you. However, it depends on circumstances. If you’re readily accumulating more miles anyway than you’d be using up flying economy, then it isn’t a matter of getting more trips, because you probably have the time and enough miles for the same number. However, in my case, like yours, since I’m not a business traveler accumulating lots of miles all the time, I need to spend what I do accumulate strategically, and for me that’s for three to four international trips a year in economy, rather than one or two in business. There probably should be a mathematical formula somewhere to factor in miles on hand, expected miles accumulation, time available, destinations desired, and personal tastes to generate a decision making matrix.

  20. +1 to Joseph…that’s not economy. Face it, your lifestyle affords you perks 95% of the traveling public (and I’d venture over 1/2 your readers) just don’t get. Nothing wrong with that (I ‘m a Tyler Cowen fan, too), but please don’t think you are slumming it.

  21. @Steve, average is less specific (could encompass mean, median, mode) and I actually did mean median. Mode might well be a business traveler. And I don’t think could you concort a mean (amalgamation?).

  22. @Dia “+1 to Joseph…that’s not economy. Face it, your lifestyle affords you perks 95% of the traveling public (and I’d venture over 1/2 your readers) just don’t get.”

    Which is why I explained all the reasons that “I get that my circumstances are not the same as the median traveler’s.”

    Also not sure what my boss has to do with this?

  23. This is getting just a little ridiculous don’t you think? For the longest while we’ve been getting a steady diet of “OMFG-coach-is-so-awful!!” And “lie-flat-is-the-only-way-to-go!!! Angled?? Never!!” Now that FF programs are being devalued left, right, and center, and it’s painfully obvious that airlines don’t give a hoot about “elite” travelers, everyone’s all “coach ain’t so bad ya know?” and “hmm, angled seats so snug on me bum!” Give me a bloody break. And some of those Almond M&Ms. Please?

  24. +1 to Lindy. I actually accumulate AA miles ridiculously easily, especially back when they were throwing around miles as compensation for every flight glitch, but I still find it hard to use them on premium awards when I can squeeze so many more trips out of traveling the low-budget way. But I’m pretty tiny, so the space issues don’t bother me too much (except for the bum knee that acts up) and I tend to do fairly short-haul trips or break up long flights with layovers.

  25. Thanks for all the info! I love this blog for Gary’s posts and everyone’s comments!

  26. I hate to be the grumbler, but @gary. Seriously. 99 percent of flyers already fly in economy and simply gamble on the fact that either the seat next to them will be empty or, if it isn’t, that they can elbow and sit on a small person like me to take more than their share of space. Flying economy to save a few bucks is not really an original or interesting strategy. Yes, most people settle for less. The overwhelming majority do that. And if settling for less is working out for you, that’s fine I guess. But it isn’t much of a victory, is it? It’s just a sad acknowledgment that you’re no longer winning at the game and now you’re on the downhill slide…

  27. Gary…just saying that I’m a liberterian at heart and have no problem with the free market success you’ve achieved.

  28. peachfront, pretty scathing for a person who claims to hate being a grumbler…

    The absolute BEST flight I ever had was in coach, Anchorage to Kotzebue Alaska. The 2 coach seats next to me were empty. I laid across all 3 and slept the entire way (except for the stop in Nome). In the air, the only thing better than space is ENOUGH SPACE TO LIE DOWN. I would love it if planes had bed-sized berths, compartments stacked upon each other, so I could spend the whole flight sleeping.

  29. @lindy They do have bed-sized berths. It’s called business class. It matters not at all that one time you or @gary got three seats together in economy and were able to sleep that way. Sure, who hasn’t? But that isn’t helpful information. As a small person, and now an increasingly fragile one, I’m no longer in a position to gamble that one time in 100, I might get three seats together all to myself. If others are willing to do that, fine, stay in coach. I won’t and really can’t.

    My gripe is that I don’t follow blogs to learn how to do what everybody already does. Anybody can settle for less and just hope for a miracle. That isn’t news I can use.

  30. Peachfront, Gary is trying to correct and provide the other side of the debate regarding coach vs. biz/first. Gary has been fairly firmly in the biz/first ditch and he’s providing an honest, balancing perspective. For the average reader, including me, that’s helpful.

  31. What? I’ve been put in business-class several times, and never ever with a bed, nor a berth. In fact, I’ve never had a bed/berth in 1st class. I’m looking for an airline that ships people in coffin-like cubicles, instead of seats. Give me a tiny little bed compartment with a reading light, and let me sleep! Keep your pretentious free alcohol, free brie cheese, free wet cloths for wiping my face, free pajamas… Just leave me alone with a bed and let me sleep. Seriously, is there anyone out there who opposes that?

  32. Even on international flights to Asia, Africa or the Middle East flat-bed business-class seats are only marginally better than an economy comfort seat to me. The food and booze is unquestionably superior in business class but that is the biggest difference unless you are stuck in the middle seat. If you have an empty seat next to you or have one of the exit or bulkhead seats that have even more legroom than standard economy comfort, the comfort level versus business class is very close. I am normally just as tired and sore after a flight in a flat-bed seat as after a flight in economy comfort. The problem is not the seat but just sitting on your butt for 10- 15 hours. Those in business must get up and move around just as much as those in coach. Actually, I spend very little time in flat-bed mode as I try not to sleep much due to a tendency to snore. Snoring can be an annoying part of the business-class experience. Besides, if all airlines go to price-based ff programs, getting the miles to enjoy the “benefits” of flat-bed seats will become extremely difficult.

  33. Rather fly Y than J? Not a chance when you’re large (like my wife and I), or tall (like our son). I’ll grant you it’s OK if you’re 5’7″ and 160 lbs or so, but otherwise, it’s a seat designed by Torquemada himself.

    Worst flight I’ve had in many years was in Y on AA from SCL to MIA, on a full flight the day before Christmas. Even on the 2-side of a 767, it was10 hours with little mobility, inedible food, surly light staff and no sleep possible. Both my wife and I promised each other that intercontinental flights would be J/C from that point on.

  34. Dear @john — BA’s lay flat (DTW-LHR) was the best seat I’ve ever had – no exceptions. Far better than their World Traveler Plus, which isn’t shabby. A close second were the lay flats my wife and I had on DL to Australia. We actually slept onboard in each case, and did not lose a day in our hotel upon arrival -splendid for 14 hours in the air nonstop.

  35. Is there a list somewhere of airlines that offer lay-flat seating, and which class of ticket you have to purchase to get the lay-flats?

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