It’s Your First Time In First Class, But You’re Flying Spirit

Growing up I never thought I’d fly first class – ever. I was a frequent flyer between the coasts as a kid, since my parents were divorced and I lived in New York while my dad was in California. I’d board the plane and remember thinking,

  • I’d never have the kind of money needed to fly up front
  • Even if I did, who would pay so much extra for a little bit of extra comfort over just a few hours? (Though I had no idea how much extra it actually cost.)

This was the early 1980s and I didn’t know about the AAdvantage program yet. The original AAdvantage charged 12,000 miles for a first class upgrade with no capacity controls. If there was a first class seat for sale, you could have it for points. Paid first class seats back then, though, were extremely expensive. Overall domestic first class might have been filled 10% with paying passengers.

By the time I’d graduated college and started flying for work I quickly earned Premier status with United (the equivalent now of MileagePlus Silver) and was excited for upgrades. My first flight as a Premier was Washington Dulles to Los Angeles on a Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. I did not clear the upgrade. But my Sunday return, on board a Boeing 777, I did get upgraded and it was over 4 hours of pure euphoria. I bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times and relaxed in business class. Lunch was a large shrimp appetizer followed by a steak. I had a couple of cocktails. And I didn’t want the flight to end.

After that I was hooked. I was excited to fly and to be upgraded. I did everything I could – connecting instead of non-stops, hunting for widebodies domestically, flying at noon on a Wednesday – to get that upgrade. And the first time I managed to fly ‘first class’ rather than business on a long flight I got an ice cream sundae!

That ‘first first’ moment though is something I’ll never forget. For me it was on United. But I absolutely loved this moment for a woman flying up front in the Spirit Airlines “Big Front Seat.” Spirit calls their first class that because it’s really all you get, the bigger seat up front, you don’t even get free cocktails. It isn’t a separate class of service, just an upcharge.

Spirit originally only offered this product because they didn’t have the money to replace the seats. Historically it’s been one of the best deals in travel but the airline often charges much more for the upgrade than they used to.

Still, this is a fabulous reminder for me to stay grounded. I’ve flown most of the world’s great international first class products, and I tend to see business class as ‘transportation’. But most people fly coach, and most never see a forward cabin. When they do, it’s like a dream. I think I’ll give away my first class upgrades a couple times in the coming month, for the joy I’ll feel seeing the joy that another passenger gets to 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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I love the comment- “I will make a connection rather than nonstop to get upgraded”… Admission here- I do the same thing, lol. In fact, I still love traveling (even though I’ve been to every major US airport). It’s more or like nostalgia for me, and the feeling of take-off, being above the clouds, and yes- getting that cold drink(s) and meal (less and less, but over 2.5 hours it’s there)- is something I still enjoy and look forward too!

  2. Everything is relative! My wife’s first business class flight was angle lie flat on Avianca and she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Now she’s flown ANA, Qatar, Etihad, and AA first class along with Turkish, Qatar, JAL, ANA, United, AA, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, Air New Zealand, Iberia, and CX business class. It’s always good to stay grounded!

  3. I’ve flown in Business class enough to know that the only nice thing that I like is the extra room and free booze. I really don’t think it is worth what they charge for it.

    Spirit, I’ve never flown them, and I can’t imagine doing so voluntarily either, or any ULCC for that matter. To get the same service as a legacy carrier, you actually have to pay more to get less. Add to that they don’t participate in interline agreements, and if they cancel a flight, you might be stuck where you are for few days as so many on Southwest found out late last year. No thanks, I’ll pay a little more for much better service. Anyone that flies Spirit falls into one of two categories, they don’t understand how Spirit operates verses the other airlines, or they are traveling cheap, and can deal with the inconveniences of doing so. If you are in the latter group, great! That why Spirit exists. But if you are in the former, maybe learn that you really aren’t saving much money, if any, and by the time you get done with those al a’ carte upcharges, you may be paying more, but getting less than the airline in the aircraft next door going to the same place.

  4. They don’t call it “first class” at all on Spirit, and I’m pretty sure it’s been that way for the last 15 or so years. Nice work with the headline, though.

  5. How do they expect people to fly transcon with 28″ pitch on Spirit. BOS-LAX, OAK-PHL sounds great only if you’re in the BFS.

  6. Interesting article. Years ago I lived in Florida and did a lot of work in California, for which I flew back and forth via Delta. At that time, you could also upgrade to a 1st Class seat for some miles, so that also came into play as I plane commuted between Florida and LA for a couple of years, and then another one year plus between Florida and San Diego, traveling back and forth every couple of weeks. With upper level rewards from all the mileage I was booking, we were able to go to Europe a couple of times and even Australia, as well as from the east coast to California. When our son was born, we would travel with him over the years, and that eventually led to him working at an airport while in high school, then getting a job with an airline company….eventually working his way up, and getting his Flight Dispatcher license. He’s on his second major airline now as a Flight Superintendent. And, Comfort Plus works pretty well when flying these days.

  7. My “first first” was a gift from dear friends, as as surprise upgrade from coach, on the occasion of a “big event celebration.” It was in 1984, LAX to HNL, on a United 747, in the upper “bubble.” It was superb, divine, and all the rest…the FA’s wore their unique Hawaiian themed “uniforms.” The atmosphere was wonderful, the food was good, and the Mai-Tais were poured from a pitcher directly into your glass at the seat…I never knew how much I drank, because the FA’s made a practice of simply walking by your seat and “topping off” your drink. OMG, did I ever get PLASTERED on that trip! The plane flew at 35,000 feet, and I was somewhere up at 50,000, I am sure! LOL, great memories!

  8. Spirit doesn’t call it first class. It’s never been considered first class. It’s just a bigger front seat in the forward cabin. A customer is paying for a little bit more room.

  9. Why are people hating on this article? You guys need to get a life. He said spirit doesn’t have a first class and they call it big front seat. Learn to read

  10. I used to fly spirit alot and get their big front seat. I loved it and it was worth the extra, the seats are actually 1st class seats with just 2 seats, not 3. The economy seats are horrible and uncomfortable.

  11. The fact that lady felt the need to brag about being in fake first-class is comical.

Comments are closed.