How to Get Cheap Upgrades to First Class

There are several ways to travel first class: pay it directly, purchase a last minute upgrade, use Elite status earned on frequent travel, or apply travel rewards or miles.

Here’s how to get the best first-class deal through last-minute upgrades and wisely using elite status.

Inexpensive upgrade at check-in

I consider upgrades to first class on domestic flights a nice benefit, but not necessary. If the price difference is less than $ 100, I upgrade.

Airlines often offer First Class as an upgrade during electronic check-in.

On a recent trip from San Antonio to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, I had a one-way coach ride on American Airlines which was about $ 150. I bought this ticket two weeks before the trip. During the check-in process (I checked in on my way to the airport), I was offered an upgrade to the Charlotte-LaGuardia segment of the trip for $ 76, bringing my total to $ 226. If I had originally booked a first class ticket for the entire trip, I would have spent over $ 1,000.

Opportunities for upgrades can be hit or miss. My upgrade may have been available because I checked in less than 24 hours before my flight. The airline might have felt comfortable offering cheaper upgrades, as anyone wishing or needing to travel first class has already booked it.

It may be worth waiting a few hours before your flight to get an upgrade to inexpensive first class. Typically, Elite Frequent Flyer members get approved quickly.

Use elite status

When you fly 25,000 or more miles per year, several airlines offer free and discounted options when upgrading to first class.

For example, United Airlines offers free upgrades to MileagePlus Premier members traveling to the United States with the exception of a few routes, so some travelers will need to choose their airports carefully to obtain upgrades. The airline also offers cardholder upgrades who make $ 25,000 in annual qualifying purchases. United will instantly confirm elite travelers who have full price coach tickets, and elite travelers will be able to upgrade their travel companion with them.

American Airlines’ Elite AAdvantage Members earn 500 mile upgrades that can be redeemed for flights of any length. For example, a 2,000 mile flight requires four upgrades. Elite travelers earn four upgrades for every 12,500 miles flown.

Whatever strategy you use, always create a budget so you can use upgrades when they are convenient for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

In dollar terms, this will vary widely depending on what time of year you’re traveling and where you are going. For cheaper first class tickets using points and miles, look for the right places with airlines (and their partners) that have fixed reward tables like American, Alaska, Air Canada, All Nippon Airlines, Cathay pacific or Korean Air.

There is no specific price to upgrade to first class. Prices vary widely depending on the airline, destination, length of flight, capacity, and type of seat you currently have.

Typically, most first class seats or other premium cabins will become more expensive as the departure date approaches. While this can vary by airline, route, and season, your best bet is usually to book as early as possible, especially if the ticket includes good change or cancellation policies.

The best way to get free upgrades to First Class is to be a member of High Level Elite Status with an airline. Many airlines will have upgrade options or wait lists for Elite members to upgrade to First Class.

Paying cash to travel first class can be very expensive, and the high cost can decrease some of the fun. For maximum pleasure, try to book first class or business class tickets with points earned with credit cards (rather than paying cash). It can certainly be worth it to experience a first class flight.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our choices for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those that are best suited:

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