Flying first class is a game-changer, and everyone knows it. Anyone who has ever flown first class can tell you that doing so is leagues better – in every way – than flying in coach. Even if you’ve never flown first class before, you know it, too, since they make everyone walk past those wide, luxurious, sometimes lie-flat seats on the way to their cramped, crowded, uncomfortable seats in the back.
There’s an episode of Seinfeld that illustrates the differences between these two vastly different options perfectly. Elaine and Jerry travel together, but their original flight home is canceled; they must rebook.
As a result, Jerry gets a seat in first class, but Elaine gets stuck in coach. Jerry’s first class seat includes hot towels, food, champagne, an attractive and friendly seatmate, and comfort – the complete opposite of what Elaine has to endure in the back of the plane.
We all want to be Jerry in our own travel story. Unfortunately, flying first class is expensive.
Often, it’s far more than double the price of a regular seat. And while it’s a bucket list luxury for some, other travelers may require a first class seat to travel for a variety of reasons.
It isn’t easy to get cheap first class tickets, but it is possible. With the right tools and strategies, you may end up at the pointy end of the plane for a great price, or even for free! Read on to see our best tips for scoring cheap first class airfare.
What We Cover
- 10 Ways to Get Cheap First Class Flights
- 1. Use the Right Search Sites & Deal Finders
- 2. Book Well in Advance
- 3. Book During Sales
- 4. Travel on Weekends
- 5. Book Round Trip
- 6. Use the Right Credit Cards
- 7. Upgrade With Points or Miles When You Book
- 8. Look Out for Upgrade Offers or Bidding Opportunities
- 9. Upgrade With Cash at the Airport
- 10. Offer to Be Bumped
- Myths About Upgrading to First Class
- Why is first class so expensive?
- What do you get on a first class flight?
- Is it cheaper to upgrade to first class after booking?
10 Ways to Get Cheap First Class Flights
1. Use the Right Search Sites & Deal Finders
You’re not alone in your burning desire to fly first class. However, only so many first class seats are available, so the battle for them is becoming increasingly competitive.
Thankfully, there are a number of individuals, websites, and groups that exist to help you achieve your first class goals to live your best life. Joining, checking, and following the newsletters, sites, and email lists below will greatly help you. The flight search engines, on the other hand, make it easy to search dozens of airlines at once and set up price alerts for detecting low fares.
Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)
One of the best ways to find cheap first class flights is by joining Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). This is the original cheap fare-finding service that has real human beings searching the web nonstop for great fares from everywhere to everywhere and alerting its members by email when they find anything awesome.
If you’re looking for deals that include first class airline tickets, you’ll want to sign up for Going’s Elite membership, as the free version will be economy only. Plus, with that membership, you’ll also be alerted to all the mistake fares the site finds, which can lead to even greater savings.
See Related: Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) Review
Dollar Flight Club
Like Going, Dollar Flight Club is a subscription email service that will let you know as soon as its team finds a fantastic flight deal from your airport. Some people prefer Dollar Flight Club because they also have a phone app.
Dollar Flight Club has three membership levels; the lowest, the free level, won’t get you the first class deals you desire. For that, upgrade to Premium Plus. Most users save at least that much when they find their very first Dollar Flight Club deal – if not much more.
One of our favorite sites to find the cheapest first class flights by researching on your own is Skyscanner. This is one of the best travel metasearch engines around, and like me, many other people swear by it for all their travel needs.
Like other travel search engines, Skyscanner searches travel sites all over the internet to find its users the best deals. You must use the dropdown menu on the search page to indicate the seat type you seek. You won’t be able to use the “Flexible Dates” option to search entire months for first class fares, but the color-coded specific dates on the calendar do work for flexible travelers – so be sure to move through the months to see when to fly for less.
See Related: Cheapest Places to Fly Around the World
Like Skyscanner, Google Flights is a metasearch engine that will help you to find good deals on flights of all kinds, and you can specify that you are seeking first class seats in particular when you search. When you get your results, you’ll get a few “best available flights” suggestions at the top, followed by other suggestions below.
However, one thing a lot of users love about Google Flights happens before you even hit the search button. After you input your departure and destination airports and change your class of service on the drop-down menu, you can see the lowest fares for each day displayed on the drop-down calendar when selecting your dates. Before continuing, this will allow you to know what days are cheapest for first class or any other flights.
Kayak is another site among the world’s most popular flight search engines thanks to its intuitive user interface and great functions. It’s easy to use Kayak’s date grid to cross-reference many departure and return dates to find the cheapest combination, and this does work when searching first class cabins only.
Likewise, you can use another of Kayak’s most popular features on first class specifically – price alerts. Simply click the button on the top to ask Kayak to send you an email every time it detects a significant price change on your route and dates for first class. It may save you hundreds of dollars and hours of searching.
See Related: Best Skyscanner Alternatives to Book Travel
Momondo is another metasearch engine that quickly searches many other sites to find the best deals for users. It looks a lot like Kayak because it’s actually the same company as Kayak, but it has some differences in design that might be more appealing to different types of people.
We specifically like Momondo for the handy color-coded calendar you’ll see as soon as you select an origin and a destination. Before your search even begins, you can get an idea of what the most expensive days are to fly, as well as the cheapest.
NextVacay is a travel deals alert service like Going and Dollar Flight Club. The first thirty days of subscription are free, so it’s worth signing up for to see if you like it. The paid version is one of the most affordable on the market.
This site differs from others mentioned here because members provide their desired route and dates, as opposed to nothing more than origin airports on competitor services. You’ll get an alert when a good deal or mistake fare that matches your wants and needs is found, as opposed to many others that may not apply to you. Most deals are for economy flights, but business and first class flight deals are included as well.
See Related: NextVacay Review
Secret Flying is a lesser-known tool but a very unique and potentially valuable one. Like Going and Dollar Flight Club, they’ve got a team of people searching for amazing travel deals. You can sign up for alerts from your home airport to get notified as soon as they find one, but if you’d rather avoid notifications, all deals are posted to their website for all to see – totally free of charge.
Many of Secret Flying’s deals are what they refer to as “open jaw” flights. I disagree with that choice of terminology, but to them, it means the departure and/or return points may be different cities.
For example, the outbound could be New York to Tokyo, and the return could be Osaka to New York – and you’d be shocked at how much money that saves. They specialize in economy class travel, but an upgrade to first class is always possible.
2. Book Well in Advance
A great way to spend extra money on both economy and first class fares is to wait until the last minute to book. The best way to save money on flights is to book your flight far in advance of your trip. However, you might not want to go overboard, as booking too far in advance can cost you extra money, too.
Research (and our experience) has shown that domestic flights are at their cheapest about 3-5 months before departure, while international fares should be booked 5-7 months out. In my opinion, these intervals should be slightly lengthened for first class airfares. Remember, there are far fewer seats up front, and they can disappear fast.
A tip that goes hand-in-hand with booking in advance, and that also applies to any travel class, is to be flexible. Sometimes, you have to fly on a specific day or at a specific time.
But if you have even a tiny bit of wiggle room, adding a layover or returning a day early can literally save you thousands. Try to be flexible from the start!
See Related: Best Day to Book Flights
3. Book During Sales
Most airlines also have sales from time to time, and they are a great time to book economy flights, business class flights, or cheap first class flights. Some of these sales happen at random times, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for them by subscribing to your favorite airlines’ email lists, but a lot of airlines’ best sales happen around various holidays like Presidents’ Day and Black Friday.
If you are planning a trip and a holiday weekend is approaching, you should probably wait and see what deals you can find before pulling the trigger. Follow all the airlines on social media, as this is often the first place that they will announce a big sale.
4. Travel on Weekends
As you might imagine, many people flying first class are flying for work. They get to sit in those great seats because their employers are paying for it – how nice! As a result, you’ll often find that first class seats are full (and expensive) on weekdays. But that’s less often the case on weekends.
While seats in coach are generally more expensive on weekends due to so many people traveling for leisure, first class tickets are actually often cheaper for this reason. Therefore, try to plan your travel days accordingly, and utilize the aforementioned search engines to focus on weekends.
See Related: How to Get Cheap Last-Minute Flights
5. Book Round Trip
You’ll also save money on first class flights by booking round-trip tickets. In fact, this is true for all classes of airline tickets; it almost always makes better financial sense to book a round trip than two one-way tickets. It’s also most true for international flights.
Airline pricing is extremely complicated, but one of the reasons for this is that the airline simply wants to incentivize you to fill another seat on your return. They also know that people flying one-way probably really need to fly and will, therefore, pay a premium.
Even if you’re not sure when you’ll be coming back, you should still book a round-trip ticket. You can always change the return ticket if you need to, especially now that most airlines have relaxed their change restrictions forever due to the pandemic.
6. Use the Right Credit Cards
Credit card memberships are a fantastic way to get great deals on first class flights – or get them for free. If you’re loyal to one airline, and even if you’re not, most travel credit cards can help you make your way into first class without spending extra dollars. Buying the first class ticket outright with miles is a great way to work your way into an expensive seat for nearly nothing.
Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Capital One Venture, and the American Express Platinum Card allow members to earn many bonus miles upon signup and after meeting spending minimums. You’ll continue to earn lots of miles through regular spending. These miles can then be used to book first class on almost every airline that offers it via the card’s travel portal.
Each airline also offers co-branded cards with banks like Chase and Barclays that earn that airline’s specific miles, which can, of course, be redeemed for a first class ticket. These co-branded cards are even more valuable if they offer elite status with the airline, as you may find yourself higher up on the upgrade priority list when there are empty first class seats.
See Related: Best Credit Cards for Travel Perks Ranked
7. Upgrade With Points or Miles When You Book
If you are a member of a points/miles frequent flyer points program, then you may be able to buy a regular coach seat with cash and then use your points or miles to upgrade to a better seat. This often presents one of the best values of points of all. Not only will you need fewer points, you’ll also get the other perks of first class, like priority boarding and airport lounge access.
Sometimes, a great deal is offered at the time of booking, but other times, that option may not be offered. If you don’t see the option on your reservation, it doesn’t hurt to call the airline and ask what the redemption would be. Use your judgment; is a 20,000-mile upgrade worth it for a two-hour flight? Probably not, for most.
An upgrade option may be available again when you check in for your flight just before departure. You may find that this option will cost you fewer points or miles than the former since, by the day of departure, they’ll know if anyone has purchased that seat or not with cash.
8. Look Out for Upgrade Offers or Bidding Opportunities
One of my greatest international business class success stories came from an upgrade offer emailed just a few days before takeoff. Flying from Spain to New York, I got an offer from Iberia Airlines to move up to the front of the plane for about $450 per person. Considering I barely paid that for the economy class fare, it was a no-brainer to take the 8-hour haul to the United States in lie-flat luxury!
Keep your eyes on your inbox for deals like this starting a week before departure, as they can be incredible deals. Another increasingly common sales method for first class upgrades is to ask passengers to bid on those seats.
You can enter the dollar amount you’d be willing to pay for the upgrade right on the app. If you’re among the highest bidders, you’ll be charged and selected to sit in one of the seats available.
You can end up paying significantly less than actual first class fares, but you have to be careful to bid enough that someone else won’t outdo you. My advice is to pick a number and then add $5 in case anyone else chooses that number as well.
See Related: Layover vs Stopover: What’s The Difference?
9. Upgrade With Cash at the Airport
If the airline doesn’t manage to sell all its first class tickets in advance, via points upgrades, or via last-minute offers and bidding, the price may drop again at the airport. You can ask about a potential upgrade to first class when you’re at the check-in counter to check your bag, or you can ask the gate agent when you get past security.
If open seats are available in first class, anyone working at the above locations in the airport can help you upgrade for a fee. Airlines may offer their final price at this stage, as it’s the last opportunity to make money off those seats.
Some airlines even have technology that allows flight attendants to sell upgrades after boarding. Keep in mind that there is definitely no guarantee that this will be offered, so it’s risky to rely on this strategy if you need to fly first class.
Plus, the airline could simply give its elite members those seats rather than sell them. That seems to be a more common occurrence these days.
10. Offer to Be Bumped
When a flight is oversold, which happens more often than seems to make sense, an airline will offer passengers incentives to be bumped to a later flight. Bumping means putting a ticketed passenger on an alternative flight, which may be hours or days later, in exchange for compensation.
If you’re not in a hurry, this can be a great way to get some cool stuff! Most of the time, the incentives include a large credit toward future travel.
Occasionally, the incentive is cash or even gifts like iPads. When the airline is in a tight situation, you may even have some bargaining power – and it is very much within the agent’s power to upgrade you to first class on whatever alternative flight they want you to take.
This can be a fun game because the longer you hold out, the bigger the credit will be, but if you wait too long, some other passenger will volunteer first and beat you to it. You could end up in a first class seat on the next flight, plus go home with a credit that you can use on a future first class seat.
See Related: Cheap Places to Visit in Europe
Myths About Upgrading to First Class
We’ve seen a number of ways to score a seat up front for just a little bit extra or without really having to pay for it at all. But there are a few myths that definitely won’t work in getting you a free lie-flat seat.
First, an old tactic that recently resurfaced is to dress up for your flight, with the idea that the gate agent or flight attendants will (for some reason) appreciate your attire and upgrade your seat. That’s not going to happen.
We’ve seen all the ways that airlines try to sell those seats until the very last minute. If that fails, they’ll just put their elite loyalty program members in them at no cost.
Second, you should not fake an injury or illness to scam your way into the front cabin. If you have an actual illness or injury, you still shouldn’t expect that to work. The airline has no obligation to do something like that for you, and they will still go through the usual upgrade priority.
Finally, you should never jump into an empty first class seat that’s not yours. That’s the same as stealing, and you will promptly be asked to move.
Don’t argue – there was recently a flight to Tel Aviv that turned around to drop off a passenger who wouldn’t comply in this way! He was met by police officers on the ground and a very large fine equivalent to the price of the diversion he was responsible for.
Why is first class so expensive?
First class is expensive due to its premium services and additional amenities. These may include more spacious seating, enhanced meals, and dedicated check-in and boarding areas. Additionally, airlines have limited first class seats, increasing their value and cost.
What do you get on a first class flight?
On a first class flight, you get a superior travel experience. Amenities usually include priority check-in and boarding, broader and more comfortable seats often convertible into beds, high-quality meals paired with premium beverages, in-flight entertainment on larger individual screens, and access to exclusive lounges at airports.
Is it cheaper to upgrade to first class after booking?
Sometimes, yes, it is, particularly with long-haul flights. We’ve booked first class at a significant discount multiple times. This largely depends on the airline.