There’s a way for you to fly first class for free over and over again.
The best part? It doesn’t require incredible negotiation skills or dumb luck. Anyone can do it.
Let me tell you everything you need to know so you can decide if this powerful travel strategy is right for you.
How to Fly for Free
A few years back, I started searching for the best ways to travel for cheap. I wanted to get out and see the world … or at least the United States.
What I ended up finding were a small group of people that were booking free flights over and over again with a strategy that was the complete opposite of what most people do.
You see, most people know that you can book a free flight by using frequent flyer miles. And if you have enough frequent flyer miles, then you can even fly first class for free. Of course, the only problem is that it’s really hard to accumulate a lot of miles by flying.
Luckily, there is a way to get hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles without flying at all.
This travel strategy is a special process called “credit card churning” and here’s how it works…
The credit card industry is extremely competitive. As a result, many credit card companies are willing to offer you huge frequent flyer mile bonuses if you sign up for their card.
This strategy works so well for getting frequent flyer miles that a group of people called credit card “churners” have used it to earn more than 1 million frequent flyer miles in a year. They apply for card after card and churn through as many applications as possible. Then, they spend the minimum amount needed to get the bonus (for example, $1,000 in 3 months) and move on to the next card. Some people routinely have over 15 credit cards on rotation!
The good news is that credit card bonuses work just as well for normal people like you and me. By simply getting 1 or 2 new cards, you can get enough frequent flyer miles for multiple round–trip flights.
There is no need to go crazy and get 15+ new cards. Of course, if you did, then you could literally earn enough miles to fly around the world multiple times.
Regardless of how many cards you’re comfortable with getting, these frequent flyer mile bonuses are the best way to fly for free because you can use frequent flyer miles to book flights anywhere and at anytime. For example, I used frequent flyer miles to book a free flight to Costa Rica last December, which is during the “high season” down there.
Where to Get Started
Many credit card churners get their information from a variety of blogs, forums, and websites. Thankfully, there are services that can do all of that research for you.
A great one to start with is The Credit Card Fly. It’s a free email newsletter that sends you a short weekly update of the best credit card deals for earning frequent flyer miles, free hotel stays, and rewards points.
Once you know the deals to apply for, the 3–step process looks like this:
- Apply for a new credit card that has a big frequent flyer mile bonus.
- If necessary, spend the minimum amount to get the bonus. Many cards have no spending requirement.
- Redeem your miles and fly anywhere.
Does this Hurt Your Credit Score?
Applying for new credit cards actually helps your score in one way and hurts it in another. Let me explain…
When you apply for a new credit card there is an inquiry on your account. New credit inquiries usually drop your score by a few points, but new inquiries only make up 10% of your overall credit score so the drop is small.
On the flip side, when you get a new credit card this also increases your overall credit limit and this will probably help your credit utilization ratio.
For example, let’s say that before your new card you were spending $2,000 and your total credit limit was $10,000. In this case, your credit utilization ratio was 20% ($2,000/$10,000). Then you get a new card and let’s say your credit limit raises to $15,000. Remember, your spending habits should be about the same because you’re only spending the minimum needed to get your frequent flyer miles. So now your credit utilization ratio is only 13% ($2,000/$15,000).
This is a good thing. A lower credit utilization ratio helps your credit score. For this reason, many credit card churners actually see their score increase over time. Many churners have 10 or more credit cards and still hold excellent credit scores in the 780 to 800 range.
How to Know if This Will Work for You
As a rule of thumb, your credit score should be 700 or above if you’re thinking about following this credit card travel rewards strategy.
And if you’re planning on applying for a bunch of cards to get tons of frequent flyer miles, then you should probably have a credit score above 720.
No matter what your score is, this strategy will only work if you pay your balance in full each month and carry no debt on your new cards. It doesn’t matter how good your history is, if you get a new credit card and start piling on debt, then your credit score will suffer and this travel strategy is useless.
If you have the discipline to pay your balance in full each month, then you’re ready to hit the skies.
Airlines typically offer passengers a variety of travel classes to choose from. On short domestic flights, many airlines offer a two-cabin seating configuration, featuring a Business Class and an Economy Class. On longer transcontinental or international flights, airlines typically offer a three-cabin seating configuration. The three different seating cabins include Economy Class, Business Class and First Class. Higher seating classes, like Business Class and First Class, are usually more expensive and provide travelers with more space and comfort.
Economy Class offers basic airline accommodation. It is the cheapest of the classes and usually takes up most of the seats on a plane. The Economy Class seat plan on a typical Boeing 747-400 is comprised of rows with three adjacent seats on the left-hand side of the plane, four adjacent seats in the middle of the plane and three more adjacent seats on the right-hand side of the plane. Seats in this class are usually 17 to 18 inches wide with a pitch (legroom) of 31 to 32 inches.
Premium Economy Class
Some airlines offer a Premium Economy Class. This travel class is more expensive than the regular Economy Class and offers a slightly higher quality of accommodation. When compared to the standard Economy Class, Premium Economy Class seats are generally wider and have 6 inches more legroom. This class also provides larger personal televisions, better snack/drink service and fully adjustable seats.
In Business Class, seats have an average width of 21 inches and a pitch of 57 inches. Compared to Economy Class, there is nearly twice as much legroom and 3 to 4 inches of extra seat width. The Business Class seat plan on a typical Boeing 747-400 is comprised of rows with two adjacent seats on the left-hand side of the plane, three adjacent seats in the middle of the plane and two more adjacent seats on the right-hand side of the plane. Business Class travelers can expect to be accommodated with high-quality in-flight food and entertainment services.
The First Class seating section is designed to be the most comfortable. This small cabin is usually upstairs or in the very front of an aircraft. First Class seats are 1 to 2 inches wider than Business Class seats and have 10 to 30 inches more pitch. First Class travelers can expect the best in-flight service because of a higher flight attendant to passenger ratio. Superior foods, in addition to wine and cocktails, are also served in First Class.
About the Author
Kevin Belhumeur began writing and editing in 2008. He has written sports-related articles for the "Newport Beach Daily Pilot" and has copy-edited for the "UCLA Daily Bruin." Belhumeur holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California-Los Angeles.
You know the look-that one of haughty derision shot your way as you board a plane and are forced to do a walk of shame past the first class passengers as they suck down champagne and warm nuts while you're left to vie for the last overhead space and a free armrest in coach.
You envy them, but you'd never pay the outrageous price to sit in a slightly bigger seat. However, what you may not know is that many of those people in first class snagged their seats for less money than you paid for your ticket in steerage. In fact, there are many ways—some obvious, several not—to fly first class without paying for it, and here are a few of the best:
1) Elite status: The best way to get all the free first-class flights your little heart desires is to earn elite status on your airline of choice. U.S. airlines are extremely generous (at least in comparison to foreign carriers) when it comes to free upgrades to first class for their most valued customers, the elite fliers. Continental/United, Delta, Alaska and U.S. Airways all offer complimentary domestic, space-available upgrades to all levels of elite fliers. American Airlines offers unlimited domestic upgrades to their top-tier fliers. Once you hit 25,000 elite miles earned within a calendar year through flights, you start at the lowest level of elite status and work your way up at 50,000/75,000/100,000/125,000 levels depending on the airline. The higher the level of your elite status, the more likely you are to get an upgrade. This means you can buy a dirt cheap coach ticket and end up with a first class seat. As a Delta Diamond, this happens to me more often than not and I even get upgraded 6 days before most of my flights!
If you're thinking "I don't fly enough to get elite status," you're missing the boat. Almost every airline has a co-branded credit card that allows you to earn elite qualifying miles. In my opinion, Delta makes it the easiest—you can get Silver elite status until 2013 simply by transferring 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to your Delta account. No flying necessary! You can find out more about the promotion here. US airways lets you buy status outright.
And fear not. Even if you're upgraded, airlines treat you just like a paid first class passenger. In fact, flight attendants usually have no idea who is paid and who is upgraded. So don't think airline status is exclusive – anyone can get it if you are savvy enough!
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2) Using Frequent Flier Miles or Credit Card Points: Most airlines allow you to use miles to upgrade to first class. Within the past couple years it has gotten more expensive, however. Many airlines require you to purchase a more expensive fare class (for instance regular economy instead of discounted economy) and charge co-pays plus upgrade fees and taxes, but it can still save you a ton of money versus buying a first class fare outright.
3) Buy a Y-Up fare: This one is a little more technical, but still easy to accomplish. Y-Up fares are deeply discounted first class fares available within the U.S. and Canada that are booked in the system as coach fares but automatically upgrade to first class. These allow corporate travelers who are forbidden to buy first class tickets the ability to buy "coach" and then they automatically get seated in first. These fares are hard to search for online, so usually calling the airline is best. Most reservation agents should know the term and be able to help you. One caveat, these are not the same price as your discounted coach fares, but rather they are usually more in the price range of a full coach fare-though that's still a lot less than a first class ticket in most cases.
4) Just Ask: One of my favorite mottos when it comes to miles and points is, "it never hurts to ask." You'd be surprised at how empowered check-in agents and gate agents are when it comes to re-assigning passengers. I recommend being extremely friendly and appreciative. Frontline employees deal with lunatics and generally ungrateful people all day, so if you can quickly and nicely ask them about getting an upgrade, you might be surprised at what could happen. While it's a long shot, the only thing you have to lose is a little bit of dignity. This method works well for honeymooners or good looking people who know how to flirt. That said, if they say no, respect it and try again next time!
5) Taking the Bump: Most airlines oversell flights so they can maximize their profit. They know people will always miss their flights for a variety of reasons, so they oversell to accommodate how many people they think will miss their flight and fill every seat by the time the plane pushes back from the gate. However, things don't always go as planned, and often there more passengers than there are seats. In this case the airlines usually ask for volunteers to take a later flight. The thing you should know is that you have bargaining power when you are in this situation, especially if they don't have enough volunteers. Not only can you get a voucher for a future flight (and you can negotiate the value of that voucher up), but you can also receive confirmed first class seats on your next flight. Agents are often stressed out trying to get the plane out on time, so if you are savvy and make their lives easier, they will often give you first class, but only if you ask.
6) Broken Seat: I've been on several packed flights where passengers had broken coach seats and were reassigned to business or first since they were the only seats left. This is luck of the draw, though. Don't break your seat!
7) Buy An Upgrade: An empty seat in first class is lost revenue to an airline. Many will sell deeply discounted upgrades up until departure. Call the airline after you book your flight to check the cost and inquire when you check in at the airport – it may be a lot less expensive than you expected.
8) Work For an Airline or Befriend Someone Who Does: Airline employees are generally underpaid and overworked. One of their key perks is free travel for family and friends. The specifics are different for each airline, and buddy passes can be a blessing and a curse (if flights are oversold, buddy pass riders are usually last on the priority list for a seat), however most airlines will give business or first class seats to these passengers if they are available.
Flights: Student discusses how he 'fast-tracked' to first class
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Student Raj and former cabin crew Amy shared the secrets to getting into First Class for free – as well as showing behind the scenes of First Class on luxury airlines Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. The pair appeared along with other travel enthusiasts on Channel 5’s Upgrade Me: Secrets of First Class.
Letting viewers in on his secrets, Raj revealed: “How can you fly in First and Business Class as an 18 year old, as a student?
“I was determined to find a way where I could fly First and Business Class without the premium price tag.
“To New York, and back – for free.”
He explained: “For my 18th birthday, I knew enough to apply for my own credit card.
Flights: Raj revealed how he has been flying in First Class for free since he was 18 (Image: Channel 5)
“I’ve been spending every single pound I have ever spent since my 18th birthday on airline credit cards and it feels incredible, because every time I spend, I’m getting air miles for it.
“Be really clever with your sign up bonuses. I’m at University, I don’t spend a huge amount of money, but what I do is I apply for these cards just before my rent is due.
“So I spend £1600 a term, and I’ll be £400 away from the sign up bonus.
“The sign up bonuses can be excellent, for example this term I got a 26,000 point sign up bonus which, as I said, can get you a return flight from London to New York just from paying my University accommodation rent, which I would have to do anyway.”
Amy, former cabin crew, backed this up, and said: “I know so many tricks.
“Get the Avios credit card, put everything on it, but obviously pay it off – don’t want you getting into debt.
“My friends got two tickets to Barbados return in Business Class for free, because they’d spent everything for a year on their Avios credit card.
“I do find that in First Class, a lot of people are there thanks to their miles. so make sure you collect them.”
Flights: Which passports are the most powerful in the world? (Image: NC)
As well as collecting points for flights when you spend, the other way to get into the rarefied air of First, Business, or even Premium Economy is to get an upgrade.
These days, most airlines do offer passengers the option to bid for a last minute upgrade at a much cheaper price than they would have paid upfront – but paying to be upgraded will never beat the thrill of getting it for free.
However, with security tighter than ever and profit margins squeezed in recent years, getting a free upgrade is no easy task.
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There are several ways to fly first class: Pay for it outright, purchase a last-minute upgrade, use elite status earned from frequent travel, or apply travel rewards or mileage.
Here's how to get the best deal on first class through last-minute upgrades and wisely using elite status.
Upgrade for cheap at check-in
I look at first-class upgrades on domestic flights as a nice perk, but not necessary. If the price difference is under $100, I upgrade.
Airlines will 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 ticket on American Airlines that cost about $150. I bought that ticket two weeks before the trip. During the check-in process (I checked in on the way to the airport), I was offered an upgrade on the Charlotte-to-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 upward of $1,000.
» Learn more: Why you should fly first class at least once, and how to afford it
Opportunities for upgrades can be random. My upgrade might have been available because I checked in less than 24 hours before my flight. The airline might have felt comfortable offering cheaper upgrades because anyone wanting or needing to fly first-class already booked it.
It can be worth it to wait until a few hours before your flight to score a cheap first-class upgrade. Typically, elite frequent flyer members are quickly approved.
Use elite status
When you fly at least 25,000 miles annually, several airlines offer discounted and free options when upgrading to first class.
For instance, United Airlines offers complimentary upgrades to MileagePlus Premier members flying in the U.S. with the exception of a few routes, so some flyers might have to choose their airports carefully to get the upgrades. The airline also offers upgrades to cardholders who make $25,000 in annual qualified purchases. United will instantly confirm elite travelers who have full-priced coach tickets, and elite travelers can get their companion traveler upgraded with them.
American Airlines’ AAdvantage elite 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.
No matter which strategy you employ, always create a budget so you use upgrades when they make sense for you.
In terms of dollars, this will vary widely based on the time of year you’re flying and your destination. For cheaper first-class tickets by using points and miles, look for sweet spots with airlines (and their partners) that have fixed award charts like American , Alaska , Air Canada , All Nippon Airways , Cathay Pacific or Korean Air.
There is no specific price to upgrade to first class. Prices will vary widely depending on the airline, destination, length of flight, capacity and the type of seat you currently have.
Generally, most first-class or other premium-cabin seats 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 far in advance as possible, especially if the ticket includes good change or cancellation policies.
The best way to get complimentary upgrades to first class is to be a high-level elite status member with an airline. Many airlines will have upgrade options or waiting lists for elite members to get moved into first class.
Paying cash to fly first class can be very expensive, and the high cost may diminish some of the fun. For maximum enjoyment, try to book first or business class tickets with points earned from credit cards (rather than paying cash). It can certainly be worth experiencing a flight in first class.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021 , including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
About the author: Reyna Gobel, MBA, MSJ, is a travel and personal finance journalist, television consultant and producer. Her work has been featured by Money Magazine, Reuters, Hemispheres, American Way and U.S. News & World Report. Read more
A Beginner’s Guide to Traveling on Points and Miles
Best Travel Credit Cards
Baffled by Points and Miles? Let the 80/20 Rule Guide You
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Everybody wants to fly at the front of the plane. The bigger, more comfortable seats, a constant supply of snacks and drinks, and boarding and deplaning first are some of the perks that come with first-class or business-class seating. International and U.S. transcontinental flights often offer both classes. Shorter-duration flights may only offer one, generally business class.
Unfortunately, it’s no easy task to land those premium seats without paying full fare unless you fly frequently. If you don’t fly much for business, one of the best ways to fly first class is to use your credit card. Travel-themed credit cards offer rewards you can redeem as loyalty points with major airlines.
1. Capital One Venture Rewards
Earn 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. You can redeem your points for flights that could include first-class seats. There is no annual fee, and the 15.49%, 21.49%, or 25.49% interest rate (based on creditworthiness) falls within the range of most travel cards.
Add to that a 0% introductory rate for the first year and no foreign transaction fees, and you can see why it’s such a popular card among travelers, recommended by 92% of reviewers on Capital One’s website.
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Earn two points for every $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants. For all other purchases, you earn one point. Chase offers a one-to-one redemption, meaning 1,000 Chase reward points equals 1,000 miles with participating airlines. Other perks include trip cancellation insurance, auto rental collision damage waivers, and no blackout dates or travel restrictions.
The annual percentage rate (APR) varies from 15.99% to 22.99%, based on your creditworthiness. If you spend more than $4,000 in the first three months of having the card, you receive 100,000 bonus points. There is no foreign transaction fee.
3. Discover it Miles
Since 1986, the Discover card has been a favorite among consumers for its no-nonsense rewards and use of the most current technology. Recently, the company announced that customers can now instantly turn the card on or off from their app if it is lost or stolen. If the card is found, simply go to the app and turn it back on.
Like most companies, Discover has a travel card. The it Miles card offers 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend, and for your first year, Discover gives you double miles. The APR is 0% for the first 14 months and 11.99% to 22.99% after that, based on your creditworthiness. There is no annual fee, and there are no blackout dates.
4. BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card
Earn 1.5 points for every $1 you spend with the card. Points can be redeemed for travel rewards of any type, including first-class seating on airlines. The APR is 13.99% to 23.99%, depending on your credit, with a 0% APR for the first year.
The card has no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, and there are no blackout dates or travel restrictions. If you spend at least $1,000 in the first 90 days, Bank of America will give you 25,000 bonus points—equal to about $250 in rewards.
The Bottom Line
Airline business cratered in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is on its way back now that vaccines are making air travel safe again, according to reporting by CBS News—which means that even with plenty of miles to redeem, getting a spot at the front of the plane is not going to be easy. Business travelers who fly multiple times per week often get the seats first, but plenty of other travelers use their rewards to fly in the cushy seats from time to time. Vacation travelers may be more flexible, which can give them more options to try.
The travel cards described above help with flights from virtually any airline. If you mostly fly a particular carrier, having its credit card can also help you land first-class seats for that airline.
You like to travel in style, but you’re not into paying top-dollar for first-class plane tickets and luxury hotels. Thankfully, there’s plenty of credit cards that will foot the bill for you — in the form of points.
Many credit cards come with perks that allow you to rack up points with every purchase. Essentially, this allows you to earn travel rewards while spending money on essentials like gas and groceries.
Of course, all credit cards don’t offer the same travel benefits, so John Garner, founder and CEO of credit card rewards optimization app Card Curator, emphasized the importance of choosing wisely.
“The first step in taking advantage of credit card signup offers is deciding what you want to do with the offers and which destination you want to travel to,” he said. “By deciding where you want to go, you can then start organizing the required steps to achieve that free first-class flight and free hotel stay.”
After choosing your desired travel destination, he said you’ll need to see which airlines fly there, so you can compare first-class prices on each carrier to determine which is most affordable. However, he noted that not all airlines have a first-class cabin, with most topping out at business class seats.
“After choosing the airline, you can then research the best ways to go about achieving the miles required to book that first-class flight,” he said. “Some airline loyalty programs will require you to earn miles directly, but for most programs, you can earn the miles through a transferable banking points program like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points.”
Garner said this can literally be your ticket to a free flight.
“For example, you could fly Lufthansa First Class to most places in Europe for 87,000 miles one way through Avianca LifeMiles, or for 174,000 miles round trip,” he said.
To earn the required Avianca LifeMiles, he said you can apply for the AMEX Platinum Card, which is currently offering 100,000 membership rewards points as a signup offer — after purchasing $6,000 with the card during your first six months of membership.
Additionally, he said you can apply for the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, which is currently offering 80,000 points as a sign-up offer — after spending $4,000 with the card in the first three months of opening an account.
“Both cards transfer from their respective banking programs to Avianca, and would provide you with more than enough miles to book a first-class round trip on Lufthansa,” he said. “However, availability on Lufthansa First Class can be scarce, so it’s better to book the furthest out as possible from your planned trip dates — or within 15 days of takeoff.”
When it comes to free hotel stays, Garner said you can transfer your leftover airline points to hotel programs, such as Hilton, Marriott and Choice. He said you can then apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card, which offers 125,000 points and a free night as a sign-up bonus — after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of opening an account.
Then, For example, he said if you had 31,000 leftover AMEX points, when combined with the 125,000 new Marriott points, you’ll have more than 150,000 total Marriott points.
“This can be enough for a three-night’s stay at a Category 6 hotel — very nice — or a four-night’s stay at a Category 5 hotel — quite nice — and a six-night’s stay at a Category 4 hotel — pretty nice,” he said. “To summarize, with just three credit cards, a person could fly roundtrip in first class to Europe on one of the nicest first-class products out there, as well as stay at a very nice hotel for three nights for free at one the largest hotel chains in the world.”
For travel in October 2021, a roundtrip first-class ticket — for a seven-day trip — on Lufthansa from New York City to London starts at $9,210. Additionally, the average daily rate for a hotel room was $133.69, during the week ending Sept. 25, 2021, according to global hospitality industry benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights company STR.
Therefore, taking the time to strategically choose credit cards that offer the travel rewards you need can save you serious cash. Whether you’re a frequent globetrotter or looking for ways to cut costs on your annual family vacation, using credit card points for travel can be a fantastic way to enjoy a seriously high-class trip on a budget.
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Skip the discounted packs of undershirts and tank tops, and invest instead in a bottom layer that has some lasting power. A reliable, durable, and comfortable bottom layer will make all the difference and in first class, you’ll need something that looks chic. For ladies, comfort and style are easily achieved with the high neckline of the soft and flexible tank top from ENIDMIL . For guys, this short-sleeved collared shirt from Todd Snyder completes a casual but put-together look.
A Sleek Top Layer
A good coat can make an outfit and help you pull your look together, but when you’re flying first class, you’ll also need something that will keep you warm in case the plane is chilly. For women, this is the time to embrace athleisure with a coat like the Hoodie Long Tunic Sweatshirt from TheMogan , which stretches past the knees for ultimate coverage and warmth. For men, a short and sturdy coat like the this one from Reigning Champ pulls it together with a baseball collar and keeps it casual with 100 percent cotton material and a two-way zipper.
Dress Pants That You Can Sleep In
Although we can rely on our favorite jeans for just about any other moment in our lives, they don’t always work on airplanes. When your legs get restless, you’re going to want pants that are comfortable enough to move around and sleep in, but when you’re flying first class, they have to look good, too. This is when Betabrand comes to the rescue. With its Dress Pant Yoga Pants for women and the Dress Pant Jogger Pants for men, you can look ready for business and also be ready for bed with these soft terry pants that boast style and pockets for everybody.
For the shoes, you’ll need a pair with stand-out style that are also easy to slip off when going through security and settling into your seat. Ladies can add a pop of color and sophistication with the Blondo Villa Waterproof booties, while guys can make a statement with the Kenneth Cole REACTION’s Chukka Boot .
Scarf for Fashion and Comfort
Scarves are a necessity on long-haul flights, whether you’re flying first class or economy. From using it to stay warm to covering up a bad hair day, it’s a must-have, and on a first-class flight, you’ll want something that expresses your personal style. For women looking to brighten up an outfit, the Wild Oasis Cashmere and Silk Scarf can heighten the style of even the most casual outfits. Men looking for a more subdued scarf might like Tie Bar’s two-toned River West Solid scarves.
A Stylish Timepiece
An eye-catching watch can be the perfect way to make a statement when flying first class, but you don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive watch on the market to do that. Recently released by Solgaard, the Hex watches like the women’s edition in stone and the Minimalist in matte black are the perfect way add sophistication to your first-class outfit, without looking like you’re trying too hard.
Admit it: Flying first class can make the hassles of air travel so much better. I’ve been bumped up to first class twice: once while traveling solo on a business trip to Boston and once with my husband on our honeymoon. Let’s just say I liked it very much. Who wouldn’t appreciate a glass of cabernet while waiting for everyone else to board?
While I love flying first class, I don’t exactly want to pay for it. First-class tickets can cost four times the coach fare, and it doesn’t seem worth it for a short flight.
So how do you increase your odds of getting moved up? Here are 10 things you can do to increase your odds of flying first class for free:
1. Dress the part. Pack your yoga pants, torn jeans, and flip-flops, and wear something that belongs in first class. You don’t have to wear a suit (although it wouldn’t hurt). Just wear something professional, and shows that you belong.
Bob Atkinson, travel expert at TravelSupermarket.com, advises sticking to the “smart casual” code, and that “a cashmere shawl or linen jacket can make all the difference.”
2. Ask for an upgrade. Sometimes if you want something, all you have to do is ask. When you check in, say to the agent: “If you are upgrading passengers on this flight, I would like to be considered.” Be sure to smile. Many of the people gate agents deal with are complaining; you’ll stand out if you’re friendly and polite.
“Be nice to everybody from the moment you walk on airport property,” former flight attendant Carolyn Paddock, founder of the website Life in Flight, told Bankrate.com. “You’re talking to people who are decision makers.”
3. Be early. The early bird gets the worm. Instead of trying to get the attention of the agent while he or she is busy with other passengers, show up early and be the first one to ask. Your flight may have only one or two upgrades available.
4. Travel solo. There is a greater chance that just one or two seats will be available in first class. If you frequently travel with co-workers, your odds of getting singled out are slim. Instead, fly by yourself to improve your chances.
5. Travel during peak times. If the flight has fewer passengers, chances are no one will be moved up. Airlines are more likely to upgrade people to make room on flights they oversell.
6. Sit next to the baby or take the middle seat. If a flight attendant is moving passengers, he or she may look to make the trip more comfortable for someone by moving them from a less desirable seat.
7. Give up your spot. When the gate agent asks for people who are willing to give up their seat, volunteer if you can be upgraded on the next flight. You will experience the delay, but it might be worth it if you can fly first class. This works especially well if there aren’t other people volunteering, Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at travel website Orbitz.com, told Market Watch.
8. Check your seat. When you sit down, make sure your armrests, recliner, tray table, and seat belt are in working condition. If they’re broken, let the flight attendant know. Passengers in broken seats will be reassigned–and it could be to first class.
9. Join the airline’s loyalty club. Even if you don’t travel often, it doesn’t hurt to become a member of an airline frequent-flyer club. You’ll often receive upgrade opportunities, and if agents are looking to move someone, they could look to their list of members first.
“If our airport staff are looking to upgrade passengers on the day of departure, there is a process that they follow which generally sees passengers that are frequent flyers of the airline–or those that have paid for a fully flexible ticket–benefiting,” Harriet Bevis, Virgin Atlantic spokesperson, told the Daily Mail.
10. Let flight attendants know if it’s a special occasion. If it’s your birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon, let the flight attendants know. And if you don’t get an upgrade, you just might get a free drink.
Right now, somewhere 30,000 feet above, there’s a burger flipper savoring caviar with a porcelain spoon. Or a liquor store employee downing bottles of $300 Champagne. They’re flying international first class on Cathay Pacific, Emirates, or one of a handful of other airlines that take service seriously, and they paid just a few hundred dollars for the privilege. Read on to see how you, too, can jet to Europe or the South Pacific for less than the cost of a family outing at Red Lobster.
There are two primary virtual travel currencies to consider: Frequent flier miles and hotel points. Either can be earned using a combination of methods, or purchased outright during occasional sales. But regardless of your pick, you don’t need to take a flight or spend a single night in a hotel to get started. Of course, for business travelers, building up account balances is easier than accumulating those tiny bottles of shampoo and shower gel, but you can easily earn enough to cross the Atlantic with your spouse or bring your family on that trip to Hawaii without a lot of work.
Getting started is simple. To get going, you’ll want to sign up for the frequent flier program of your preferred airline, along with the hotel chains where you stay. Every airline has a rewards program, but it’s important to pick one airline (or airline alliance) and stick with it. So, say for example that you live in Chicago. You’ll probably want to do most of your business with American or United since those airlines have “hubs” in your city. Youll have the greatest number of options for non-stop flights, so whether you need to go to Tokyo or Wichita, you’ll get there without changing planes.
Earning by Flying
Earning by flying is the easiest way to rack up miles, but only if you travel often. You typically earn one award mile for every mile that you fly, so if you’re traveling from Chicago to San Francisco, expect to net 2,000 miles for each direction. If you’re flying from Chicago to Hong Kong, that amount jumps to nearly 8,000 miles or 16,000 roundtrip. Based on those rates, and an assumption that a domestic roundtrip economy ticket costs 25,000 miles, you’ll have enough miles to fly anywhere within the US after flying two paid roundtrips to Hong Kong. Elite members (the “real” frequent fliers) earn even more.
Credit Card Bonuses
Credit card bonuses can get you flying for free even faster. Some top-tier cards offer up to 50,000 miles or more when you sign and meet minimum spending requirements, but those deals typically come along with annual fees of about $100 and mandate that you spend $5,000 or more with that card within the first few months of opening an account. The benefits can be tremendous, however, so if you qualify and can meet the requirements, this is often the best way to boost your mileage and hotel point balance.
Redeeming miles is much easier than earning, assuming you have the required number to get where you need to go. If you earn miles with one airline, you're usually able to redeem for that carrier's own flights, along with travel on their partners. If you have MileagePlus (United) miles, for example, you can also travel on Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, Thai, or dozens of other airlines, usually for the same number (or more) miles. Rates differ depending on the airline, but expect to spend 25/35/50k for domestic US flights in economy/business/first, double those numbers or more to Europe, and perhaps 2.5x the amount for flights to Africa, Asia, Australia, or India. Also, keep in mind that free flights are affected by very strict capacity restrictions, so even if there's a seat for sale to paying customers, you may not be able to use your miles to "buy" it.
Hotel stays typically earn you points within the chain’s own program, though there are exceptions, where you can earn miles instead. You’ll likely get the best value out of the hotel points, though. Earning here works a bit differently. You’ll receive a fixed number of points (probably between two and 10) for every dollar that you spend at the hotel, based on the nightly rate, meals billed to your room, in-room movies, internet charges, etc. You won’t earn points for paying tax.
Hotel Credit Cards
Hotel credit cards can earn you points very quickly, just as you would with an airline card. Bonuses work much the same way, but since redemption rates can vary significantly from chain to chain, you'll want to read up on each program before making your pick. Expect to earn between 20,000 and 100,000 points when signing up for a credit card. You can also earn points when you purchase a timeshare through the hotel chain, so if you're planning to do that, it never hurts to ask during the negotiation process.
Redeeming Hotel Points
Redeeming hotel points can often be easier than finding a reasonable free flight since many chains will let you secure a free hotel room as long as there's a basic room available for sale. Point requirements can vary tremendously though, depending on the hotel chain, the hotel location, and the hotel "category." Generally, expect hotels that cost more using cash to require more miles. Redemptions vary significantly here, so we recommend reading our hotel program overview before picking your chain.
Buying Miles and Points
Buying miles and points is an option as well, but more often than not, you’ll only want to do this to top up your account before making a redemption. For example, say you’re trying to book a roundtrip flight from Seattle to Miami. The airline requires 25,000 miles, but you only have 22,000. You can purchase the difference, either at checkout or in advance, for a relatively high rate. For example, while you may get two cents of value for each mile, the airline may want you to pay three. This only makes sense if you need those miles for a specific flight. Once in a while, an airline will sell miles at a discount. Sometimes you can even score a deal, but we recommend saving those opportunities for a bit later in the game, once you have a solid feel for how to take full advantage of each program.