Flying First Class: How to Get an Affordable Upgrade

First- and business-class seats were once reserved for C-suite execs and the wealthy, who could afford to spend thousands to fly from point A to point B. No longer.

Today, airlines are offering coveted front-of-cabin seats to the general public at discounted rates, and they may be within your reach.

Here’s what you need to know to navigate the new landscape of affordable, premium flying.

Major Carriers

When you buy a coach ticket from any major airline, you’ll likely receive an email offering you a first- or business-class seat upgrade at a discounted price. Usually, the closer to the departure date the better the discount, which might reach its peak just a few hours before your flight if there are not enough takers. Be careful with the waiting game, however, as there are a finite number of premium seats. Having said that, some airlines market their premium seats more aggressively than others.

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JetBlue’s Mint

For flights to some destinations in the U.S. or the Caribbean, JetBlue is your best chance of snatching a real first-class seat at a great price. JetBlue offers Mint, a first-class cabin with lie-flat seats, upgraded cuisine and all the other fixtures of luxury flying. A six-hour, round-trip flight in Mint between New York and Los Angeles may run you less than $1,000, which can be two or three times less than a comparable flight on American, Delta, United or Virgin America. Mint isn’t offered on every JetBlue flight, but you’re likely to encounter it on cross-country flights, as well as on those between New York and the Caribbean.

Sun Country

Sun Country is a relatively small airline based in Minneapolis, but it has an extensive network, connecting the East and West Coasts and covering a few destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s a rare breed because it doesn’t have a huge gap between economy and first-class fares. Round-trip first-class transcontinental fares can be as low as $800. And though Sun Country’s first-class cabin isn’t as fancy as JetBlue’s (no lie-flat seats here), comfort, food and service make up for it.

La Compagnie

Boutique, all-business-class airline La Compagnie only operates two routes—between New York and Paris and New York and London—but does so at low cost. Round-trip flights start around $1,500. (Not bad when you consider that a coach ticket on a major carrier flying the same route could go for north of $1,000 during peak season.) In flight, look for lie-flat seats, a chef-prepared meal and a personal tablet loaded with an array of entertainment options. Passengers also get access to airport lounges before boarding.

Premium-Class Seats Might Get Even Cheaper

If the trend continues, complimentary upgrades for frequent flyers may become a thing of the past, and upgrades might become even more affordable. In the meantime, if you are interested in a low-cost upgrade, be proactive in looking for a great deal, and don’t ignore emails from your airline.

Legal Disclaimer: The articles and information provided herein are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice. 

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