How to Find Cheap First Class Flights
A few months ago, I moved from Fajardo, Puerto Rico to St. Louis, Missouri. This post was originally called “why I paid for my dogs to fly first class” and was going to be about both finding cheap first class flights and flying with dogs. Alas, the post got way too long, so stay tuned for the flying with dogs post next week.
Moving internationally is always stressful and expensive, so it may seem strange that I, a budget traveler who won’t even pay for checked baggage, decided to pay for my dogs to fly in the first class cabin. To be fair, Pedro and I also got to fly first class alongside the dogs, but I assure you, it was all for the dogs.
Finding cheap first class flights
Flying first class is awesome. If I were rich, I would never fly economy again and spend all my time in the air consuming unlimited wine and hot nuts. Unfortunately, I am not rich, so I can only upgrade my travel experience when I am able to find cheap first class flights. There are a few methods that have worked for me in the past, but I’ll start with the one that worked for me this time.
Buy at the last minute
Airlines want to sell those first class seats, so when it gets close to the departure date, you’ll often see flight prices drop. This is, of course, a risky move, because there is no guarantee that the prices will go low enough to fit into your budget. I had set my move date at the end of February, meaning after February 28th I would have no home, so I couldn’t take the chance of not having some way off the island of Puerto Rico. When I started looking at first class flights, a one-way ticket from San Juan to St. Louis was pushing $1,000. Southwest Airlines (which is economy only) had flights for only $130 each way, so I booked two seats and reserved spots for both of my dogs on the flight. One of the many reasons I love Southwest Airlines is because their cancellation policy is incredible. You can cancel your flight up to 10 minutes before departure for full credit.
Two weeks before my departure date, I began to look for cheap first class flights every morning. At two weeks out, the near $1,000 price tag had already dropped to $650. A few days later it was down to $550. When my departure was just under a week and a half away, the prices began to level out around $400-$450. Obviously, $450 is far from cheap, but I had several benefits to consider.
Things that the first class ticket provided that my economy flight did not:
- Two checked bags up to 70lbs each (Economy weight limit is 50lbs per bag)
- Full meals on each flight leg (Nothing but peanuts in economy)
- Way more leg space, or, in this case, doggy space.
- Unlimited booze to help me get through the stressful process of moving internationally and flying with two live animals.
Today, we fly! ✈️ Padfoot was supposed to set a good example for Dobby on the plane (this is his 6th trip, 3rd in cabin) but he ended up whining and barking, which made Dobby do the same. 😩 These two love walking around the airport but will most likely lose their minds when they have to catch the next flight.
Yes, my dogs have their own instagram. For travel stuff, follow the Indecisive Traveler account.
So, while the initial price tag was pretty high, the benefits saved me some money on shipping heavier items and food on the day of travel. However, the main benefits came from the cabin itself. I wanted to make sure my dogs had as much space as possible. I also wanted the flight attendants to give me the leeway provided to rich people. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. In general, I have found flight attendants in both economy and first class to be very pleasant, hardworking people. However, the few times I have flown first class, I noticed that first class passengers get away with so much more than economy passengers. Do I like that rich people get better treatment? Of course not. That does not, however, mean I won’t use that first class leverage to my advantage.
Use frequent flyer miles or points
Another way to get first class flights for cheap is to use frequent flyer miles, which is how I flew Padfoot to Puerto Rico. You will have to shell out extra points to upgrade to first class, but you can still get a better seat without spending your hard-earned money. Many people prefer to get as many trips as possible out of their travel points, which means buying cheaper seats. I totally respect that, and seeing as most of my frequent flyer points are on Southwest Airlines, I generally end up flying economy with my points. However, I happen to think that points used for first class flights are very well spent. There are obviously all the benefits that I listed above, but I also find that it’s much easier to part with a large amount of points than with a large amount of actual money.
When it comes to buying flights with points, first class may be your only option
Unfortunately, most airlines have a limited number of seats on each flight that are available for purchase with points. That means that if you don’t book way ahead of time, the pricier first class seats might be the only award seats left. This has happened to me before, and my choices were to use my points and fly on the day I wanted, or pay for a seat on a flight a day later. The first class flight was also at a way more convenient time. In these situations, it’s best to adopt a “treat yourself” mentality and fully embrace the luxury.
Whether I spend money or points, I milk my first class flights for all they are worth. Although I rarely need all the checked baggage allowance, I really soak up the in-cabin luxury. I always book my flights at a time when drinking will be pleasant (I’m not into 6am drinks) and preferably when a meal will be served. I gorge myself on snacks, awkwardly use the hot towel they pass out even though I’m not 100% sure why, watch whatever movies are available, and stretch my body so that I can take full advantage of all my space. If I’m not hungry, I take the snacks for later. Yeah, I will be that girl pouring hot nuts into a Ziplock bag for later. Do you know how expensive mixed nuts are at airports?! No way I’m wasting a single snack morsel. I also tend to take the “unlimited drinks” thing as a personal challenge. “How many glasses of wine can I fit into a 3 hour flight? Time to get down to business.”
Finding cheap first class flights requires patience, flexibility, and a little perspective
You have to be patient enough to wait out the possible price drops and have flexible travel dates if you want the best shot at getting cheap first class flights. It’s best to look at prices with a bit of perspective. Keep all the benefits and amenities that come along with that price in mind. As I said before, $450 is not exactly cheap for the flight I needed and I never would have paid that much for an economy seat. However, I saved $100-$150 in food and baggage costs. My dogs and I also had a more comfortable and less stressful move. Oh yeah, and booze. Booze and snacks, guys. Booze and snacks.