Until recently, if you wanted to travel in first or business class you needed to have a stash of frequent flier miles, pay three to five times the coach fare, or deal with opaque consolidators who buy cheap fares in bulk.
But these days, the number of discounted first- and business-class fares is on the rise, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. But how do you find them? It takes some planning ahead—and some creative searching—but it’s possible to uncover round-trip premium-cabin fares for less than $1,000 for domestic flights and less than $2,000 for international trips.
Here are seven strategies that can help you find these well-priced premium seats.
Try one-way searches:- There are often only a few cheap first-class fares per flight. Instead of flying round trip on a single airline, you may find better prices by flying one way with one airline and returning with another. (On domestic flights, it’s now rare that one-way trips cost more than half of a round trip.) On some domestic routes, first-class fares can be as little as $100 more than coach seats.
Get the right card:- British Airways offers a $400 discount on many business- and first-class fares purchased via its website if you are an AARP member. If you have a World Elite MasterCard you can get up to 15% off all but the very cheapest fares on Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, and Brussels Airlines; up to 30% off fares to South America on LAN and TAM; and up to 20% off Cathay Pacific flights to Asia.
Get alerts:- The best deals to international destinations are often short lived, so alerts can get you in on the action. FirstClassFlyer.com has a monthly newsletter and curated fare alerts for paying subscribers. The Twitter feed of TheFlightDeal has nothing but low fare alerts, though most are for coach fares. And, if you want to do it yourself, the “Premium Fare Deals” forum on FlyerTalk is often the first source of some great offers.
Don’t scoff at a smaller airline:- While you may balk at first, smaller carriers have upped their game in recent years. LOT Polish and Hainan Airlines, to take two examples, often offer very low prices from Europe and Asia to the U.S., and all of their international service is on brand-new aircraft with lie-flat seating. You’ll need to shop carefully: Some airlines like Norwegian, Condor, and Air Transat offer a business-class fare, but the actual onboard amenities are not comparable to what you’ll find on more established international carriers.
Keep checking after you book:- Some airlines, including United, will offer discounted first-class upgrades after you book your ticket. To find them, you need to login to your reservation online before you check in for your flight. (These offers might also pop up as you check in.) Delta will let you switch to a first-class fare on the same itinerary with no change fee, so if you see a good first-class fare open up after you book, call and lock it in.
Fly the short legs in coach:- For international trips, book a cheap coach ticket to a gateway before spending more for international business class. For example, fares to Europe from the Midwest or East Coast can be as much as $1,000 cheaper than similar itineraries from the West Coast. New York tends to have the most frequent discounted business- and first-class fares to Europe, so if you can get there economically, you can then fly the rest of the way up front.
Combine miles and the strong dollar:- All of the major U.S. frequent flier programs now let you book one-way tickets with your miles for half the price of a round trip. If you have a stash of miles, consider using them one way and buying a return ticket that originates outside the U.S. Thanks to the strong dollar, there are many fares below $2,000 round trip to the U.S. this summer, like Copenhagen to New York for less than $1,400 and Dublin to Chicago for less than $1,600.
Written by Brian Karimzad