Cheaper First Class Tickets – When to Buy, When to Fly

This is not about cheap first class tickets because there is no such thing, with one exception: a mega-mistake on the part of an airline. This is extremely rare though it has happened – just last year, actually – when United released $75 first class London-Newark flights. The problem is sometimes airlines honor ‘mistake fares’ and sometimes they do not (United did not honor the $75 fares).

First class destinations and amazing attractions – Eventurist

5 Ways to Get Cheaper First Class Tickets

However, there are other ways to save on first class, and saving even a little is worth it. These recommendations are the result of pricing domestic first class airfares on American, Delta and United for week-long itineraries (though length of trip is not necessarily relevant to pricing).

  1. Travel midweek or Saturday

Some days are cheaper than others, depending on the airline.

Cheaper Days for First Class

  • American: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
  • Delta: Wednesday, Saturday
  • United: Fare difference non-specific as to travel days

More Expensive Days for First Class

  • American: Friday, Sunday (up to 10% more)
  • Delta: Friday, Sunday, Monday (up to 20% more)
  • United: Fare difference non-specific as to travel days
  1. Buy tickets at least a week in advance

Whenever possible, book 7 days in advance. If you book within that week-long window, you may pay up to 40% more for first class tickets (which is why airlines adore those last-minute business travelers).

  1. Don’t shop using the 'first class-only' option

Many are tempted to do an advanced search option where you see only business and first class ticket prices. Don’t do this. Shop as you normally would, which will show a range of fares from economy to first class and you sometimes find cheaper first class fares in such searches.

  1. Let miles work for you

Upgrade to first (or business) with miles. This is where elite status makes a big difference (though thanks to changing miles program rules, it’s harder and harder to earn elite status). Don’t forget to check the airport kiosks for upgrade opportunities; you might get a pleasant surprise.

  1. Get a travel agent to help

Don’t be afraid to ask a pro for help or take advantage of the corporate travel department; sometimes they can do things civilians cannot because of access to pre-negotiated airfare (which can save 10 to 20% on the open market). Plus, professionals also may have access to 'discounted' first class fares (what used to be called Y-UPs, a reference to the fare code). These have largely disappeared over the years (and you can blame airline mergers for this) but are still worth looking for. Another advantage to Y-Ups: the coding is similar to economy class, which can help a traveler fake out corporate travel policies that require coach travel only.

Bottom line: Always compare fares whether flying coach, business or first class. Even if you don’t mind paying first class prices, you should mind paying more than you have to.

Rick Seaney
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