9 Ways Flying First Class Can Actually Save You Money, Travel Experts Say
Factor these into your budget when planning plane travel.
After rebounding from the pandemic's travel lull, people are finally hitting the skies again. Unfortunately, as travel rates have increased, so has the cost of flying. According to a 2023 report from the travel company Kayak, travel costs are currently up 35 percent compared to last year. However, that doesn't mean you can't save money while traveling—even if you plan to book a first-class ticket. We checked in with travel and finance experts who shared their top tips for keeping your money in your wallet the next time you spring for a luxury trip. Read on to learn the nine ways that flying first class can actually save you some money in the long run.
You'll save on baggage expenses.
One way that traveling first class can help save you money is on your luggage. Unlike most coach tickets, first-class tickets regularly include at least one or two checked bags for no extra cost.
"While a first-class ticket might be more expensive, the included amenities can sometimes help you save some money you otherwise would have been spending on things like luggage fees," says Carter Seuthe, CEO of My Credit Summit. "With some first-class tickets, you might find luggage fees waived, so if you're planning to fly with a lot of bags or bags that might be subject to excess fees, you can save some money there."
You'll save by accruing more travel points.
If you're using the right credit card, spending more on a first-class ticket can save you money on later trips, says Suzanne Bucknam, an experienced travel expert and CEO of the travel company Connecticut Explorer. "If you use a credit card that helps you accrue points when you fly first class, like the United Mastercard, you accrue more rewards points to be used toward future travel," she explains.
Bucknam adds that you can also earn travel points on non-travel purchases: "If you're not using a credit card that allows you to earn points on everything you purchase, you definitely should be. Those points on groceries and gas, in addition to what you earn on actual travel, can really add up over time. You're essentially earning free travel."
You'll save by boosting your airline loyalty benefits.
Similar to the points you can earn with the right credit card, you can also save money while flying first class by staying loyal to one airline. Though this is true of flying coach too, opting for first class will expedite the process.
"Many airlines have loyalty programs that provide perks and benefits to frequent flyers, such as free first-class upgrades," explains Justin Crabbe, CEO of the private jet charter service Jettly. "Travelers who fly with the same airline on a regular basis and accumulate points or miles can potentially save money on future flights by redeeming these rewards."
You'll save on the airport lounge.
If you were prepared to shell out money to use the airport lounge, a first-class ticket can often save you that expense.
"Access to the first-class lounge means free WiFi, food, and beverages, including cocktails. The dollars you save avoiding the exorbitant airline bar markup on drinks can be substantial," says Bucknam.
You may save by booking through a travel agent.
Sometimes how you book your plane ticket can determine how much you pay for it. "Travel agents frequently have access to discounted first-class fares that the general public does not have," says Crabbe. "Travelers can potentially save money on first-class tickets by using a travel agent or taking advantage of discounted fares."
Additionally, you may be able to save money by booking a first-class ticket over the phone by calling the airline directly, rather than booking online.
You'll save on hotels for long layovers.
If the only alternative to a first-class ticket is to have a lengthy layover that requires a hotel stay, you may also be able to save money by spending more upfront. A direct flight could be more cost-effective than combining a flight and hotel, so it's important to compare the total expenditures, rather than just the ticket cost, Kroeger suggests.
You'll save if you need to change your itinerary.
Changing your travel plans once you've booked your tickets can be extremely costly. Compared to flying coach, first-class tickets tend to be more flexible, says Gareth Boyd, co-founder of Frequent Flyer Credit Cards.
"If there's a high chance you'll need to change your flight, the fees associated with altering an economy ticket might end up costing more than if you had originally purchased a first-class ticket," he advises.
You'll save by getting a last-minute upgrade.
Another way you can save while flying first class is by going for a last-minute upgrade or flying standby.
"Airlines hate to have unsold seats and will gladly give steep discounts to standby flyers to take any open seat on the plane—including first-class seats," says Ann Martin, the director of operations for CreditDonkey. "This is, admittedly, a gamble, but it's one that can pay off, and even if you don't get a first-class ticket, you're still getting a good deal."
You'll save time—and time is money.
If you're flying for a work trip, shelling out extra to fly first class is likely to save you money by saving you time.
Kyle Kroeger, the founder and CEO of ViaTravelers, says that by arriving at your destination feeling refreshed and rested, you can avoid productivity loss from being exhausted. "Additionally, the ability to work comfortably and efficiently during the flight can also save time and money in the long run," he says.
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