Five ways to save on first-class tickets

Pinching pennies is great, but there are some occasions when only first class will do: lie-flat seats, gourmet meals, maybe even a shower (hello,Etihad). It’s special. It’s also expensive.

Etihad’s a great example; a recent New York toDubai round-trip on its super-duper first class (The Residence, with shower) was an eye-popping $64,000. On the more reasonable side was American Airlines’ New York to Los Angeles in first class for $2,300. Don’t spend more than you have to even for luxury. Here’s how.

1. Book flights for Wednesday travel

You can get a 10%-20% discount on first class for these days and airlines:

  • American: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
  • Delta: Wednesday, Saturday

Note: United’s first-class fare difference was non-specific as to travel days.

2. Book at least seven days in advance

If you book within seven days of flying, expect to pay an extra 40% for the fare. This is where last-minute business fliers get dinged, and oh how the airlines love them. Book at least a week ahead.

3. Search in economy fares

If you go to an airline website and click “advanced search options” for first-class fares only, you could pay more than you have to. Instead, shop as usual to see all the ticket options from coach to first class, because a broader search may yield cheaper first-class prices. As always, compare fares from all your different search efforts to be sure.

4. Upgrade when possible

This may be the most common method, to jump into first class via miles or points, but as airlines change program rules it gets harder to do. Elite status is key, but miles are more difficult to amass as carriers favor big-spending business travelers. Still it’s worth a try, and don’t forget to check the airport kiosk for last-minute upgrade opportunities, you might get a nice surprise.

5. Let an expert do the work

Professionals in corporate travel departments or travel agencies can sometimes pull off minor miracles thanks to pre-negotiated rates with airlines that can save from 10% to 20% on the open market. They may also have access to so-called discounted first-class fares which used to be called Y-UPs thanks to the way they were coded; unfortunately, airline mergers over the past ten years have decimated these offerings to the point that even a pro may have trouble finding them, but it’s still worth a look.

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.

FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney is an airline industry insider and top media air travel resource. Follow Rick (@rickseaney) and never overpay for airfare again

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