Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tips for Flying First Class on Your Next Vacation

Travel in style to your vacation rental.

When it comes to air travel, nothing equals the feeling of being asked (immediately upon taking your seat) which complimentary beverage you'd like by a very friendly flight attendant. It's an experience reserved for first class. So is a hot towel for your tense neck. And real silverware for your meal. Let's not forget to mention free snacks other than peanuts or pretzels. Whether you're a regular first-class flyer looking to save money or someone who's never flown first class, put the tips below into action ASAP (but be prepared to never look at coach the same way again).

Buy your ticket cheap, check in early. This tip works in you plan ahead and get the best bargain on your ticket possible. Let's say your total ticket price was $250, round trip. When you check in, which should be 24 hours before your flight, look for upgrade deals from the airline. Even if you pay an extra $200 for a first class upgrade, you're still getting a great deal. Think about--everyone buying a couple weeks prior to the flight will likely be paying about the same--but without a sweet first class upgrade. Saving money's great--but spending the money you saved on something you'll truly enjoy is even better.

Update: According to Kayak, the best time to book an domestic flight is 21 days out, when the average fare is $342. The average fare 6 months out is $370. For international flights, the best time to book is 34 days out ($997 vs. $1,016).

Use the money you save for a beach front vacation rental.
Comparison shop. When booking your flight, do a little extra digging and find out what each airline charges for a first class upgrade. You might just be willing to pay a little extra for airline C because it offers a lower first class fare without driving your overall cost too high.

Find an airline you like and stick with it. This one's tried and true, and works very well for frequent flyers. Even if you're expensing the flight to your company or a client, insist as much as possible (and only you will know how far you can take it) on flying the airline that you've built frequent flyer miles with. In most cases, you'll be able to, since price differences between airlines for seats in coach aren't dramatically different. Be sure to look at credit card offers from your favorite airline as well. Many will give you bonus miles for using your credit card when booking. Even if these cards carry an annual fee, it's probably worth it given the number of miles you'll accumulate, which you can use to upgrade to first class.

Ask at the gate or ask the flight attendant. The airline may be eager to sell first class seats, so you may be able to get a bargain at the gate. IF you see empty seats in first class as you're walking to your seat in coach, ask the attendant for an upgrade. On board the plane, there's an outside chance you'll get a free upgrade, depending on how friendly you are. In situations where you plan on using your personal charm to get a free or reduced-price upgrade, it's important to look the part. A suit is great, but at the very least dress business casual. Flip flops, cut offs and beachwear might not land you among people dressed more appropriately.

Knowledge is power. Get on several airlines' email lists. While this may get a bit annoying, you'll be the first to know about offers from your favorite airline, but you'll also be able to compare offers from competing airlines. If you see something particularly attractive, you can ask your airline to match their offer. It's not guaranteed to work, but if you've been a loyal flyer, you stand a better chance.