4 Easy Ways to Upgrade to First Class

4 Easy Ways to Upgrade to First Class

First class is a fun way to fly. You get a much more comfortable seat, free drinks, and a better meal on flights that offer meal service. Many travelers dream of getting an upgrade so they can have the first class experience without the high price tag.

There are a few easy, reliable ways to score a first class seat. Here’s what you can do to increase your chances of flying this way for a reasonable price.

1. Pay with miles instead of cash

If you want to make sure you fly first class, you will have to book it from the beginning. Upgrades are not always available.

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Luckily, there is a way to book first class without spending $1,000 or more. Instead of looking for cash tickets, book with airline miles. Expensive airfares are often one of the best ways to use airline miles, because you get more value per mile. An economy ticket can cost $250 or 25,000 miles, while a first class ticket can cost $1,000 or 50,000 miles.

The tricky part is earning enough miles, but you can achieve that much faster with travel credit cards. There are airline cards that earn miles on all your purchases — these work well if you’re loyal to one airline. Another option is to get a travel card with transferable rewards that you can send to multiple airlines.

2. Book an economy ticket and see if you can buy an upgrade

Airlines usually charge you to upgrade from economy to first class if there are seats available. How this works depends on the airline and the flight.

Sometimes the airline will charge a fixed price for an upgrade, such as $100. Or there may be a bidding system, where you tell the airline how much you are willing to pay for an upgrade. If the airline accepts your bid, you get the upgrade.

It is usually much cheaper to buy an economy seat and upgrade it than to buy a first class seat from the start. The tradeoff is that there are no guarantees that an upgrade will be available.

3. Apply for an airline credit card and earn elite status

In addition to paid upgrades, airlines may also offer free upgrades if seats are available. Now, there is a lot of misinformation about getting a free upgrade. Dressing nicely probably won’t get you called to the front of the plane.

Airlines generally have upgrade lists. These lists are based on each passenger’s status with the airline. Passengers with a higher status are given priority on the upgrade list.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles program has Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion status. If you have Diamond Medallion status, you are at or near the top of the list for free upgrades. Platinum Medallion status would put you just below Diamond flyers, and so on.

Earning elite status and increasing your chances of a free upgrade is much easier with an airline credit card. American Airlines, Delta, and United all have credit cards that allow you to earn status points in their loyalty programs.

4. Fly during quieter periods to increase your chances of an upgrade

The availability of upgrades depends on how many seats are available in first class. This applies to both paid and free upgrades. If first class is sold out, you cannot upgrade.

If you are hoping to upgrade from economy to first class, it is helpful to fly during less busy travel periods. For example, you could take a vacation in the fall instead of the summer, or postpone your trip until a week later during a major holiday.

These aren’t always realistic options. If your family is getting together for the holidays or you have kids who only have the summer off from school, you may be limited in when you can travel. But if possible, traveling during the off-season can help you get an upgrade — and it’s generally cheaper, too.

First class may seem expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s much cheaper if you pay with miles, upgrade from economy, or get a free upgrade on your flight. And while you can do this during peak hours, it’s easier if you also fly when the planes aren’t so full.

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