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Why You Should Fly First Class at Least Once, and How to Afford It

How to Fly for Free

A few years back, I started searching for the best ways to travel for cheap. I wanted to get out and see the world … or at least the United States.

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What I ended up finding were a small group of people that were booking free flights over and over again with a strategy that was the complete opposite of what most people do.

You see, most people know that you can book a free flight by using frequent flyer miles. And if you have enough frequent flyer miles, then you can even fly first class for free. Of course, the only problem is that it’s really hard to accumulate a lot of miles by flying.

Luckily, there is a way to get hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles without flying at all.

This travel strategy is a special process called “credit card churning” and here’s how it works…

The credit card industry is extremely competitive. As a result, many credit card companies are willing to offer you huge frequent flyer mile bonuses if you sign up for their card.

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This strategy works so well for getting frequent flyer miles that a group of people called credit card “churners” have used it to earn more than 1 million frequent flyer miles in a year. They apply for card after card and churn through as many applications as possible. Then, they spend the minimum amount needed to get the bonus (for example, $1,000 in 3 months) and move on to the next card. Some people routinely have over 15 credit cards on rotation!

The good news is that credit card bonuses work just as well for normal people like you and me. By simply getting 1 or 2 new cards, you can get enough frequent flyer miles for multiple round–trip flights.

There is no need to go crazy and get 15+ new cards. Of course, if you did, then you could literally earn enough miles to fly around the world multiple times.

Regardless of how many cards you’re comfortable with getting, these frequent flyer mile bonuses are the best way to fly for free because you can use frequent flyer miles to book flights anywhere and at anytime. For example, I used frequent flyer miles to book a free flight to Costa Rica last December, which is during the “high season” down there.

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Other Forms of Factoring

  1. Recourse Factoring: The finance provider manages your sales ledger without any credit protection. This means that if your customers default, you are liable for all credit costs.
  2. Non-recourse Factoring: This is a factoring arrangement where the finance provider takes full responsibility of the sales ledger and bears any risks associated with bad debt. This saves your business the hassle of worrying about customer defaults.
  3. CHOC’s: Factoring is assumed to be a disclosed arrangement with outsourced credit control. However, CHOC’s (Client Handles Own Collections) facility keeps the business in charge of their sales ledger. This could be a cost-effective solution for SMEs with in-house accounting systems.

Cathay Pacific First Class

Want to sleep like a baby as you cross the Pacific Ocean? Cathay Pacific will do the job.  

Hong Kong (HKG)-based Cathay Pacific doesn’t 

Hong Kong (HKG)-based Cathay Pacific doesn’t have the flashiest first class seats. But what it lacks in polish and glamor, it makes up for it in comfort. Once converted into a bed, you won’t find a cozier or wider bed on an airplane.

Their first class seats are enormous, at a whopping 36 inches wide. Come meal time, you can even ask a flight attendant to set up one of your suites so you can dine face to face. And while these suites aren’t equipped with doors, there are just six of them. So yeah, privacy shouldn’t be a problem.

If you’re leaving HKG or catching a layover there, you’re in for a treat. Cathay Pacific has some of the world’s best airport lounges. Yes, that’s plural: There are several to choose from.

You can head to The Pier, an elegant and refined respite from the craziness of the terminal. Belly up to the noodle bar for an amazing meal, get a free foot massage, then catch some Z’s in your own private cabana. If you need some zen time, you can even pop in for a quick yoga or meditation session at the Pier.  

How’s a champagne bar sound? Yes, I said cha 

How’s a champagne bar sound? Yes, I said champagne bar. It’s all yours at The Wing, another of Cathay’s flagship lounges. Once you’ve had a glass or six, you can reserve your own shower cabana, a massive space with your own shower, bathtub and space to nap.  

Private cabana at The Wing, photo courtesy of LWya
Private cabana at The Wing, photo courtesy of LWyang via Flickr

And that’s not even all. Cathay also has two other lounges available at HKG: The Bridge and The Deck, two more great spaces to grab a bite and a chair during your layover.

How to Book Cathay Pacific First Class: At more than $10,000 each way, cash is out of the question. Unless, of course, if you snagged the deal of a lifetime and booked Cathay’s mistake fare to fly in first class for just over $1,000.  

It’s time to use some points and miles. You  

It’s time to use some points and miles. You have options.

At just 70,000 miles to fly from the U.S. to HKG, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a solid choice. You can’t book these flights on AlaskaAir.com, so head to British Airways or use AwardNexus.com to scope out award availability before calling Alaska to finalize the booking.

Another option is using American AAdvantage miles. In this case, you’d need 110,000 AAdvantage miles to book a Cathay Pacific first class seat. 

How can people master the points system? Are there any ‘hacks’?

We’ve created The Beginner’s Guide to points on TPG UK’s website which goes through a step-by-step process to ensure you’re maximising your travel. Some extra ways you can earn points are:

Credit cards. If you’re able to pay off your bills in full on time every month, having a rewards credit card means you will earn points on every single pound you spend.

Earn when flying. Always remember to sign up to free airline and hotel loyalty programmes and use your number every time fly or stay to rack up points that would otherwise be left on the table. Sometimes it makes sense to credit your points to different programmes depending on what your goals are and what type of booking you have so it’s worth learning where best to credit.

Shopping portals. Airline shopping portals offer the opportunity to rack up huge amounts of miles and points on all of your online shopping. All you have to do is click through to the retailer from the airline portal and shop as usual. Earning rates can be incredible. The BA estore is currently running a triple points promotion with offers such as 9 Avios per pound spent at Apple, ASOS and the White Company and 18 Avios per pound spent at Selfridges and Net-a-Porter.

British Airways British Airways

14. Bask in the privacy of a suite

This is where excellent products are often separated from the rest. Most new First Class products have sliding doors, like on Korean Air:

and Emirates.

and Emirates.

However, some airlines are stuck in the past with

However, some airlines are stuck in the past with open suites, like Qantas:

and Qatar Airways.

and Qatar Airways.

Cheap First Class Flight FAQs

Is it Worth Flying First Class?

It depends on the airline; a first-class ticket on a longer, international flight may feel worth it to enjoy a more comfortable experience.

How Do You Ask for an Upgrade to First Class?

You can upgrade to first class anytime before the plane takes off. To fly for cheap, or even for free, ask for an upgrade close to departure when you are checking in or at the gate.

How Much Does It Cost to Upgrade to First Class?

It depends on the airline. Some airlines charge a few hundred dollars to upgrade an economy ticket to first class.

How Much Does It Cost to Fly Business Class?

While an economy ticket from San Francisco to New York could cost approximately $250, a business-class ticket could cost more than double that amount—and go as high as $1,000. Prices will depend on each airline and route. It’s easy to compare prices on sites like Google Flights, Expedia (EXPE), and Kayak by making sure to unselect “economy” and choose first or business class.

5. You dont have to wait for everyone to deplane before you can get off

Back of the plane on Air India.
Back of the plane on Air India.

If you’re sitting near the front in economy, you lucked out. Those in the back of the plane have to wait for everyone to deplane to get to the luggage carousel or make their connecting flight. Sure, it’s only an extra 5 to 10 minutes, but there’s always that person who takes forever to get their stuff every five rows.

On Arrival

Depending on your destination and airline, there might be an arrivals lounge. They are great when you’re arriving in the morning after an overnight flight and would like to get freshened up and grab breakfast if you decided to sleep through it on the flight.

Access to arrivals lounges can be complicated and depend on your length of flight or whether you were flying in first or business class. If you think you’d like to use an arrivals lounge, make sure you check if one is available before you travel.

12. Discuss the menu with the inflight chef

In First Class, you get to eat what you want when you want—it’s called ‘dine on demand’. You’ll get to curate your meals with the help of the cabin crew or, in the case of Etihad and Garuda Indonesia, an inflight chef.

Understanding How to Get Cheap First Class Flights

Don’t Book Business Class Directly

You might be tempted to invest in a business-class ticket and then plan to upgrade to first. Don't. A business-class ticket can cost as much as five times more than a coach ticket. Although flying business class is a better experience, it’s not five times better. Plus, you'll probably pay a fortune to get into first class.

Easy Up Fares

Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano, Inc., and one of the first Business Traveler magazine's Business Travelers of the Year, recommends making use of easy-up fares. The way to do this is by purchasing "an upgradeable coach or premium economy fare, and then applying your points to get into first class,” he says. In other words, don't buy expensive; buy cheap, and then upgrade.

Remain Loyal

Airline loyalty programs aren’t what they used to be: Even for frequent travelers, the perks have been peeling away. All the same, they’re worth joining. Those miles you earn will add up, and eventually, you can use them for a free upgrade. But watch for the expiration dates on points and make sure to read all e-mails and other communiqués that come from the airline about the program.

Use Elite or Airline Credit Cards

Some of the mid-tier cards offer travel rewards, but the elite travel cards are where to find the real perks. Cards such as American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Preferred,and some of the co-branded cards like the Delta SkyMiles American Express card or the United MileagePlus Card offer big bonuses if you sign up and spend a certain amount within a short period.

For example, in May 2021, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card—the most basic of the three Delta-Amex co-branded cards—was offering new cardholders 40,000 bonus miles if they spent $1,000 within their first three months, plus $50 in credit to use at a US restaurant. The higher-tier Delta SkyMiles Platinum card offered 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after $2,000 in purchases, plus a $100 credit for dining out.

“Once you pick an airline, the best advice is to get that airline's co-branded card," says Rosemarie Clancy, former vice-president of content and marketing at RewardExpert.com. "Many offer 50,000-mile sign-up bonuses, which is more than half the miles needed to get to Europe in first class, for instance.

"Once you meet your minimum spend, which is usually around $4,000, think about getting a second card for your business, spouse, or even yourself, especially one with transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards," Clancy adds. "The Chase Sapphire cards offer bonus points [after spending a certain amount in the first three months] which are often enough, when combined with a mile bonus on an airline card, for one first-class round-trip ticket to London or Paris."

These more general travel cards can be more expensive than the co-branded ones (which aren't exactly cheap, either): The American Express Platinum has an annual fee of $550, whereas the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex charges $250. But if you travel a little more frequently than the average vacationer and you want maximum flexibility, the annual fee pays for itself quickly in perks and rewards.

Buy the Points

There are plenty of websites that allow you to buy and sell points, but steer clear of them. Major airlines frown on the practice, and it may result in you losing your miles or not being able to use the miles you purchased.

Instead, purchase points directly from the airline. They usually cost 2.5 cents per mile, but keep an eye out for promotional pricing deals. Whether it results in paying less for your first-class seat depends on many variables, so crunch the numbers before you purchase. 

Fly When Business Travelers Don't

Business travelers fly all week. The last thing they want to do is fly on the weekends. That’s why you won’t see as many people flying in business suits on Saturdays and Sunday mornings. That might leave more premium seats up for grabs, and at lower rates.

First-class seats tend to get cheaper on weekends, when most business travelers aren't flying.

Watch for the Open Seat

If your coach seat is towards the front of the plane, listen for the cabin door to shut. If there’s an open first-class seat, ask the flight attendant if you can move. Although free upgrades at the gate are becoming scarce, things might be more easygoing on-board. Of course, it always helps if you take the time to strike up a conversation with the attendant when you first board the plane.

Upgrade at Check-In

If you really want an upgraded seat and don’t have the miles to get it for free, purchasean upgrade when you check-in, even if you're doing it online. If there are seats available, airlines will often offer them at a discounted rate—since there are only 24 hours before takeoff at this point.

If you don’t mind the gamble, ask the gate attendant what they’re charging for the upgrade. It might be even cheaper than the reduced online rate.

9. Bonus miles!

When you fly first class, most U.S airlines give you bonus miles, whether you are a high-tier frequent flyer or not. This helps you get to status a lot faster… and you rack up so many miles, you can use them later for upgrades, free flights and shopping.

Here’s an example. I put in dates for a trip to Atlanta from NYC on March 27 to 30. If I buy a main cabin ticket, I receive 1,365 miles; 1,490 Medallion Miles; and $273 Medallion Dollars (Medallion is what qualifies you for status).

However, if I book business class, I receive 2,890 miles; 2,236 Medallion Miles; and $578 Medallion Dollars.

The further you travel, the more extra miles you’ll accrue. For instance, check out NYC-JFK to Seattle.

In Main Cabin, you receive 3,065 miles; 4,842 Medallion Miles; and $613 Medallion dollars. 

In First (Delta One), you receive 15,295 miles; 7,264 Medallion Miles; and $3,059 Medallion Dollars.

Receiving more miles for buying first-class tickets is a standard across most U.S. airlines but check your favorite airline to see how many more miles you might receive.

Bottom Line

You don’t need to resign yourself to squeezing into cramped airplane seats to get to your destination. Flying can be fun, and even luxurious. And using points and miles, these experiences typically reserved for the 1%’ers can be yours when it’s time to travel again.

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