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Get a cheap upgrade to first class

If the prospect of sitting in coach class is as appealing to you as a visit to the dentist, listen up. By using a few key strategies, you may be able to score a first-class seat at less than full price.

  • Buy an upgrade. Sometimes you can purchase an upgrade to first class at the gate. Low-fare carriers typically charge $30 to $35 per seat for an upgrade, while the legacy lines often charge $50. You can usually inquire about purchasing a standby upgrade the day before or the day of your flight.
  • Buy full-fare economy tickets. You may be able to get to the front of the plane by purchasing a full-fare economy ticket, which can make you eligible for an automatic complimentary upgrade to first or business class when there is space available.
  • Go first class on a low-fare airline. Typically, the low-cost carriers that offer upper-class seating (ATA, AirTran, US Airways) will have a cheaper first class than the legacy lines’ prices for a similar product.
  • Consider going elite. Many airlines offer elite programs with special perks (pre-boarding), complimentary upgrades to first-class seats, and mileage bonuses for those who fly with them frequently (typically a minimum 25,000 miles per year).
  • Use miles. You can either use miles to purchase a first-class seat, or upgrade from coach to business or first class.

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