The Basics Travel Guide

Buying First Class Can Be Cheaper Than Coach

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Written by Charlie

Believe it or not, there are times that buying first class tickets is cheaper than economy! Here are some ways to find out how that can be.

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The economics of miles and points with paid tickets has changed a bit over the last couple of years as award charts have devalued and banks have become more strict with sign-up bonuses. Throw in the constantly cheap airfares we see for travel all over the world, even in business class, and things can get a bit crossed when it comes to how we use miles and points.

It used to be that I never bought first or business class tickets. They were just way too expensive and several times the cost of coach tickets. That is not always true anymore! Just in the last few months, I have bought several domestic and international business/first class tickets which ended up costing less than if I had bought coach tickets! It pays to consider what your new coach tickets have and, more importantly, don’t have included anymore!

Buying First Class Can Be Cheaper Than Buying Coach Tickets

With airlines splitting their fares up even more (some tickets will no longer even let you bring on a carryon bag for the overhead bin!), more than ever it pays to look at exactly what is offered with the tickets you are buying. In some cases, it will be cheaper to buy first class tickets than it is to buy coach tickets – when everything is taken into account.

The Bag Fees

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If you are checking bags, first class may be cheaper than coach! | Courtesy of Shutterstock

Domestic first class passengers on most carriers can check 2 bags up to 70lbs each for free! Those same passengers in coach would have to pay up to $60 for 2 bags at 50lbs each.

If you do not have airline status and you do not have the airline credit card, those bag fees can add up – fast! Again, this won’t be everyone, but if you are using a domestic ticket to connect to some long-haul ticket that you got on the cheap or if you are going on a long vacation/cruise/etc, there are many times that people will check 2 bags. On domestic flights, those 2 bags can cost $60 for a one way ticket! Some times, that means it could cost more for your bags to fly than it does for you to fly! 🙂

Example – Delta 

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A typical search for Buffalo to NYC – a $40 difference between economy and first can be the difference if checking bags!

So, let’s take a look at some recent tickets I bought with this in mind. I had to fly from Buffalo to JFK to connect with an international business class flight. The ticket on Delta was $85 for one way in coach. The first class fare was only $105. I no longer have a Delta credit card or status with them so it meant I would have to pay the $60 for my two bags (bringing stuff for family!). That meant that my “cheap” coach ticket would actually end up costing me $40 more than the first class ticket!

Winner: Buying First Class saves on bag fees

Priority Access

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Skip the long line if you are traveling in first/business class! | Courtesy of Shutterstock

First class passengers can use priority lanes for check-in, security, and boarding. 

This might not matter much on flights from smaller airports but if you are departing from larger airports, having priority access can be a huge help! It is true that having TSA Precheck can help eliminate the whole security line delay, but having priority access can also be helpful when it comes to checking in and boarding as well. Just look at the check-in line (going back to baggage) in Orlando sometime and you can be happy for priority access that bypasses that huge line!

It is nice to also be able to board at your leisure as well. When boarding in coach, it is always a race to make sure you are the front of your group to ensure you get overhead bin space. When traveling in first class, you can board whenever and always know you have space overhead.

Winner: Buying First Class gives priority access and saves time

Better Seat + Extra Comfort + Food

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Flying in this seat ended up being cheaper than flying in coach!

This does not really matter much on shorter flights, but on longer flights, it is nice to be able to get a decent meal of some kind for no extra charge as well as the roomier seats. If the cost for just this (without taking into consideration the above two items) is only $20-30 more, this already makes it more worth it!

If you want to select a better seat in coach, you will pay for that. For a little more (or even less!) you can sit in first class in a much better seat and get free food and drinks!

This can be even more true when you start talking international business class vs economy. I have flown in middle seats in economy many times for 8-10 hour flights and I can totally do it. But, when I have the chance to pay an extra $130 for a lie-flat business class seat, that is a great deal! Once you start including lounge access, extra bags, priority access, and the extra miles you can earn, $130 is actually saving you money.

Winer: Buying First (or business) Class gives a better seat, extra comfort, and free food

What If You Already Bought a Coach Ticket?

There is good news for you, even if you already bought a coach ticket! Many times, you will receive an offer at check-in (24 hours before your flight for US carriers) based on the amount of seats available in first/business class. I have received offers all over the board for these check-in offers and some of them are pretty good. Again, take into consideration the following items before you say “no” to any upgrade offers:

  • How many bags are you checking and what does it cost?
  • How early do you need to be at the airport for the lines?
  • Where is your current seat and how much does it cost to select a better seat (like an extra row or “premium” economy)

Once you add all of those things together, compare it to the cost for the instant upgrade to see if it makes sense to push the “purchase” button.

Takeaway

It will certainly not all always be cheaper for first class than economy class but there are becoming more and more instances where it is. This post does not even cover the last-minute tickets where last-minute coach fares can be 1.5 times more expensive than a cheap first class ticket! In this new era of flying, do not be so quick to ignore the first/business column of prices. With all of the fees that economy passengers now have to pay for what used to be free, it may be cheaper to buy first class than to fly in coach.

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

1 Comment

  • Great article. This would have helped me when I was traveling overseas and domestic within South Korea with my baggage. I failed to consider how many bags are allowed domestic compared to international flights. If i bought first or business, I would have not had to leave a bag behind. Lesson learned and will plan better next time.

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