Use These 9 Tricks to Fly in Business Class for Less

From repositioning flights to finding mistake fares, these are some of the ways you can upgrade to the front of the plane without breaking the bank.

Overhead view of Lufthansa's "Allegris" business class seats

Why not put in a bid for Lufthansa’s newly upgraded “Allegris” business-class seats?

Courtesy of Lufthansa

Business class travel, with its lie-flat seats and elevated food service, is the epitome of luxury and comfort when it comes to commercial air travel. While the price tag can often be eye-watering, savvy travelers have discovered numerous strategies for securing more affordable upgrades to business.

Here are some ways that you can fly business class for less.

Bidding on an upgrade

More than 50 airlines worldwide (including Air Canada, Fiji Airways, LATAM, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic, to name a few) offer bidding programs, where guests who already have an economy ticket can try to score heavily discounted business-class seats by bidding for them.

Airlines with bidding programs typically work with a third-party travel technology company called PlusGrade. Travelers can visit the airline’s bidding page, enter their confirmation number, and place their bid.

Airlines will set a certain sum, usually around $300, as the bidding floor, so you’ll have to offer at least that amount to be in the running. When you bid, you’ll be asked to provide your credit card information. If you win (you’ll find out by the day of departure at the latest), the money will automatically be withdrawn using the credit card you provided and your ticket will be updated. It’s worth noting that bids need to be made separately of for each leg, it’s not for the round-trip ticket.

Use credit card points and miles

The only thing better than cheap flights are free flights.

“Using points and miles is by far the most accessible way for non-millionaires to fly in the front of the plane,” Katy Nastro, a travel expert at Going, tells AFAR. “It may seem that you need an awful lot of points to be able to redeem for business class flights, when in fact that often isn’t the case. For example, Going’s flight experts found a business class deal to Spain for only 54,000 points round-trip plus tax (compared to the normal price of more than 150,000 points for the business class seat). That same flight paid in cash: well over $3,000.”

Kyle Potter, executive editor at Thrifty Traveler, a travel and flight deals website, echoed that sentiment, saying, “Business class seats might regularly cost five or six times as much as economy, but this is where airline miles can really shine: It won’t always cost you a boatload more miles. In fact, some of the best mileage redemptions out there are for business class seats at what you might pay for economy seats through other airlines. And transferable credit card points from banks like Chase, Amex, and Capital One can make it relatively easy for even infrequent travelers to get the miles they need to pull these off.”

Some recent great deals Potter noted include:

  • Flying Iberia business class from Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., or Chicago to Madrid for as low as 34,000 miles each way
  • Booking a one-way flight from New York’s JFK to Lisbon in TAP Air Portugal business class for 35,000 miles (but only when redeeming and booking through Avianca LifeMiles)
  • Flying round-trip to Japan with Japanese carrier ANA for as low as 75,000 miles round-trip for business class

Get upgraded through airline status

Angel Trinh, founder of Pennywise Traveler, a blog that teaches people how to best use their points and miles, says that she recently got an upgrade to business class from Miami to the Bahamas on a basic economy ticket, thanks to her American Airlines Platinum Pro status.

“The higher your airline status, the more likely that you will get the upgrade if there are any seats left—[for example], if someone misses their flight or when the airline decides to release the business class seat if no one paid cash for it,” Trinh tells AFAR.

To get status with an airline, you’ll first want to enroll through the airline’s loyalty program. Once you do that, you’ll need to earn miles or points. These are the currency of loyalty programs, and you accumulate them every time you fly with the airline (or its partner airlines). Typically, you earn miles based on the distance you travel and your fare class (higher fare classes usually earn more miles). Some programs also allow users to earn points and miles by using a co-branded credit card, booking stays at partner hotels or renting a car with an affiliated partner, and using shopping portals where you can earn points by making purchases through their links.

After you’ve earned a certain number of miles (it varies by airline) and/or fly a set number of segments within a calendar year, you’ll unlock status with the airline. Airlines often have different tiers of status, each requiring a higher threshold of miles and segments to reach. Those with the top status on a given flight are the most likely to score a free upgrade to business class.

Find a mistake fare

Mistake fares (when an airline accidentally publishes the wrong dollar amount for a ticket) are the holy grail of flight deals and one of the best ways to score business-class tickets at a bargain.

“Mistake fares are incredibly rare—and when they do happen, there’s no guarantee the airline will honor them,” Potter says. “You have to act incredibly fast, as they can get pulled at any moment.”

In 2018, Potter and a friend flew from LA to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, in business class for around $600 each on a mistake fare . This year, he found a mistake fare flying United Polaris business class from the U.S. to London from $899.

Try business class-lite

While you won’t mistake these seats for the luxurious, lie-flat cubicles in some airlines’ business classes, Potter suggests looking at budget-friendly airlines such as Icelandair Saga Class and Norse Atlantic Premium.

“Icelandair Saga Class definitely isn’t business class, but the seats are much wider with far more legroom (think domestic first class seats), and they even have a lounge in Reykjavik for passengers to use,” Potter said, adding that “Norse Atlantic Premium seats are a massive bargain for travelers who just want some more recline and space to stretch out without any of the extras.”

Similarly, German low-cost carrier Condor offers transatlantic business-class fares start at around $2,000 round-trip (and those do lie-flat).

Take a repositioning flight

If you don’t live near a large airport, you can still get cheap business-class flights using the concept of repositioning flights, which is when an aircraft needs to move to a new location for logistical, as opposed to revenue, purposes..

For example, say you want to fly from Pittsburgh to London at the end of October, but the flights are $3,600. However, if you catch a flight to Washington, D.C., and then onto London you could save over a thousand dollars, even with an extra flight added to the cost because the flight from DC to London will likely be considerably lower than the flight from Pittsburgh to London. .

“Don’t just limit your search to the closest airport,” Nastro says. “Bigger airports offer more competition, which puts downward pressure on flight prices and offers a wider range of options. By taking a short cheap flight, or alternative means of transport, to get to that larger hub, you’ll have more choices when it comes to business-class tickets and more chances at finding a better deal.”

Volunteer to take a later flight

Airlines sometimes sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane. When this happens and all the ticketed passengers arrive at the gate as planned (or the airline needs to fly crew to another airport on a plane that’s sold out), the airline needs to find volunteers to depart on a later flight. If they can’t find anyone to volunteer, gate agents are required to bump passengers at random. It’s something they would rather not do, so they’re authorized to provide incentives to travelers who volunteer, including travel vouchers, in-terminal restaurant vouchers, cash, miles, hotel stays, and other perks.

If your travel plans are flexible, you might be able to use the volunteer program to your advantage. If gate agents are having trouble finding volunteers, you might be able to request a premium seat on the next flight. Granted, for that to work, there needs to be a premium seat available, so before you speak to the agent, check the airline’s website for later flights to see if there are any business-class seats available. When you ask, be polite and understand that the agent is juggling a lot at that moment and might not entertain brokering that kind of deal.

Sign up for a flight deal tracking service

Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) is a newsletter that delivers cheap domestic and international flight deals to your inbox as they’re found. Going has three membership tiers, but the best one for those looking to fly at the pointy end of the plane is the Elite tier. With that membership, you’ll receive alerts to first- and business-class deals from an unlimited number of airports in the United States.

“Some of the best deals we’ve found in the past few months in business are Boston to the Netherlands for $1,999 and Los Angeles to Tokyo for $1,809 round trip,” Nastro said. “This is a good option for folks who don’t want to spend hours upon hours searching but who also want to be sure they don’t miss out on the deal of a lifetime from their home airport.”

Trinh also suggests signing up for a subscription to Ashley Gets Around, a newsletter that alerts subscribers to business class deals and mistake fares around the world.

Fly on an all-bussiness-class airline

In recent years there have been a growing crop of all-business-class airlines that sell seats at a cheaper rate than larger carriers. One is La Compagnie, French boutique airline that offers trans-Atlantic seats at roughly half the price of other carriers.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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