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Want First Class? You Have to Book First Class. But Don’t Always (or Ever) Pay Full Price!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


All of us love free first class upgrades. But they’re becoming more scarce. Basic Economy passengers sometimes bypass Medallions and get to sit up front. Other times, they’re sold for two bucks.

Some people couldn’t care less if they’re in coach. Others crave first class. But the only way to guarantee a first class seat is to book one. (Sorry. I wanted you to hear that from a friend.)

When I flew to Chicago last fall, I had several long flights, including a red-eye. I wanted first class — so I bought it (with points through Amex and applied some cash, too).

But “booking first class” or “buying first class” doesn’t necessarily mean “paying full price.”

So here are a few ways to reserve the nice seats without spending much — or any — money.

Points

Credit card and loyalty program points provide several avenues for booking first class seats.

Award Tickets

Book first or business class for free (at a nice discount) by applying loyalty program points. There’s not always inventory for award tickets, though, or the prices might be prohibitively expensive.

Pay With Miles on Delta

Delta Amex cardholders enjoy a Pay With Miles (PWM) perk allowing them to apply SkyMiles toward any eligible airfare at a 1 mile = 1 cent ratio. Plus, PWM tickets earn MQM! So if you have a nice cache of SkyMiles, this could be a nice way to redeem them for first class seats — and earn the MQM bonuses for premium fares.

Details are shown on Delta Air Lines first A220 in Atlanta, Georgia at Hartsfield Jackson International airport on Sunday October 28,2018. (Chris Rank/Rank Studios 2018)

Plus, any remaining cash balance should trigger the American Express Platinum (or Gold) airline incidental credit.

Remember that four Delta credit cards currently offer 100,000 SkyMiles welcome bonuses for new applicants who are approved and meet minimum spend requirements.

Credit Card Points

You can save money by purchasing airline tickets through a credit card’s travel site (i.e. Amex Travel) and paying with points. Plus, those tickets code as cash fares — meaning you’ll actually earn airline loyalty program points.

And let’s face it: airlines almost always have cash fare inventory.

We highly recommend the American Express Business Platinum card because cardholders receive a 35% point rebate on first and business class seats when paying with Membership Rewards points through Amex Travel. For example, a $1000 airfare would cost 100,000 Membership Rewards points before the rebate. In the end, though, you’d only spend 65,000 after receiving the rebate. Plus, the card has great travel benefits ($200 airline incidental credit each year and fantastic lounge access.)

I love, love, love my Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN charge card/

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is another good option. Cardholders can redeem points at 1.5 cents each when buying airfares through Chase’s travel site.

Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Preferred cardholders can redeem points at 1.25 cents per. While that redemption isn’t as good as the CSR’s, their annual fees are $455 cheaper.

Upgrade Certificates

Delta Medallion or SkyBonus Regional upgrade certificates (RUC) were nothing but fool’s gold for me. I ended up burning them on an LAX to Vegas flight because they didn’t work the rest of that year. And even on that flight, only one spot cleared — and that was at the gate.

Randee and Chris Carley seated in Delta One from LAX to Tokyo HND on an Airbus 330.

Still, RUC might work great on some routes — if you book them way ahead of time.

Same goes with Global Upgrade Certificates. My wife and I will never forget flying Delta One roundtrip between Los Angeles and Tokyo — compliments of my Diamond Medallion status.

First Class Monetization (FCM)

René will kill me for mentioning this one. 😉 Alas, it’s a viable option and people take advantage of it.

Delta occasionally offers post-booking deals giving passengers the option to purchase first class seats, occasionally at a discount. Payment can be made with credit card or, occasionally, SkyMiles.

Companion Certificate/Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGOF)

The Delta Reserve personal and business credit cards each come with an annual companion certificate (beginning the second year of card membership).

This perk entitles someone to purchase an eligible first class ticket — and receive a complimentary first class seat on the same flight so a companion may join them.

First class seats on a Delta A321/

There are times (not always) when one first class seat costs about the same as two coach tickets. So, hey, why not spend it in first class? Or, you can always split the cost between you and friend.

Gift Cards

Airline gift cards are an awesome way to offset airfares — especially when purchased at a discount. We blog Delta gift card deals whenever we hear about them. Plus, travel booked with airline gift cards earn miles and points!

Vouchers

Airline-issued vouchers (i.e. customer service reasons, voluntary bumps, etc) can pay for first class reservations if you receive enough compensation. (René and Lisa sure as heck did.)

René and Lisa each scored $3000 bumps on a trip!
René and Lisa each scored $3000 bumps on a trip!

Any Other Tips?

Can you think of any more ways to offset the cost of booking first class tickets? Please share them in the below Comments section!

— Chris

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

8 Comments

  1. Wow, nice tips! That’s a good way to offset the cost of booking first class ticket. Before i read this article, I don’t know it can be done. Thanks!

  2. Great first and biz class fares available with the Int’l airline program. Around 8% off, but sometimes more, You can use it with the aforementioned Biz plat rebate.

  3. I’m new to the regular/non Delta AMEX Platinum Biz, for the 35% rebate on points do you need to specify one airline per year similar to what needs to be done for the $200? As that kind of sucks if I designate Delta I am stuck for the whole year? I was thinking of using miles/pay with miles combination for tickets on MU to qualify for MQD’s too. Thanks for any input and help.

    • @Yasmas: Yes, you need to designate one airline (i.e. Delta) eligible for MR rebates on coach purchases when paying with points. However, you receive the benefit when using MR points to pay for business and first class tickets on any airline. So MU business fares — assuming you can find and book them through Amex Travel — would be a great redemption. Also, keep in mind Juicy Miles now accepts Membership Rewards points for many purchases.

  4. Chris;
    If you could clarify. If you use 100% pay with miles do you get both MQM and MQD. Also if you use a combination of pay with miles and money ( Delta Reserve Card ) would you get full MQM and MQD credit.
    Thanks
    Rod

    • @Rod A: Delta’s phrasing: “Pay with Miles tickets will earn mileage and MQDs for the portion of the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges remaining that is paid in currency after miles are applied to the ticket total.”

      Mileage, in this case, is redeemable SkyMiles.

      You can use however many or few SkyMiles (in 5000-point chunks) to Pay with Miles. You’ll get full MQM for the entire fare and MQD for whatever fare and surcharges you pay out of pocket (if any).

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