7 Secret Tricks to Scoring a Cheap Business-Class Seat

Experts share top hacks for vaulting into a better seat without paying a high price.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterOct. 11, 2016
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterOct. 11, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Secret Tricks to Scoring a Cheap Business-Class Seat

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Land a coveted business-class seat with these clever tricks.

With increasingly fewer complimentary upgrades for elite frequent fliers, you may wonder whether it's possible to climb to a higher cabin class without paying a sky-high premium. But the truth is, while airlines are diminishing their free upgrades for the most loyal jetsetters, they're appealing to price-sensitive fliers with great deals in premium cabins. So, even if you lack the miles and status to get a coveted seat, there are plenty of other tactics to utilize to leap into business class. To help you clinch a higher class, U.S. News tapped industry insiders to spill their tricks for scoring a cushier spot on the plane for free or at a low cost.
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Pick times when business-class travel is less common.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but searching for business-class seats around the holidays and at off-peak travel periods is going to yield the best value, says Gary Leff, author of frequent-flier site View From the Wing. During Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, when coach cabins are full, carriers are not selling out in premium cabins, translating to deep discounts on business-class seats, Leff explains. The time of day you fly should also factor into your strategy. Saturday evenings, for instance, are less crowded and less popular times for business travelers to fly, as are midday and midweek flights, explains Zach Honig, editor-in-chief at The Points Guy.
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Land a coveted business-class seat with these clever tricks.

With increasingly fewer complimentary upgrades for elite frequent fliers, you may wonder whether it's possible to climb to a higher cabin class without paying a sky-high premium. But the truth is, while airlines are diminishing their free upgrades for the most loyal jetsetters, they're appealing to price-sensitive fliers with great deals in premium cabins. So, even if you lack the miles and status to get a coveted seat, there are plenty of other tactics to utilize to leap into business class. To help you clinch a higher class, U.S. News tapped industry insiders to spill their tricks for scoring a cushier spot on the plane for free or at a low cost.

Pick times when business-class travel is less common.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but searching for business-class seats around the holidays and at off-peak travel periods is going to yield the best value, says Gary Leff, author of frequent-flier site View From the Wing. During Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, when coach cabins are full, carriers are not selling out in premium cabins, translating to deep discounts on business-class seats, Leff explains. The time of day you fly should also factor into your strategy. Saturday evenings, for instance, are less crowded and less popular times for business travelers to fly, as are midday and midweek flights, explains Zach Honig, editor-in-chief at The Points Guy.

Skip popular business routes.

Getting an upgrade to business class on an in-demand route for road warriors, such as New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Los Angeles International Airport "is probably a bit of a long shot," Honig says. Conversely, securing a business-class seat on a flight to Hawaii will be relatively easier since you won't be competing with business travelers, Honig explains. You can also find steeply reduced business-class fares with new airlines and routes, Leff says, pointing to La Compagnie, an all-business-class carrier, which offers round-trip fares from New York City to Paris for $1,400.

Take advantage of last-minute paid upgrades.

When airlines haven't sold premium-class seats, they'll often offer them at a discount when you check in. "I think it's the easiest opportunity [to get a better seat] now, especially if you don't have elite status," Honig says, pointing out that the three U.S. legacy carriers (American, United and Delta) often offer last-minute upgrades at reasonable prices. Airlines have figured out that it's more lucrative to offer upgrades at a significantly lowered rate, he explains, though pricing can range drastically. To maximize your chances, "check in as early as possible," Honig says. And keep in mind inventory changes often, so check frequently before your flight for discounted offers to move up a class – or two.

Say yes to getting "bumped."

If you have some flexibility in your travel plans, you can increase your odds of getting a better seat by volunteering to take the next plane if your flight is oversold. While carriers are unlikely to overbook planes during peak travel times, like the winter holidays, if you get bumped and are given voluntary denied boarding credit for the convenience, you can use this to your advantage and politely request a business- or first-class seat if it's available. So, keep your eyes peeled for crowded flights that are likely to be oversold and volunteer your seat first for a later flight for the most negotiating power.

Stay loyal and seek status.

Yes, airline rewards programs are stingier about giving out free upgrades to members, but if upgrades are available, those with frequent-flier status are given first preference for a better seat over those who travel less often. If you're an elite member you can also use your upgrade certificates to enjoy the complimentary perk on a desirable route, Honig explains. For example, HawaiianMiles elite members can take advantage of two complimentary business- or first-class upgrades. You can also upgrade your seat with miles, though this is typically attached with a copay, which may or may not be lucrative depending on the price of the business-class seat, Leff adds.

Stick with the right airlines – and affiliated credit cards.

On some airlines, it's easy to upgrade from premium economy into business class. Case in point: Singapore Airlines, which allows a KrisFlyer (frequent flier) to vault from premium-economy class to business at a reasonable rate, Leff explains. You can fly from New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport to Frankfurt, Germany, in business class for 26,350 miles one way with Singapore, a low award redemption threshold, Leff says. You can also leverage transferable points from affiliated credit cards, including Citi Prestige, Leff explains. Another example is British Airways, which offers reduced rates for AARP members and 10 percent discounts to Visa cardholders for select flights, shaving hundreds off of select business-class routes, Leff says.

Bid for your seat.

Carriers such as Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines and KLM allow consumers to bid for higher-class seats through online auction platforms. But while it is possible to secure a low-cost business-class seat through online auctions, you run the risk of someone overbidding you, Honig says. He suggests visiting the frequent-flier forum FlyerTalk. "Say, you're looking for Etihad," he says. If you punch in "business class to first class auction Etihad," for example, "you'll see all kinds of data points there," he explains, noting that people will share the amount that they bid for, which serves as an excellent benchmark for your own bidding strategy to land substantial savings.
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Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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