11 travel booking hacks that could score you a first class seat

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Megan Murray

When we’re not spending our hard earned money on expensive rent and overpriced avocado on toast, we’ve got our sights set high on holiday hotspots that look like they’re straight out of a travel blog.

The only problem, of course, is the flights. With some airlines intent on charging you extra for a seat on one of their planes (yup, they’re working on a ‘standing-room only scheme as we speak), the costs can soon rack up – making those oh-so-fabulous destinations seem harder than ever to get to.

So you can imagine our glee when we learned that, if we play our cards right, we can actually sit in first class – all without going over budget.

That’s right: Gilbert Ott – a professional flight hacker and travel blogger – has spilled his secrets for bagging yourself a first-class seat and it seems as if we’ve all got a lot to learn when it comes to joining the jet set.

During his chat with the Mail Online, the God Save The Points author even revealed that you could be sipping sky- high champagne without ever having to put down a credit card – something that is typically essential when making a first class booking.

His tips have left us so inspired that we’ve gone out and sourced the best travel hacks going. And we’d be lying if we said our suitcases weren’t already half packed, so don’t blame us if seems a bit quieter for a while, OK?

Looks like there's no excuse to start exploring!

Be the first to know about flash sales

Ott explains that although airlines often have “flash sales or crazy promotional fares” they tend to “expire within a few hours” so being the first to pounce is absolutely crucial. He recommends setting a Google Flights alert so that you’re notified immediately if there’s a sale on a route you’re interested in. Oh, and remember to treat yo’self and set alerts for “premium or business class too, since sometimes premium or business class seats will randomly be cheaper than economy ones, especially over peak summer travel periods.”

Buy points instead of earning them

If you’re not a frequent flyer, it can be hard to build up the amount of points with an airline you actually need to get anywhere. Instead, go straight to the source and buy the points themselves, as paying for a flight with points is usually cheaper than with money. Investopedia says that “there are plenty of websites that allow you to buy and sell points, but steer clear since major airlines don’t allow it. Instead, purchase them directly from the airline.”

Don’t be British about it

Us Brits are known for our politeness. Have you ever had a cold meal at restaurant and been too embarrassed to complain? Or experienced awful customer service but somehow managed to keep a tight-lipped smile instead of saying anything? Of course, you have! MarketWatch advises that if a genuine opportunity to complain comes up to take it, as an upgrade to first class could be a form of compensation.

Follow travel blogs in the know

You’ll never find out about some deals unless you’re constantly checking the web – and, while we’d love travel research to be a full-time occupation, most of us are slogging away in the day job. That’s why Ott recommends following “deal sites and travel blogs manned by people who trawl the web day-in day-out” because for them, it is the day job and they can give you the heads up. 

Become a Mystery Shopper

You probably already knew that you can save money as a mystery customer at restaurants and clothes shops, but did you know you can do the same on flights? Check out Secret Shopping, for example, to sign up for the opportunity to become what is essentially an on-board spy and get access to “a free flight, money and expenses paid for”. Sounds pretty great, right?

Who wouldn't mind a view like this right now?

Download ALL the apps

In this digital world that we live in, airlines are trying to push app downloads as much as possible. One way of doing this is by offering flash upgrades to those using their apps as a special little thank you for loyalty. Ott says, “even with dirt-cheap economy tickets, many carriers now offer them to passengers who use their website or mobile app to check on their booking”. So, if you’ve got a holiday already booked make sure you’re checking in using the app – saves a bit of paper too!

Stop worrying about the ‘where’

Ben Schlapping's One Mile at a Time blog says you need to keep your origins open: when you have flexibility over where you're traveling from, you can get better deals on first- and business-class seats. Flights that pass through Colombo, Sri Lanka, for example, are particularly cheap.

“If you're looking for discounted premium cabin tickets, then some cities will be less expensive to depart from,” he says.

Think like a business flyer

Business flyers are riding the skies Monday to Friday for work, so when are they not flying? Saturday and Sunday mornings! Investopedia reckons that this is when most business and first class seats are likely to be free and is your best bet at getting an upgrade or cheap deal.

Meet them halfway

Rather than flying your whole trip in one class, travel expert Alex Macheras suggested upgrading your flight after your stopover.

He said this can be done cheaply by flying the short European part in business for example  – and this will then entitle travellers to access the lounge and all of its luxury privileges.

Sign us up for a city break!

Support the underdogs

Head for Points’ Robert Burgess says that underpopulated flights are the “outsize value sweet spot”. One of the best bets right now, he says, is flying on European routes via Qatar Airways or Emirates Airlines, both of which recently expanded into the continent and are operating under capacity on those routes.

“Qatar fly two 787s out of Copenhagen (to Qatar) a day. There is not that much demand there for the business class seats, so you can get them for £700 ($1,086), which is nothing compared to the cost from London.”

Book on to a busy flight

For a flyer without “air miles or status” (that’s us), Ott thinks the best way to get at the front of the plane is to throw yourself a curve ball and deliberately book onto an oversold flight. If all the economy seats are taken the airline should start filling up first class seats, Why? Well, because they have effectively screwed you over (at least that’s what they think), they should be trying to “win back favour” – and what better way to do that than by offering you a luxe flight experience, eh?

Get your glad rags on

Travel search engine Skyscanner recommends simply sprucing yourself up a bit for a better chance of an upgrade to first class. The airline experts reckon that if you look the part you’re more likely to be invited into the business lounge. They advise, “leave the tracksuit at home and dress as if you’ve just been browsing the FT in the exec lounge.”

Images: iStock


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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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