How to fly first class on a budget

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You’ve booked your luxury solo travel adventure and you’d like some luxury flights to go with it. But luxury flights don’t come cheap… or do they? If you know some of the top tips for the system, then it can be possible for you to get business and first-class flights without eating into your valuable spending money.

However, there’s no shortcut. We spoke to expert Nicky Kelvin from The Points Guy for some tips on getting luxury flights on a budget.

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Airlines will look to sell premium seats at the last-minute

Using miles and points to upgrade your existing ticket or buy one outright for business or first class is the way forward. It takes some planning and learning the system but anyone can do it. That’s what we teach people at The Points Guy UK.

One way to find much cheaper cash tickets in first and business class is to look at different departure points around Europe. For example, a business class ticket to New York starting in Paris, Brussels, Dublin or Copenhagen might be as much as 75% cheaper than a direct flight from the UK. And you could spend your savings on a European weekend ahead of your long haul flight.

It’s also always worth asking at the check-in desk whether any upgrades are available and how much they cost. Often, airlines will look to sell premium seats at the last-minute, and the rates with some airlines on some routes can be reasonable. Overall, you should be aiming to turn up to the airport already knowing you’re going to be flying first or business.

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Be poised to book your fixed dates as soon as they become available

The more flexible you are with your dates, the more leeway you have for upgrades and better deals. It also varies depending on where you’re flying to, but my golden rule is to plan ahead if you can. The Points Guy UK uploads the best deals on their website so that’s always a good place to start.

If you’re using miles, be poised to book your fixed dates as soon as they become available. British Airways releases at least eight economy and four business class reward seats on every flight. These are bookable 355 days out, so be ready to hit the button on that day to be in with the best chance of getting the seats, especially on busy routes like Cape Town or Sydney. A top tip is to try phoning a call centre that is open at midnight to lock in the seats the moment they become available.

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Smart clothing won’t get you far if you’re trying to upgrade

Paying, or using miles is the only way to guarantee an upgrade. Being nice helps, too. If an airline is forced to move people around cabins, the staff may be swayed by who is the most pleasant, but this is a rarity. Plan ahead and guarantee your bed in the sky.

On most airlines these days, smart clothing won’t get you far if you’re trying to upgrade – comfort is key, so don’t prioritize dressing to impress.

Without paying extra for memberships it can be difficult to get into lounges, too. These memberships are beneficial to those of us who fly a lot and therefore make the extra spend worthwhile. I love my Amex Platinum card as it comes with a free Priority Pass which gets me unlimited access to lounges across the globe, even when flying economy or low-cost.

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Airline shopping portals offer the chance to rack up points

We’ve also created The Beginner’s Guide to points which goes through a step-by-step process to ensure you’re maximizing your travel. But there are some extra ways you can also earn points. Credit cards are good as you will earn points on every single pound you spend.

Signing up to free airline and hotel loyalty programmes means that every time you fly or stay somewhere, you rack up points that would otherwise be left on the table. Sometimes it makes sense to credit your points to different programmes depending on what your goals are, so it’s worth learning where is best to credit. The British Airways Executive Club and the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are the most accessible programmes in the UK with a wide range of ways to earn points, destinations and partner airlines.

Airline shopping portals also offer the chance to rack up huge amounts of points through online shopping. All you have to do is click through to the retailer from the airline portal and shop as usual. Earning rates can be incredible.

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Travel more consciously to help reduce your impact on the planet

If you want to travel more consciously, there are some things that you can do to help reduce your impact on the planet. To achieve a net neutral carbon impact, pay the extra to offset your flights. This fee will vary depending on your flight route but, for example, offsetting a return trip from London to Spain would cost about £4, or London to Sydney about £35.

You can also reduce the number of single-use items that add to the environmental impact of your flight. Utilize that hand-luggage space with things like a reusable cup, cutlery set or bamboo towels.

Finally, think about how your activities can impact the local area and people where you’re staying. A really easy way of doing this is by supporting local tour operators who help to support wildlife and preserve local cultures. This will ensure that your visit reduces any negative impact on the surrounding culture or habitat. It will also enhance your own experience, giving you more opportunity for an authentic trip and to see places that are not necessarily in guide books.

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If you play your points right, you can fly first class for almost free

Your airport experience and flight frame your entire travel experience. For me, the flying is sometimes even more fun than the destination. That’s the premise behind The Points Guy: if you play your points right, you can fly first class for almost free.

I flew from Singapore to Zurich on Singapore Airlines’ new (at the time) first-class suite. There are six suites but I was the only one on board so they made up a double cabin and I had four crew looking after me. It was an incredible experience and I booked this ticket for just £19 and 125,000 KrisFlyer miles transferred from American Express Membership Rewards. It really is possible to comfortably for less.

Ready to spread your wings? Join Flash Pack today on an adventure with other like-minded travelers.

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