Fly first class for $200: Travel hacking tips

Fly first class for $200: Travel hacking tips

First Class

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I am a travel hacker (check out why I travel hack).  My motto is "Always be earning".  This refers to earning travel miles with everyday spending.   And I love to travel.  It is like art when these two things come together to create a sublime moment in my personal travel history.  I have traveled often and to a lot of places (not as much as those who have traveled to 100 countries, but I digress), but, I have never traveled first class.  Last month I finally got to experience first class and it was worth every penny I spent.  The difference here is I didn’t spend a lot of money to fly first class because of the travel hacking habits I have.  It only cost $200 for me and my wife.

My standard operating procedure (MO) is to purchase airline tickets and then upgrade from basic economy to extended economy using the points I have accrued through the use of travel rewards credit cards. It is possible to earn free flights using your points, but it takes a lot of them when you are planning a trip for four adults. It takes time, a lot of time, to accumulate enough points to qualify for free flights for four people. However, I have realized that there is something I can do more frequently. I can make arrangements to upgrade our travel arrangements.

My usual method of working is to conduct searches for low-cost flights to destinations that interest me. When I find a great deal on a ticket, I go ahead and purchase it, even if it is for a basic economy class. Then I return a few days later and upgrade my seating. For my family of four (my wife and two sons), I usually upgrade to economy plus (extended?) seating. With an upgrade, we get the advantage of boarding and disembarking the plane earlier than usual. It's not difficult for us to store our luggage in the overhead bins, and we have plenty of legroom. On every flight, we're right up front in the first row of the plane, usually in aisles 7, 8, or 9, right behind first class. Even your drinks and snacks are delivered to you first. These are some of the advantages of upgrading to extended economy status. However, I was fortunate enough to come across a deal last month that made our trip to Aruba even more enjoyable. I discovered a $200 per person upgrade to the First Class for my group.

First class


Usually, first-class can cost considerably more than the standard economy seat.  As much as double the cost of economy.  I got two of our seats for only $200 because I used our accrued miles through United’s Mileage Plus program to buy me and my wife’s seats which were originally free.  There’s a big back story to how we used the miles and had to reallocate them because of covid.  Simply put, we have two free tickets valued at $800 apiece for free and it only cost us $200 per ticket to upgrade to First Class.

Thus, it cost us $200 to fly for free.

I am sure you have read articles, like I have, where people have accrued millions of miles and flown for free on the most luxurious flights to exotic lands for absolutely free.  (They accomplish this because they use their credit cards to pay for business expenses.)  These stories are true.  I have been able to fly for free at times.  The problem is it takes time to accumulate these points.  But, I have learned over the years that you can get more value by upgrading your vacation with points.

Let me back up.  I am a travel hacker (as I stated earlier).  That means I take advantage of all of the benefits that are granted to me by credit card companies.  Credit cards companies have come up with ways to get you to spend money using their cards.  I use my credit cards to pay for all of my personal expenses.  I, just like you, have to pay bills every month.  You pay your bills with your credit cards, then make sure you pay them off each month before they accrue interest.  There is a way for you to earn points or even money (something for a later article) when you use your credit cards.  We are often taught that credit cards are evil.  But, they are just like all things.  They can be used for benevolent or malevolent reasons.  You can allow your credit cards to take advantage of you or you take advantage of them.


The way credit cards are set up, yes, they benefit the companies issuing them, but, we as consumers can make them work for us.  Credit card companies offer a lot of benefits that can go to making our vacations more special. 

The first example I have is the Capital One Venture Card (I have others that I will get into in other articles).  It has paid for a few free flights to places like Mexico and Hawaii for me and my family of four.  Currently, they offer unlimited 2x miles on all expenses and 60K miles when you meet their requirements.  60K miles is the equivalent to $600 for flight tickets.

Other benefits include Global Entry and Precheck credit.  I got my Precheck account for free because of my Capital One card.  Precheck has helped us avoid long lines at the airport.  We all have precheck. You can transfer miles to get hotel stays (you can earn free nights with certain cards), use rewards on, and you can get premium experiences like getting access to unforgettable experiences – think VIP tickets, five-star meals and beyond.

I know this was a long digression, but, back to how I got to fly first class for $200. 

I spend a lot of time tracking flights to the places I want to vacation.  I pick a bunch of places I want to travel to and the dates and I track the flights through google flights or Skyscanner.  I get email updates when the prices change.  When I get a price I like, I log into the Capital One travel porter and book the flight. 

With that done, I return later to upgrade my flights.  The key here is getting your flights set up as quickly as possible to take advantage of the prices.  I, then, usually upgrade to economy plus.  I like the advantages of boarding and deboarding early, seats with more legroom, and getting to put my luggage in the overhead bins before space runs out.  These are the advantages you pay for.  The prices can range anywhere from $19 to $35 (sometimes higher).

First class seat


I and my family were flying to Aruba and I decided to upgrade our seats as usual. But, this time, I found that upgrading our seats to First-class would only cost us $200 per person.  I believed this was a good deal for a couple of reasons:  I got my ticket and my wife’s for free using the miles we had earned.  I paid for my son’s tickets, but I found a great price below $400 and with the added $200 for first-class, we came in way below what it would have cost me to get first-class tickets initially.

Ultimately, it only cost me $200 per ticket for me and my wife to fly first class.  Why is this a great deal?  During our flight, not only did we get to board first, and could store our luggage first (we only do carry-on luggage), but we got a full meal where the rest of the flight got snacks, but, we also got free alcoholic drinks for the four-hour flight.

There is another approach to this.  I have paid for seats on a flight and then used my points to upgrade to economy plus for free. (I'll be doing another article on that.)

Again, as I said at the beginning of this article, there are people who travel hack and get free first-class flights to Abu Dhabi because they have a million points.  Not everyone is in the position to do that.  But, you can earn points every day that can go to upgrading your vacation.  There are other benefits from credit cards that will upgrade your vacation and make you feel like a VIP.

When we vacation, it is a break from our mundane lives.  There are so many ways we can upgrade our vacations to make them even more special.  We all work hard and require those breaks from reality that reminds us that we deserve the best things in life.  Even if it’s not full-time, maybe once or twice a year.  We can earn these benefits just by doing our usual day-to-day activities and spending with our travel reward cards.  We can earn VIP vacations. 

We all deserve to be treated as VIPs once or twice in our lives.  Vacation Mode’s job is to find these benefits and share them with everyone.


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