First-class airline seats generally are priced 10 to 20 times higher than economy class—but on certain flights, that’s no longer so. The airlines seem to have decided that they would rather sell first-class seats at affordable prices than make them available for frequent-flier-mile upgrades.
Example: Recently I flew first-class from New York to Boston for just $140 (one way) on American Airlines, while US Airways was charging $350 that day for economy class.
Unfortunately, cost-conscious travelers tend to assume that first-class is always expensive and rarely investigate first-class fares before booking a ticket. You still will turn up a lot of absurdly high prices in your ticket search, but every now and then, you will stumble onto a first-class bargain.
Exception: Affordable first-class fares are unlikely on long international flights. But good deals occasionally are available in business class. Search for business-class bargains when traveling between the US and Europe during the summer or holiday seasons. For summer travel, 60-day advance purchase generally is required.
Virtually all airlines offer cheap nonrefundable advance-purchase business and first-class fares at various times of the year on select routes. You can find them on Web sites, but it doesn’t hurt to call the airlines, too. Airlines frequently offer last-minute upgrades to first-class and business class, often when you check in for your flight online or even at the airport. I recently was offered a business-class upgrade on a $189 New York to Los Angeles flight on United for $350 one way (for a total ticket cost of $539). If I had bought that seat in advance, it would have cost $2,500. My fare represented a savings of $1,961.