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How To Fly First Class Cheap

Monday 9 November 2015

The days of calm, spacious, relaxing flying do seem to be gone. Now budget airlines rule the sky's. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good thing, as it makes travel accessible to more people. However when you are flying long distance, being cramped (as I'm currently experiencing whilst writing this- I'm sat on the floor of a Virgin train ironically enough) with little room to move and very little entertainment for 8 hours plus, it can feel like torture.

The only nice way to spend 8 hours in effectively a flying tin can, is First  Class. However this isn't so nice for your bank account. Or is it?

I recently flew back from New York first class, and for not much money. How? No it wasn't sponsored (and nor is this post in anyway- I just thought it might be useful), no it wasn't gifted. But with a few 'hacks' it's is possible. 

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The Credit Card with Air Miles Method

This is how I flew first class without paying the first class price tag.

In January I signed up to a Virgin Atlantic credit card, which is through MBNA. They offer air miles on the money you spend, which all exchangeable for upgrades to First Class.

They offer 2 credit cards:
  • The White Credit Card: If you get the starter white card, its 1 air mile point per £1 spent on the American Express, or 1/2 point on the Visa Card. You  also get 3,000 bonus miles when you spend with the first 90 days on the white card.
  • The Black Credit Card: I signed up to the black card, which costs £150 per year, but you get 2 points per £1 on the American Express or 1 point on the Visa. You also get a whopping 18,500 bonus points on the black card within 90 days. Which when the goal is purely air miles, I'd say it's £150 well spent. 

Now how does it work? Well an upgrade will cost you 10,000 mile points, which sounds a lot but remember those bonus points to start you off. Now here's what you do. Use your credit card as if it was your debit card. Only spend what you have/earn. Buy your food shop on your credit card, pay for your takeaway on your credit card, pay your household bills on your credit card. Pay for all the things you would normally do on your debit card, but on your credit card instead. Don't start buying silly things on credit, just your normal habits, then pay it off in full each month out of your income. 

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The point conversion may look something like this per month (On a black card):
  • Household bills: £90- 180 points
  • Food shopping: £300 - 600 points
  • Transport: £350 - 700 points
  • Hairdresser: £50 - 50 points (Independent places may not accept Amex)
  • Meal out: £100- 200 points 
  • That new dess you've been eyeing up £45 - 90 points
  • Late night run for Ben and Jerrys - £5 - 5 points.
Etc Etc (If you can pay for your rent on your credit card, well you'll be doing very well)
Total-  1525 points.

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So that's 18,500 + your 1 months points (e.g 1525) = 20,025 points.
Do this for months and they soon add up without thinking.

An upgrade cost's 10,000 points. Now an there are 3 tiers.
  • Economy, 
  • Premium Economy 
  • First Class (Upper Class on Virgin)
10,000 points will allow you to upgrade one tier. So if you buy a economy seat, and want to upgrade to First Class, it will cost you 20,000 air miles. However, if you buy Premium Economy and upgrade, it's 10,000 miles. Up to you. 

And there you have it, how to get a First Class seat on the cheap. You don't need to change your spending habits, just the card you spend on.

This isn't limited to Virgin by the way, I just chose Virgin, but British Airway's do exactly the same scheme as do lot's of other airlines.

So with that, before you decide to start collecting your air miles. Let me show you what you'll get for your effort. 

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In the First Class lounge, everything is complimentary and unlimited. It's table service, and cooked, a la carte menu. So of course, I opted for a 3 course meal.

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The bartenders will make up any drink you want, and there is an extensive list to choose from including cocktails, wine, whiskey and let me tell you it's well stocked.

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The lounge also had showers, with Cowshed products and hairdryers. Some have spa's too (Heathrow does, JFK doesn't)

How to fly with Virgin Atlantic cheap
*Photo's from here are taken on my mobile as well an SLR is a little frowned upon

On board, you have your own little walled pod area, complete with recliner seat, which also turns into a bed which is actually surprisingly really comfy.

Again nothing is off limit's and whatever you want is yours. If you want glass after glass of champagne then that is OK -although being drunk on a flight is still not A-OK.

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What I really liked was the space. There is a fully stocked, bar on board, which you can sit at. During day flights they do wine tasting and cocktail making classes- yes for real.

I was on a night flight, so missed this, however because I was on my own, I decided to sit at the bar for my food and chat to the bartender. It's literally like you are at a bar on the ground. Sitting on a bar stool, looking at the cocktail menu, you seriously forget your 30,000 feet in the air.

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The food is actually really good - again I can only comment on Virgin- but there is nothing nuked here. I had a goat's cheese salad for mains, which tasted incredibly fresh for something that is being served with limited resources. Airline Reporter has a really food blog post on how First Class food is prepared and made to excellent standards.

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The main was quite something. A whole piece of beef- 30,000 feet in the air. It was certainly good, and not tough at all.

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Finally I had a delicious praline chocolate torte, which really could have come straight out of a little patisserie.

My wine was constantly topped up, and I was asked would I like snacks, would I like toiletries, was there anything at all that I needed. One of the best parts for me seeing as I was alone, was sitting at the bar, chatting away over a drink or two. The time flew so fast.

That coupled with a seriously comfy seat, and all the popcorn and snacks I could want, before I knew it my long haul light was landing.

For long haul flights first class really makes things so much nicer, but I couldn't afford the £5000 + price tag. But with the credit card method, you really can afford to do first class on the cheap.

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  1. Massively impressive!!!! Mr B and I are converted!!
    Don't you find, though, that you have to book those upgrade/air miles seats hugely far in advance? Or is it just the same as booking club or 1st regularly?..

    1. I actually booked mine about 2-3 weeks in advance only. Was quite last minute yet still used my miles :)

  2. This is very useful. I fly with British Airways a lot so I'll be taking some time out this week to look into their credit card. Thanks, Tanya


  3. What an amazing post! I'm flying TC to america next time but maybe the time after I'll use your method! Thanks so much. Looks amazing. xx

  4. What a brilliant post!!! I do have a credit card that earns me rewards but in the form of cashback. Collecting airmiles and paying the £150 actually seems way more worth it, so I might just switch and ditch my old card. Thanks for such a great post =)


  5. I'm with Virgin too and it's great. I've had it for a year and I've got enough for a first class return flight to Hong Kong. Sadly, I'm going at Christmas which I recently found out is exempt from points purchase so it's worth keeping in mind that there will be some restrictions. On the upside, it means I can keep saving for more awesome flights in the future!

    The Beauty Locker

  6. I love this insightful post, I thought flying first class was out of my remit, but with a bit of know how it is accessible.

  7. Great tips! Flying first class is the dream - I'd definitely need someone to fly with me though to control just how much champagne I'd drink!! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

  8. I have this card and am saving my points for an upgrade somewhere next year! Judging by your review I'm in for a treat x

  9. This such a great post! I'm wanting to go to NY next year, so might try this option, as it would be an amazing experience :)

  10. Saw this post on twitter and had to read it - I travel lots so this is so worth while. I am definitely going to look in to getting this card x


  11. Wow this is quite useful for me, as I've just started to realise about all these hacks and loyalty schemes. I've always wanted to fly first class!

  12. This is so clever! We're flying to Florida in 2018 for our wedding and going first class would make that huge difference!
    Thanks for the tips 👍🏼



  13. Wow... and now I want to fly just for the food. Great post and clever ideas! Love it!

  14. Amazing article. Here are some interesting facts from history of first class =) http://cheapfirstclass.com/first-class-flights-back-in-the-days/
    I found out some useful information for myself