Q: Peter, do first-class airfares EVER go on sale if bought far enough ahead of time? Are there any Web sites that monitor this?
–Connie, Arlington, Texas
A: This is tricky, because the wording that airlines use is not consistent. Besides, the way you get a first-class seat is not always by asking for it directly.
For example, United Air Lines will tell you it occasionally sells discounted first-class seats. You have to book them over the phone, not online, and there may not be seats available for the flight you want.
Others, such as American Airlines, will act like you're crazy if you ask for a discounted first-class seat, but they will sell you a "Y-Up" seat, which is basically a first-class seat, at a coach price. A rose by any other name. … Other airlines sometimes call them "Q-Up" fares. These fares are usually 30 to 75 percent below the full first-class price and are almost always cheaper than the full (not discounted) coach price! The "Q-Up" fares also have fewer restrictions than discounted coach seats have on refundability, advanced purchase, and blackout dates. Some Web sites, including CheapoAir.com and FareCompare.com, offer advice and alerts to help you find and book these flights.
The CheapoAir site has discounted first- and business-class deals, plus occasional promotions of up to 50 percent off. (Find the coupon on the Web site under "Business Class," and then "First-Class Fares," in the top navigation.)
Here are some samples of first-class deals:
- Los Angeles–Seattle, United Air Lines, $424
- Los Angeles–Cancun, Mexico, US Airways, $768
- New York–London, Kuwait Airways, $2,375
- Honolulu–Manila, Philippines, Hawaiian Airlines, $2,086
- Honolulu–Sydney, Hawaiian Airlines, $2,293
FareCompare lets you search for Y-Up fares and has a handy FAQs section, including a list of rules and restrictions—which are often more flexible than those accompanying full-fare economy tickets.
Lastly, another way to get into first class is to buy a coach seat and then ask to buy an upgrade when you check in. Based on capacity, airlines may offer upgrades to the next class of service for only a couple hundred dollars—which may end up costing much less than what a regular full-fare, first-class ticket would cost.