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How to Save Money While Flying Business Class

Published September 25, 2019

5 minute read

By Jim Greene

Have you ever been cramped into an economy seat on a long flight, wishing you could afford the upgrade to business class? Have you ever stared with envy at the comfortable recliners and top-rate amenities business class passengers enjoyed as you filed your way to a tiny chair at the back of the plane? You’re not alone. Business class is certainly a much more comfortable way to travel. The problem is the price.

What if we told you there were secret tricks that could save you as much as 50% on business class fares? Well, there are. Although airlines and travel agencies would rather you didn’t know about them. Luckily for you, we’re going to reveal them and unlock your access to business class travel at prices you can afford.

Buy From a Trustworthy Ticket Broker

Business class sections rarely fill up. As flight dates draw nearer, airlines want to get people in their unsold premium seats. However, they also don’t want to create the perception that they’re reducing their own fares, so you’ll rarely see airlines offer cheaper business class fares on their own. Instead, they strike deals with ticket brokers to sell these seats at steep discounts that can reach 30% or more.

Start your search with travel brokers and ticket consolidators, but choose wisely. Stick with companies that have name recognition, or ones that have been around for a while. Some unscrupulous operators bend rules by reselling tickets purchased with rewards points to unsuspecting consumers. This contravenes airline rules, and if the deception is detected, you could find yourself bumped off the plane altogether. Then you have to try to recoup your money from the shady company you bought from.

Master the Art of Scoring Sale Fares

Business class seats frequently do go on sale, but you’ll rarely hear about these offers through mainstream channels like travel websites. One hot tip is to opt in for promotional emails and airline newsletters, as they represent one of the only direct ways in which carriers themselves offer reduced business class fares.

Another trick is to predict times of year when people aren’t likely to be traveling on business. Conventional wisdom suggests that holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are extremely busy for airlines, and that’s true—at least as far as economy class goes. However, relatively few people are traveling on business at those times, making them prime targets for seat sales and reduced fares on the plane’s best seats.

Check Out Alternate Departure Locations

This technique is known as “geo-arbitrage,” which is really just a fancy term that refers to the consumer advantages you can enjoy as a result of some countries being less expensive than others. Factors like currency valuations, foreign exchange rates, regional economic conditions, and lower costs of living can all work to your benefit.

For example, one recent market study considered the price of a business class fare from London to Tokyo. Costs were sky-high for flights departing from London proper, but a business class trip to Tokyo from other European cities like Milan and Istanbul were as much as 50% less! Considering the potential savings, you could fly one-way from your origin point to a cheaper departure city and enjoy all the perks of business class as you complete your onward journey.

Redeem Your Credit Card Points

Do you collect Air Miles? Aero Plan points? Does your credit card offer a points-based rewards program? If so, you have access to some of the best avenues for business class upgrades.

You have a couple of options when it comes to redeeming points. First, you can use them to pay for part (or all) of your business class booking. Alternately, you can buy an upgradable economy class ticket, then use your points to cover the cost of bumping yourself up to business class. Specifics and points thresholds vary from carrier to carrier, but if you’ve got a pile of points burning a hole in your pocket, this is a great way to cash them in.

Be Flexible

If you don’t have to fly on a specific day or at a specific time, you might be able to score a cheap upgrade by taking a different flight. Again, it’s all about supply and demand. A lot of people avoid very early or very late departure and arrival times, leaving certain route schedules undersold. If you’re willing to make the trade-off for the slight inconvenience, you could be in line for an amazing business class bargain. Flying out Wednesday morning at 3:00 AM has some advantages.

Bid in Online Auctions

A growing number of airlines auction off discounted business class fares online. Most of these auctions use a blind bidding process, in which travelers submit offers for available business class seats. The airline then selects winning bids and notifies the customers who submitted them.

Succeeding in these auctions is far from an exact science. Airlines that offer them aren’t usually very transparent about their methods for selecting the winner. However, if you stick within your budget, you might get lucky. This is one of the best ways to score an amazing bargain if you’re fortunate enough to submit the best bid.

Look The Part

Here’s another hot secret the airlines don’t want you to know. They bump economy class passengers up to business class on almost every flight. They don’t want business class seats to go unfilled, so they’ll automatically offer them to economy ticket holders to create the illusion of high demand for premium seats.

These upgrades are quietly offered free of charge to lucky passengers, usually during the pre-boarding process. The secret is to look and act like you belong in business class: dress well, be polite to airline staff, and you just might find yourself sipping champagne as you kick back in a comfortable lounge chair on your next plane trip.

Book As Part of a Package Deal

If you search for airfares using a travel website that also offers hotel stays, car rentals, and tour packages, you could save a great deal by bundling your business class ticket in with other travel purchases. Some consumers have used this trick to secure up to 50% off their first-class airfares by doing something as simple as adding a single night’s hotel stay through a metasearch engine or fare aggregator. It takes some experimenting to uncover these opportunities, but the prospect of saving thousands of dollars on a long first-class plane trip should give you ample motivation.

Before You Fly Business Class…

Experienced travelers know that some of these methods are more reliable than others. For example, automatic upgrades to well-dressed and polite travelers are quite rare, though they do happen. The best and most predictable methods revolve around cashing in rewards points, keeping your eyes peeled for discounted fares, and taking advantage of natural ebbs and flows in demand for business class seats.

If you’re cashing in your travel rewards points, or if you’re working on snagging a deal through a bidding site or third-party provider, make sure you read the fine print. Exclusions, limitations, and terms and conditions almost always apply. If you’re not properly aware of them, you could be on the wrong end of an undesirable surprise come check-in time.

Jim Greene


Jim Greene is a freelance writer based in the Toronto, Canada area. He has been writing professionally since 2001 and has an extensive professional background in consumer research, personal finance and economics.

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