Flying First Class For Free – Myth Or Reality?

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More and more personalities love to get into the spotlight, claiming to be able to ‘Fly For Free‘ and in First Class to boot.

Cathay First LL

It’s one of the most popular reader questions and not only here on LoyaltyLobby, you also see it in big newspapers and publications. Let me start off by saying outright: There is no such thing as flying for free. The media just loves to push the hype even more by giving these claims plenty of publicity to the point where the public actually believes that such a thing is possible. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. For the majority of things in life you always pay and traveling is certainly no exception. There are plenty of ways to offset and reduce costs but never to the point where you hit zero in the strictest sense of accounting.

How does this frivolous thought even come along? Well for one, travel is fascinating and being able to do it in First Class makes peoples ears go up and attention rises. First Class still has the aura of luxury and while likely to be somewhat unattainable for those buying tickets the traditional way and not being super wealthy, it is a far stretch from the epitome of luxury if you have done it many times. For myself, flying is just great and I certainly love trying new products while visiting new and old places around the world. At the end of the day though, it remains a form of transportation and your body fatigues if you overdo it.

What have you read recently about people flying luxuriously for free? The most common things you hear about is scoring a free upgrade to Business Class, using the airlines Club Lounges and sipping ‘Champagne’ during the flight.

While it still happens that occasionally the regular passenger receives a free upgrade for operational reasons, most travelers receive upgrades as a perk of their frequent flier status. This is NOT free because the elite membership comes at a cost which is brand loyalty and annual revenue. Brand loyalty often let’s us forget about price differences to competitors and we choose the more expensive brand over the best price. Do this on 20 trips per year and add it up, then ask yourself again if your benefits are for free!?

At least domestic travel, in particular within North America is nothing glorious at all – even in First Class. The ‘champagne’ is usually a sparkling wine and the Club Lounges are glorified waiting areas that serve cheese cubes and snack mix paired with a soda fountain. In recent years though, the airlines trying to improve their Club Lounge environment by adding alcoholic beverages and better food options. Still within the U.S. for example the club access is subject to either a paid membership, an overseas frequent flier membership or an international/transcontinental premium cabin ticket. Again here we see: It is NOT for free.

Now you might say ‘What about all these bloggers and their luxury travels? There is no way they can pay for that!‘. Fact is while there are many blogs out there, the frequent flier community is very small (in relation to the general population) and all of the bloggers I know of started out back in the day as members of Flyertalk (access here). There we learned the secrets of attaining elite status, building up mileage balances and overall enjoying this as a hobby. But: There was always a cost. In fact back in the day the cost was much lower than it is today, now that many airlines restrict their frequent flyer programs and focus more on the revenue given to the company. In addition, it takes years to master the secrets of being a crack frequent flyer who is able to score bumps, vouchers and loads of miles. You don’t switch on the computer in a RosettaStone fashion and you will be a frequent flier in 6 months.

The bloggers who publish their great inflight reviews (which I really enjoy reading by the way) absolutely pay for this, even though some of them appear to think they don’t. They pay with their mileage balances that have been accumulated over time (at a cost), applying for credit cards (at a cost), buying miles cheaply during sales (at a cost), they are invited by the airline (at the cost of having to review the product afterwards) or they are pimping credit cards on their blog and use that revenue or referral points of these to book their premium tickets (still a cost). These costs are much much lower than a revenue ticket but the travel is still a far stretch from free.

Using a great mileage sale you are able to get a First Class Roundtrip to Asia for ~ 2,300$ such as with the current American AAdvantage Sale (access article here) while the revenue ticket costs around 9,000$. It’s still a good amount of money even though you save on the tag price.

Conclusion

Don’t be blinded by media hypes and credit card pimps that you get something for free. Nothing of proper value will ever be for free and even if you have large mileage balances already, don’t underestimate the opportunity cost.

Enjoy your trips as much as possible while always asking yourself: What else can you do with those miles?

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