Last year’s travels between Brisbane and Singapore in Etihad’s wonderful business class totally spoilt me for all my future air travel. I learnt how to bid for cheap upgrades on certain airlines and I was hooked. Now, whenever I travel, I’m always looking into how I can travel first class on a budget. None of the airlines that allow bidding for upgrades fly between Maui or Kauai so I had to look for a new option. Here’s what I did!
1. Fly from Maui, not Kauai
Originally my plan for our three weeks in Hawaii saw us in Kauai at the end of our trip. However, when I checked onward flights to Seattle, they were $500+ out of Lihue airport on Kauai and around the $300 mark from Kahului airport on Maui. The reason? Competition. Both Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines fly from Maui meaning they’re both after your tourist dollar whereas Alaska holds the monopoly on the Kauai to Seattle route.
Flying from Maui instead of Kauai is going to save you at least $200 per person. (An inter-island flight from Kauai to Maui is less than $100 so even if you’re not planning on visiting Maui, it’ll still save you money.)
2. Go for the Red Eye
Red eye flights can be hell. If you’re not one for sleeping on planes, a red eye flight will destroy you for days to come. I can usually grab a few winks on planes and I find night flights MUCH easier with children. Alaska has two scheduled flights a day out of Maui to Seattle; a lunchtime departure and a red eye leaving at 10.15pm and arriving in Seattle at 6.45am. Bear in mind that it’s only a 5.5 hour flight so you won’t be getting much sleep but it’s a lot easier to sleep in first class than economy.
Going for the red eye is going to save you another $30 or so at least. For us, the red eye was $100 cheaper per person which was a saving of over $300 for all three of us.
3. Pick the Right Date
If your dates are flexible, choose the date that has the most first class seats available. You can check the seat map for each flight on Alaska very easily by just checking the fare on a certain date and clicking the “seats” link. See the graphic below. Obviously the more seats available in first class, the better your chance of an upgrade.
4. Ask for a Paid Upgrade on Check-In
Alaska Airlines offers paid upgrades on check-in. They don’t publicise this very well at all. Based on the length of the flight you pay either $50, $100, $150 or $200 for the upgrade from economy to first. Get to the airport early and ask at the check in desk. Pay your $150 and enjoy the flight!
First class flights on an economy budget? Yes please!
On our flight from Maui to Seattle this August, we each paid $330 for our economy fare (about a month in advance) and $150 for the upgrade on check in. A total of $480 which included our baggage plus all the wonderful first class extras on board like an entertainment players, cheeseboard and champagne!
That’s less than the economy class from Kauai and only slightly more than the day flight from Maui before even paying for extras like baggage.
Sure, it’s not a guaranteed upgrade but it’s worth the risk.