My 1st First Class Experience
I am not an exceptionally...EXTRA person, by design. I use coupons. I shop around + buy discounted, when possible. Hell. I sit here now in my Target sweats, yesterday's makeup and a trusty rubber band holding up my extremely messy bun. However. I LOVE a good pampering once in a while. (As we all should.) And my very 1st first class story started with the thought of a 1-time pampering, a business trip...and an email. I'll get back to that.
*Disclaimer: I am not an overly "well-traveled" human. I grew up in small-town Pennsylvania + live less than 5 miles from that particular home now. I fly only a few times per yr., both for business and pleasure. I am not a lover of flying. When I can drive. I drive. Also, the following is a story about my experience flying first class with Delta Airlines. I cannot specifically speak for other airlines. You will also find some tips on how you can make flying first class more affordable. I am not an influencer. Just a Mama + small business owner, trying to live her best life. Back to that email...
In October of 2015, I decided to attend a business conference in Tampa. I had a few great flights with Delta Airlines in the past, so I went onto Delta's website. I got the "usual". Economy seat. Baltimore to Tampa. Layover in Atlanta (Delta's main hub). $268.18. Not terrible. I ordered.
Holidays went by and I must have been feeling especially slummy on the morning of January 6th. I opened an email from Delta Airlines regarding my flight coming up in May. It read something to the tune of..."we have open spots in first class on all four legs of your flights. Do ya want 'em? $201.02." I quickly did the math. That's just $50.26 per leg of the flight. On most days I probably just would have deleted the email + went on living. But today, just over a week after surviving the holidays, I thought HMMM. I told my husband, Brett, about it and he said "do it!" So I upgraded.
Thank goodness Brett got me to the airport early that Wednesday morning. It was packed! I had no idea what was in store for me that day. At check-in, I see a sign all the way to the right of the regular Delta check-in lines (which had HUNDREDS of people waiting in them btw). It read "Delta Priority". 3 people waiting in this line. Well, as luck would have it, my newly printed first class pass said "Delta Priority". Awesome. I nearly felt guilty bumping in front of all those patient people.
I had 2 bags at check-in. (I usually buy + bring home more than I pack at this particular conference, so I was prepared with the extra luggage.) I wasn't worried, though. Because first class on Delta means TWO FREE checked bags AND up to 70 lbs., instead of the standard 50 lb. limit. *Important to note- This would have cost me $70 EACH WAY in coach. (first bag = $30, second bag = $40) That's $140 in luggage fees of the extra $201 I paid to upgrade to first class for the entire trip! AND the check-in attendant even sends me off with a "have a wonderful flight, Mrs. Leisenring." The first of many times I would be called that on this day.
At the security check point my life came to a complete stop. I mean, I was prepared for a line. But this was insane! So I put my bags down + struck up a conversation with the super sweet lady standing in front of me. First, a few moments commiserating. Then the basic niceties. "Where are you headed?" Yada yada. (She was traveling for work, as well.) I shared that I'm not fond of flying, but looking forward to my 1st first class flight. She explained that she had flown in first class before + loved it. And although her company always sends her in coach, she still chooses first class for personal travel on occasion. And then she paused. Asked to see my boarding pass. And spoke those miracle words. "You're in the wrong line. Delta Sky Priority is over there." Oh my word! Again? My own line. We exchanged well-wishes + off I went. In another line. Less than 10 people. I breezed right through + probably saved an excruciating 45-60 min. of waiting.
After a quick pitstop for my carb + energy fix, Annie Anne's Pretzels, I arrived at my gate. Got settled into a seat and enjoyed my treat. I soon noticed that our gate attendant obviously appeared frazzled. He soon picked up the radio + made an announcement asking volunteers to surrender their carry-on. Apparently some kinda space shortage, since the flight was full. One by one, passengers reluctantly reported to his desk with their bags. 30 minutes later, requests turned into demands. Which, later, turned into said attendant asking unsuspecting travelers to see their boarding passes. And all coach passengers with bags much larger than a bookbag being forced to check their bags. Complimentary, of course. But my bag was safe. First class passengers get their own overheads. So you'll never be asked to check your bag.
I didn't take particular notice to it on this flight, probably because of my distraction by the attendant that was elbow-deep in "Operation Baggagegate" (no bag FOR YOU!) However, it's worth noting that it is not uncommon for passengers on "stand by" in coach to be bumped to later flights...another thing that will not happen to you flying first class, since you will choose your seat at reservation.
By now, the somewhat calmer attendant begins the call for boarding (40 min. before take-off). 1. Passengers requiring extra time boarding; those with strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, etc. 2. Active military (which I SO LOVE about Delta!) 3. First Class! Say, what now?! I wasn't prepared. And I apparently missed the flock of people already lined up behind the Sky Priority sign. Again, with the separate line. Delta just gets me!
When I reached seat 2A, I covered myself in my soft Delta blanket, tucked my squishy Delta pillow at my side (extra seat space = plenty of room) + set my free water bottle on my serving tray. I tucked my bookbag below the seat in front of me, stretched out my feet + started messing with my personal tv. What am I supposed to do for the next 40 minutes? (Apparently drink.)
"Mrs. Leisenring. What would you like for your pre-board drink?"
"My what, now?"
"Would you like a coffee, hot tea, soft drink or to see our Beer, Wine and Cocktail Menu?"
"Oh my, ok. Is there a difference in cost?"
"No ma'am. It's all complimentary."
"Bailey's + Milk, please!" (It's 9am btw.)
As the attendant soon returned with my drink + complimentary headphones, so did my seatmate. David. He had me feeling particularly underdressed. But, a very nice man. With an MBA, a small accounting firm in Atlanta...and a yacht...which was causing him much stress these days. We had very little in common. But he showed me how to access my phone charger port. And, for that, I was particularly grateful.
By now the other passengers began boarding. And I began my love affair with flying first class.
After takeoff and once at altitude, our personal + easily accessible flight attendant refreshed my cocktail. Twice. (I was pleased to discover first class passengers had access to our own bathroom.) And really brought a smile to my face with the appearance of that glorious premium snack basket. Fresh fruit, cookies, crackers, chips, vanilla roasted almonds, just to name a few.
"Choose two," she says. Mmm. Two Biscoff cookies. And if you don't choose at least one of these, you're crazy! That magical basket made its way back around before the end of the flight. Filling my belly and my bookbag with yummy travel snacks.
To round out the first leg of my flights for the day, shortly after arriving at our gate in ATL, first class passengers were able to quickly exit the plane. On my way to my next gate (I had some time to kill), I noticed a sign for "Delta Sky Club". Hmm. I figured, "Sky Club". "Sky Priority". That's probably me. Let's do this. I stepped through the frosted glass doors and made my way to what I can only describe as similar to the front desk of a Four Seasons Resort. I had to show my boarding pass + I.D. But with first class passes, my Delta travel credit card, and an extra $30, I was able to enter the private club.
Oh my. You don't even know. A full bar. A luxurious spread of hot + cold breakfast foods, fresh fruit, an endless supply of those Premium Delta Snacks, etc. Private booths + tables with access to charging ports, newspapers and other reading materials. Hell. One lady told me that I could even head over to the other side, which included showers + sleep pods. Oh, ALL-INCLUDED, by the way.
While I had a bit of time to kill, I certainly did not have enough time for a nap. I grabbed my complimentary breakfast, a few more of those premium snacks, charged my phone + headed to my gate. Of course, now I was an old pro + made it to my designated first class boarding line and grabbed another cocktail for my pre-board beverage.
Once we taxied into our gate at TPA, I quickly headed over to baggage claim. Surprisingly, my bags were already making their way around the carousel. Yet another first class benefit. Speedy baggage pickup.
Although this particular flight was too short to offer an in-flight meal, in April of the following year, Brett + I took a flight to Las Vegas. As luck would have it, and with each flight layover in MSP, we received a meal on each leg of our flights. And a hot towel hand wash to prepare for our meals. Delta certainly does not disappoint in this area. Each time we were able to choose our meal from two yummy options. We certainly did not arrive with an empty belly.
Breakfast- veggie egg omelet, sausage, bagel + fresh fruit
Lunch- ham + cheese pretzel roll, pickle, potato chips + cookies
Lunch- chicken + pasta, steamed veggies, fresh fruit salad + cookie
Dinner (I think)- chicken quiche, grilled veggies, side salad + cookie
Dinner- parm. steak, steamed broccoli, steak fries, salad, roll + ice cream
I was officially a lifelong first class fan. And by now, I KNEW I HAD to figure out how a regular, middle class Mama, like yours truly, keeps up with the "other halfs" of the world + fly first class on all or most of my flights. It took a few flights to figure it out, but I think I've done it. So here are a few cost-saving, first-class flying tips to help get you started:
1. Shorter Flights = Lower Costs
Choose to fly first class on shorter flights (less than 900 miles), and basic economy when you have to travel longer distances. Longer flights often include meals + that requires larger planes which equals more expense.
2. Always Book Direct
Order your tickets direct from the airline's website. Eliminate the middleman. Save money + increase your likelihood of grabbing an upgrade.
3. Be Airline Loyal
I really like Delta Airlines. (Full disclosure- I don't have a whole lot of experience with other airlines that offer first class.) Like with most airlines, I earn miles with each flight. Since 2015, I have acquired thousands of dollars in discounts + reached a higher status simply by being a return customer. Choose an airline that works best for you + stick to them. Earning rewards = less money out of your wallet.
4. Download the Airline App
Most airlines now offer apps for convenience. Be sure to download it. Manage frequent flyer miles, upcoming trips, book tickets, etc.
5. Go for the Upgrade
Like my 1st experience, book your flight in basic economy (or the lowest tier that the airline allows upgrades from). Around 3-4 months before your trip, check the airline app or website for any open seats in first class. Contact customer service and see if they have any upgrade offers. You can also ask about available upgrades at check-in on the day of your flight. *Note; same-day upgrades are often very limited.
6. Use a Travel Credit Card
Do you use a specific credit card for travel? I highly recommend having a travel card. Holds on credit cards from hotels when traveling can be really annoying. Consider applying for your airline's card. In many cases, when you are a cardholder, you get free checked bags, access to private airport clubs, extra flyer miles + more.
7. Be Flexible
According to most travel sources, the least expensive days to fly domestic are Tuesdays, Wednesdays + Saturdays. Consider choosing one, or both, of these travel days when booking a flight in first class. Early morning + late night flights are also cheaper.
8. Book Tickets on a Tuesday
Also, according to many travel sites, flights are lower when ordering on Tuesday afternoons. Airlines typically release new promotions on Monday evenings. By mid-day on Tuesday, in an effort to remain competitive, other airlines will lower fares on these comparable flights.
9. Use Your Social Media
Be sure to like + follow the airline on your social media platforms. Post, comment, like, share and leave reviews. You'd be surprised at the little nuggets of goodies you can take advantage of.
10. Traveling With Kids? Skip the Luxury
Traveling with kids can be tough. And really expensive. Some airlines offer a "first class-ish" level. For Delta, this is called "Comfort Plus". Last March, we took a family trip to visit my parents in Florida. I decided to save a bit on our tickets by booking seats in Comfort Plus. For us, it really wasn't worth the extra expense. No separate lines. No pre-boarding. Just basically slightly larger seats than those in economy. Also, we were even asked to check our carry-on bags.
11. Reach Out to Customer Service
Most airlines love feedback. Have a wonderful meal? Was your experience better than you expected? When you return from your trip be sure to take a few moments to email customer service + tell them about your satisfaction. The same goes for any not-so-great experience. I assure you...airlines do not want to lose you as a customer. We recently had a less-than-ideal flight experience. When we returned from our travels, we reached out to customer service. Surprisingly, we were gifted $200 off a future flight.
12. Split the Trip
Have a layover on your flight? Save on first class flights + make the most of all the first class benefits by booking first class only on the 1st leg of your flight. Fly coach for the 2nd leg. You can spend less, but still get the separate check-in + security lines, as well as free checked bags on some airlines.
13. Utilize Promotions
Sign up for the airline's frequent flyer promotion. Also, sign up for their email newsletter. Flying earlier in the year? Order your tickets on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Many airlines offer discounts as low as 70% off.
Life can be crazy. Messy. Stressful. Busy + wild. We ALL deserve the special treatment from time to time. Work hard = play hard. First class flights can be a great way to treat yourself + turn travel days into just as much fun as the getaway. Fair warning; flying premium can be addictive. Be sure to do your research and save, where possible. Traveling can, and should, be fun. So put the work in when you're booking. But sit back + enjoy your travel days. Have another great money-saving tip for flying first? I'd love to hear them. Comment below. Safe travels!
Jenn Leisenring is the Owner + head #saucymama for Saucy Asylum. Saucy Asylum is a truly natural bath + body company for the hard-working, busy Mama. Don't worry about making time for trips to the spa, or expensive vacations. You can "be your own escape" with your own Saucy Asylum products.