Cost effective first class travel

I’m going to let you in on a few secrets.

I’ve learned through a great deal of experience over the last several years about travel.  People often ask me about my travel habits because I do so much of it… and one of the common questions I get is “How much do you spend each year on travel???”

Honestly… quite a bit. But I recognize that my travel breadth and frequency is abnormal.  Also, as a sharp investor myself, I detest needlessly squandering money… and as such I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way for paying substantially less than everyone else, and to me, that’s like buying an undervalued stock.

The truth is, you don’t need to blow a lot of money to travel well and see the world.  And as I happen to be sitting on a plane as I write this having just enjoyed a nice nap, a great meal, and an endless supply of Tuscan wine, I’d like to share a little-known tip for flying well:

For long-haul international flights, economy seating can simply be too painful… a lot of airlines are now offering substantial discounts on business class fares (a few weeks ago I mentioned Finn Air’s roundtrip from JFK to Helsinki for under $2,000), but there are some even better deals out there:

American Airlines is one of the largest carriers in the world and part of the well-established “Oneworld Alliance” that has routes and hubs on every continent.   Each year, as a reward for its most valuable customers, the airline bestows 8 system-wide vouchers that can be used to upgrade any flight.

The vouchers are only good for one year, and if unused, they expire.  Most of these elite passengers who are granted the upgrade vouchers do not use all of them, and in order to make a few extra bucks, they post them for sale on eBay or Craigslist.

The average price range is around $200, which covers the cost of a 1-way upgrade to business class from economy.

Here’s how you do it (this works for American Airlines but other airlines have similar programs):

1) Find a potential supplier on eBay or Craigslist; you can even google “American Airlines upgrade [or]”  You will have to search around for a bit, but they’re out there, especially towards the end of the year.

2) Once you find a willing seller, plan your itinerary online… say you want to go from Chicago to Mumbai and back. Pick a few dates, then put the itineraries on HOLD. Do not purchase yet.

3) CALL the airline (1-800-433-7300) and ask the agent the following question: “I have a friend who wants to let me use his VIP upgrade—is there upgrade availability for my flight?”

If the answer is yes, buy the ticket that you have on hold and write down the 6-character confirmation number.

4) Notify the person that you purchased the upgrade from to call the airline immediately and request the upgrade on your behalf. You will have to supply him with the confirmation number.

It’s important to note that this tactic is technically a violation of airline policy.  Frankly I don’t really care, just be sure that you don’t call the airline and say something like “Hey I just bought an upgrade from some guy I never met on eBay…” because they will not honor the upgrade.

So… for the additional price of about $400 roundtrip, you can be up front in the lay-flat seat snoozing away the entire trip.  To me, that’s well worth the price of admission.

** Disclaimer: the last time I did this was several months ago, and as airlines are constantly changing their policies, make sure you execute step 3 before you buy.

I’ll be sharing more specific tactics I use to travel well (and inexpensively) in future articles, but I’d really like to hear from you.   If you like this topic, let me know and share your personal tactics to high quality, low cost travel.