Quick points: How to potentially save miles by … flying first class

Nov 7, 2021

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TPG’s Points and Miles team has created a new Quick Points series that aims to help you earn points, redeem miles and maximize your travel with bite-sized tips.

In today’s edition of Quick Points, we’ll look at how you can sometimes save miles by flying first class instead of economy.

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Believe it or not, sometimes the cost of a first-class ticket is less than one in economy.

While this can happen with cash fares, I see it happen more frequently with airline miles. When these stars align for a pricing surprise, it’s usually on a popular travel route and date where demand is soaring for economy seats, but it’s not a route that folks typically fly in first class.

Related: How to find the cheapest award flights 

A perfect example of this is the roughly two-hour flight from Cancun (CUN) to Houston (IAH). At the end of the winter holidays on Jan. 1, 2022, this is a high-demand route. As such, the cost of an economy seat on United is a whopping 55,900 United MileagePlus miles one-way. However, you can instead fly home in business class (aka domestic first class) for just 30,000 United miles on the very same flights.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

Multiply that out for a family of four and you just saved yourself over 100,000 United miles by flying in the better seat.

It’s worth noting that I have a United cobranded credit card that opens up additional award space on United flights. This may have had a hand in opening up these cheaper awards, but there’s no way to know for sure.

But, just to show you this isn’t a one-and-done fluke, here’s another route on the same day with the same phenomenon. This time it’s a connecting itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) where first class is 25,000 miles while economy is 46,500 miles.

Related: How to save money on holiday flights 

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

We used to see this happen pretty regularly around the holidays across multiple programs when more airlines used traditional award charts. Price-conscious leisure travelers would book up economy saver awards while premium cabin saver awards remained available.

As airlines transition more to more dynamic award pricing (meaning the price in miles is roughly tied to the price in cash), this is happening a bit less frequently than it did in the past — but it still happens.

So, when you go to book that holiday flight, don’t skip a glance at the first class award prices — you may find they are sometimes less than the cost of sitting in the back.

Featured image courtesy of Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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