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

Nov 7, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter.

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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.