TRAVEL: How to get a $6,000 business class seat to Europe or South America for $350 or free

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

business class seat

I love flying to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia to talk about authentic storytelling content marketing, but those overnight flights in coach can ruin the beginning of any trip. The solution of course is to fly business class. Just make sure it’s business class with lie down seats like this one.

This is a 772 and I loved this lie down business seat – especially since I didn’t have to fork over $6k for it. I took it from New York City’s JFK to Barcelona (about a seven hour flight). Arriving in Barcelona at 7 a.m. I could get the day started after getting almost five hours of sleep. That wouldn’t have been possible in coach.

Here’s how I often fly business class for hundreds versus thousands of dollars.

I fly American Airlines. All the time. Around 90,000 miles in 2016. I have had status with them for a couple years now. The more you fly the more valuable you are to them. With that they give you more things – free bags (though I hardly ever check one), early boarding, shorter security lines abroad and more.

Related reading:

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Why you still need to exchange currency when traveling abroad

You also get free or cheaper upgrades in the United States. Flying outside of North America you can often upgrade from coach to business class for $350 and 25,000 miles. They confirm it when there’s room and closer to the flight based on status. So it’s not a sure thing, but I’ve been lucky.

Usually, my travel is covered by a conference or client, so here’s how I figure out which airline to fly and to keep the cost reasonable.

Does American get me there all the way? If yes, I give them preference.

I’ll look at the cost. So a $1,300 American coach ticket can end up costing me $2,050 and that assumes I have enough miles. Let’s say I have to buy miles one way that could mean another $800 so the ticket is now $2,850. It’s usually a no-brainer if I have enough miles.

But before booking I always check fares for straight up business class on any airline. United Airlines sometimes has good deals. Let’s say a United business class seat confirmed costs $2,200. In that case, I would just book that because it’s confirmed and basically the same cost.

If other non-American airlines that are part of One World – so an American Airlines partner –are close to United’s price I’ll fly them so I can still earn American miles.

My 2016 and 2017 international travel routes (flown or booked). (As of Dec. 2016)

What are your options to have enough miles?

Of course, the first answer is to keep flying. The more you fly, the more likely you’ll have enough miles. I actually currently have trips booked to Brazil and three to Europe. My nine-year-old is going with me on one of the Europe trips. The total miles needed for all these trips would be 150,000. That’s a lot! In addition to flying here are my other options:

  • Transfer miles from my kids’ accounts (yes, my 3-year-old has a frequent flyer number, too) and my wife’s account. There is a fee but it’s cheaper than buying miles.
  • Option 2 is to buy miles. That can get expensive but might still be cheaper than buying business class seats straight up.
  • Use miles form my daughters’ accounts. When I called once to request an upgrade American Airlines told me this is an option and is cheaper than transferring the miles.
  • Buy flowers for my wife and shop at other places where you earn miles while shopping.

And then of course, sometimes you might not get the upgrade anyway, so don’t buy too many extra miles too early. On my way to London in 2017, my upgrade came through, but then i was delayed and didn’t make it to the plane early enough and they gave it away. Ugh.

But using your airline status, miles and a smaller amount of cash is a great way to get better seats on those longer flights – especially overnight.

How to get the upgrade for free

In November 2017, I hit 100,000 miles for the year on American and that also meant that I had now reached the highest status level for the next 14 months. That’s Executive Platinum. That level still allows me to do the above but also adds an option:

Systemwide upgrades. As soon as I got that level I was credited with four and I can earn more. I can use them to request a free upgrade on any American operated and booked flight.

So Chicago-London would be covered. So that’s another great option if you fly a lot or if you are getting close to that level.

This was first written and published in December 2016 and then updated in August 2017 and again in November 2017.

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