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Traveling First Class for the First Time

This article was written by in Travel. 15 comments.


After using the Continental Airlines OnePass Plus Card as my primary credit card for personal and travel spending for the past year, and the resulting accumulation of miles in Continental’s frequent flyer program, I decided to cash in. For 35,000 points, I was able to upgrade the round-trip ticket from Newark to Chicago. I would have preferred to use points for a longer flight, such as one to California to visit family, but upgrading those fares from most economy fare classes require an additional payment (a co-pay) beyond the miles.

As a result of the recent merger with United Airlines, Continental has begun changing some of their frequent flyer benefits. For example, you no longer have to have earned a certain level (Silver Elite, Gold Elite, or Platinum Elite) to take advantage of a few benefits like expedited bag check lines, priority status for checked luggage (first on the carousel at arrival), expedited security check lines, and priority boarding. Unfortunately for me, my primary airport is Newark, where these benefits often mean little, especially during peak travel periods.

Continental Airlines LogoWith a first class boarding pass, I was able to board in the second group of passengers, after military personnel. Being one of the first four of five people to board allowed me to quickly stow my carry-on and sit comfortably for the next 30 minutes as the rest of the passengers boarded. While boarding, a flight attended offered drinks (of any type; alcoholic drinks are complimentary in first class) to those already settled.

While the DirecTV entertainment system normally costs $5.99 or $7.99 (with a $2 discount to Continental credit cardholders), if this entertainment is available on the flight, it is free to first class passengers. Even when a meal isn’t offered in the main cabin, first class passengers receive a complimentary meal with a tray, a small tablecloth, and silverware (well, stainless steel, not silver). On the initial part of my trip, the flight attended distributed warm towels before the meal.

The seating arrangement was about twice as spacious as the seats in the main cabin, and the seats were slightly more comfortable. The seats reclined much farther which encouraged me to relax more, particularly considering how exhausted I was by the end of the conference.

All of these conveniences added up to a nicer travel experience, but even first class status can prevent delays, turbulence, and difficulties getting around in the airports. If I were to have money to spare or unlimited frequent flyer miles, I would travel first class all the time. The benefits may be minor and flying without the conveniences is often adequate, but it could be an advantage for longer flights, particularly if I begin taking overnight flights when traveling long distances.

Even the best first class ticket can’t prevent the annoyances of moving through an airport, so while the fares call for a higher price, traveling by air is still often a problematic endeavor.

Published or updated October 4, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jared

Im not sure that i will ever fly first class, whether I have the money for it or not. Like you said, coach is more than adequate.

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avatar Romeo

I also flew to Chicago via first class though, it was under different circumstances. It was a “bump up” since I had missed a connecting flight through not fault of my own. Because it wasn’t my time traveling first class (I’m a frequent flier, so to speak) I knew that the drink would be free. After about three Dewer’s Scotch and a couple of beers all within an hour, let’s just say that I was feeling “good.”

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I flew Continental from Scranton, PA to Dallas a couple of years ago and it was a very pleasant experience. I was also bumped up due to weather cancellation of my regularly scheduled flight. It was an early morning flight, and they gave me a full breakfast on the plane, which was actually pretty good. I think I was the only non-business traveler in first class that morning, but the attendants were very nice and the service was outstanding.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I was also bumped up to first class once….just because it wasn’t full. It was great! The seats on planes have gotten mighty small—-on my last flight I had a very large person on one side, and since the overhead compartments were full, a bag under my feet. It was pretty uncomfortable. Guess you don’t have that problem in first class.

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avatar Steve Dupree

I have flown first class a few times. The seats are more comfortable, and the food is better. But both are worse than the bare minimum I would expect on the ground. Obviously I’m not going to turn down a free upgrade, but I wouldn’t waste miles or money on it.

I like to drink as much as the next guy, but drinking on a flight will worsen both dehydration and jet lag.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

when I flew to India earlier this year I was bumped to first class because the flight wasn’t full. It was fantastic because they served free champagne, good food, and the entertainment options were great. I still haven’t flown first class on a domestic US flight but something I want to do soon.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦85 (Newbie)

I got a first-class bump-up once. The good news: You’re in first class! The bad news: It’s only from Atlanta to Philadelphia. I’d barely had a chance to eat the almonds when the announcement that we were descending occurred. Sigh.

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avatar someguy

Domestic first class isn’t the same thing as international first (or even international business). Domestic generally isn’t worth it, with the possible exception of unusually long flights like east cost to Alaska or Hawaii. I flew first (upgraded with miles) to Hawaii recently and on a total 12 hours of flying it was well worth it. By being able to sleep pretty well both ways, I was able to gain two extra days. Of course, I am exceptionally tall so coach seats generally require stretching and bending in unnatural ways.

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avatar David M

My wife and I flew first class on Luftansa from Boston to Seoul Korea by way of Munich Germany in May – this was WONDERFUL.

There were only 8 seats in First Class but only 4 seats were taken – for the 4 flyers – we had 2 flight attendants.

The seats/beds laid flat and we were even given pajamas that we were able to take home!

The price of these tickets IF purchased $15,000 each or $30,000. HOWEVER, we used frequent flyer miles – 135,000 a piece. How did we get so many miles – for the most part – United Chase Credit Card. They have now changed there policy, but, they used to allow you to get the sign up bonus multiple times. I would get the card for a year with the fee waived and 30,000 bonus points and cancel at the end of the year. Then repeat.

In Munich we were met by a Mercedes and taken thru customs and walked to the First Class Lounge – I hope to get enough points to be able to do again!!!!!

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avatar Buck Inspire

I used points to get to a friend’s wedding at the last minute. You do feel special and the ride is more comfortable, but is it really worth paying double or triple price?

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avatar David M

No it is not!

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avatar Krantcents

I use freqyent flier miles die travel overseas. It enables me to fly business or first class. It is agreat perk. I find it almost a necessity when flying long trips (10-14 hours) from the West coast.

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avatar Bryan J Busch ♦452 (Nickel)

I’d be happy enough with “tall person class”, which would be just like coach, but with somewhere to put my legs.

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avatar KNS Financial ♦404 (Nickel)

Once I tried to squeeze into the seat, I started to wonder how great first class would feel. Though I don’t think it’s worth the huge increase in price, I will be on the lookout for other opportunities to get up there!

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avatar The Wealthy Canadian

I’ve never flown first class before but from what I can gather there’s always a lot of leg room, and beverages are often free.

I don’t see a huge benefit to flying first class, especially with the additional money or reward points you have to commit unless, as you mention, you are flying overseas. A relative of mine flew to Western Europe this past spring and flew first class. Having the extra room, he said, was worth every penny.

Nice post!

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