Dubai: There's a practical reason to save up miles to fly first or business class: You often get more value per mile than you do on an economy-class trip.
But the real reason that you would be gathering miles for your first international business class trip isn't so practical. It's often fanciful – to indulge in a bit of extravagance without having to worry about burning a hole in your purse.
But is first class unattainable to the average person? Not if you use your points right, travel experts reveal. There are several ways to leverage your miles and points to get that upfront seat.
Expert Tip #1: Use miles to purchase a first class ticket from the airline
Using your miles to book seats in business or first class can be a bargain. For example, many airlines only require twice as many miles for a business class award as for an economy seat – sometimes even less. That's a deal, considering that business class seats often cost three to four times as much as the economy seats if you pay cash.
The cost in miles of first class seats ranges from just 14,500 for a short domestic one-way flight to 280,000 miles to ride in one of the world’s top luxurious suites from New York to Sydney, which is one part of the world to another.
However, those numbers aren't comparable, since some airlines' miles are more valuable than others, but the takeaway is that you need quite a few miles to sleep in a first-class bed in the sky.
You book premium class seats the same way you would book economy class seats using miles. On the search page of the website, look for a check box labelled ‘use miles’ or something similar. Some airlines require you to log in before the option to see prices in miles.
If you have almost but not quite enough miles to book your first class trip, some airlines allow you to pay with a combination of miles and cash. Others offer you the chance to purchase miles.
If you're considering buying miles, make sure you compare the final price of the ticket with purchased miles to the cost of just buying the ticket outright. That’s how numerous travellers come across deals, experts explain.
Expert Tip #2: Use miles to upgrade from economy to first class
However, experts also caution that while it's possible to upgrade your ticket with miles, it's rarely a good idea. Many airlines require you to buy a higher fare in order to be eligible for upgrading with miles.
In addition, the number of miles charged for these upgrades is often high — sometimes nearly as many as you would pay for a full award ticket. On top of that, airlines sometimes require a cash co-pay when upgrading with miles.
Also note that if you used miles to book an economy ticket, you probably won't be able to upgrade that ticket to a premium cabin. (There are a few exceptions for members with elite status.) But if you bought the ticket with cash or used credit card points to buy it through an online portal, you can probably still upgrade it.
If you still want to go this route, the first thing you would need to do to check for upgrade eligibility is find out your ticket's fare class.
For instance, some airlines allows miles upgrades for full fare economy tickets in a certain class of fares, or discount economy tickets purchased in a number of other fare classes. Look for one of these when you purchase your ticket, or on your email receipt afterward. If you can't find it, you can call the airline and ask.
Here’s an example on how to calculate and analyse. Let’s say for one particular domestic flight, it costs 15,000 miles to upgrade from a discount economy fare to business class, or 15,000 miles to upgrade from discount business to first (both one-way).
If you're flying to Europe or South America, those upgrades will cost you 25,000 miles each way. The airline also charges fees of Dh280 to Dh1,200 for the upgrades, and they warn that you may owe more taxes or fees on top of that.
Again, these fees and mileage requirements are so steep, you may be better off just paying for a premium seat with miles or dirhams.
What's more, having the miles in your pocket does not guarantee that you'll get an upgrade. You'll have to request it from the airline. If there are seats available for upgrade, the agent could upgrade you immediately.
Otherwise, they will put you on a waitlist with other people who have requested upgrades. If you don't have status, you're at the back of the line. If you don't hear from the airline before you leave for the airport, you'll be on the upgrade standby list.
Expert Tip #3: Use points to purchase a first class ticket through a portal
Several banks or credit card issuers have travel portals, where you can spend credit card points to purchase flights, including first class flights. The same banks generally have airline partners that you could transfer your points to.
So it's a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of using credit card points on the travel portal versus transferring the points to an airline.
You might get more value per point by transferring to an airline. However, booking through the credit card portal has advantages too. The airline usually views flights purchased this way as revenue flights, not award flights.
That means you'll probably earn frequent flyer miles for the flight, and you might be able to use miles to upgrade the flight as described above.
Another advantage is that airlines may offer a limited number of seats as award seats on any given flight, and have holiday blackout dates, but buyers using a travel portal shouldn't run into those limitations.
The number of points it will cost to purchase the flight this way generally corresponds to the flight's cost.
Not all programs allow transferring points from person-to-person, so read the fine print before attempting a hat trick like that.
There are premium credit cards that reward new sign-ups with as many as 100,000 miles or points after spending a certain amount of money.
If you go with a card for your airline of choice, or one that partners with your airline of choice, and you put all your spending on it, it's not inconceivable that you could amass several hundred thousand miles within a year or two.