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Leave Economy Class and Travel Like a CEO

If you are like most people, you fly economy class all the time.? There is often no other alternative, so you just endure it, your knees pressed against the seat in front of you and a glorified TV dinner on your tray table.? Maybe you have some gear to ease the pain a little bit: some noise canceling headphones or an inflatable pillow that wraps around your neck.? But, for the most part, your policy is simply to grin and bear it.

Get out of this situation.

It’s not any better before you board.? Maybe you grab an overpriced bottle of water from a terminal convenience store or even visit the food court for some grease with a little bit of food in it.? You’ve probably asked yourself, at some point, if there is any way to avoid feeling like a complete peon while traveling.

While there is no complete fix for economy class travel woes, short of spending big bucks for a business class seat or finding that one-in-a-million job that pays for first class tickets, it is possible to put some first-class in your travels without too much effort.

If you are even a semi-frequent flier, joining an airline loyalty program is the best way to earn access to that air travel good life that usually seems so out of reach.? How can you earn some sought-after perks?? If you usually fly one airline, it is as easy as signing up for a frequent flier program and enduring a few flights.? You can pad your miles account by getting an airline-specific credit card.? With these cards, you earn a mile for every dollar spent on most purchases and perhaps three or four (or more) miles when you purchase tickets from the airline.? You can try to find a card that offers bonus miles for new card-holders.? Airline alliances make it possible to earn miles even if you don’t always fly the same airline.? If you fly on an airline that is allied with your frequent flier airline, you can still earn 100% of the miles for the flight.? The Star Alliance (United/Continental and US Airways, as well as a bunch of international airlines), Oneworld (American Airlines and British Airways) and Sky Team (Delta) are the three major airline alliances.? You can even sign up for a loyalty program directly from the alliance.

What is one of the biggest payoffs for earning a lot of miles? You qualify for top-tier frequent flier status, which can lead to free upgrades.? Also, fliers who have a high status level are usually the first in line for an upgrade if a plane is overfilled.

It never hurts to ask for an upgrade when you get your boarding pass.? It can help to turn on the charm.? Though most ticket counter agents are immune to this, you could get lucky and flirt your way to an upgrade even if your frequent flier status doesn’t earn you one.? This is especially true on overbooked flights, but it can also work for under-booked flights.? Because of the extended economic slump, more people are flying economy, so there are bound to be open seats in the premium classes.

Speaking of overbooked flights, they offer the best opportunity for casual fliers? to get some first class services without all the miles-collecting.? Perhaps you’ve heard the PA system announcement before: ?We need volunteers to take a later flight.?? If you volunteer, you are hardly a sucker.? This is the only time that you truly have the leverage to get what you want from an airline.? You can volunteer and ask for an upgrade on a later flight (even if you might not get it) and even score meal vouchers that can get you a nice free steak in one of the plusher airside eateries.

And what about the terminal?? Having a first class experience before you board or after you disembark is actually much easier than scoring an upgrade the plane.? You can get airport lounge access with a membership to Priority Pass.? Membership start at $99 (and goes up to $399 for unlimited access).? Not a bad deal if you fly frequently and want to spend some time in a plush chair, chomping on complementary snacks and nodding to the suit-wearing moguls who can’t remember the last time that they ate at an airport food court.? Most airlines offer one-day pay-in access to their airport lounges for about $50 per visit.

The American Express Platinum Card also offers lounge access to cardholders.? The $450 annual fee can seem prohibitively expensive, but even semi-frequent fliers with a little bit of financial savvy can earn enough miles and yearly bonuses to get free tickets and complementary companion tickets worth $450.? At least it’s worth doing the math to see if you fly enough to cover the annual fee with freebies.? If you can, then lounge access is basically a free perk.? The Platinum’s global concierge service is another first-class perk associated with the card.

Yes, there will be times when your best upgrade efforts fail and you’ll be stuck in economy class in a middle seat next to the stereotypical sweaty overweight guy, crying baby, or chatty old lady.? Just think of it as paying your dues and grinding out a few more airline miles on the way to top tier frequent flier status and a first class future.

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About Josh Lew Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.

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