Frugalfirstclasstravel tips for traveling first class regardless of your cabin

Hi Frugalistas!

We don’t all get to travel at the pointy end of the plane, but it is possible to create a pleasant environment for yourself regardless of your cabin.  Up the front passengers enjoy a quiet, calm and relaxing journey with plenty of space.  Here’s how to make that possible for you, even if you do turn right when you board!

The Etihad first class suite(photo:

The Etihad first class suite

1.  Booking your flight

If certain days or times are busy and you have a choice, avoid those times or days/dates.  The flight is less likely to be full and you can spread out.  Remember space is key to assisting in your First Class experience.

Choose your seat in advance.  If you can choose it when you book your seat do so.  If not, do so as soon as the airline will let you.  If you have pre-selected your seat, check back regularly to see if you can move to a different (ie better) seat.  If your airline allows you to preselect an exit row or bulkhead row seat for an extra price, consider doing this – space again!  Just expect those rows will be full (although sometimes you can get a surprise).


If you have some Frequent Flyer points, do you have enough to upgrade to Premium, Business or even First?  Decide whether the flight is worth doing this and if so, go ahead!

Do you have a transfer to a connecting flight?  If so, think about the length of time between flights so you don’t leave yourself with a tight (ie stressfully short) transfer or a long, boring wait.  When I travel to Europe, I find anything shorter than about 80mins and longer than about 3hours a chore, and try and avoid anything outside that window.  If you can break your trip with an overnight stay at an airport hotel consider doing this – personally I find it relaxing to do long haul trips this way, and they can be godsend when traveling with children.

2.  At the airport

Dress respectably, but comfortably.  Dress like you belong in the Class above where you are traveling – you are more likely to get that prized upgrade, and will generally be treated with far more respect and courtesy.  Even if you change into your track suit pants onboard, check in and board well dressed.

Arrive early.  There is nothing First Class about rushing in a blind panic, getting all anxious at the length of the check in and queues for security.  Particularly if you are embarking on a long trip, serenity and calm is key.

 Travel light.  Even if you check your luggage there is nothing worse than wrestling with massive suitcases that are difficult to manage – especially when you you are just heading off.  A heavy suitcase at check in will also just add to your anxiety. 

Does your Frequent Flyer account status allow you to use the Business Class or First Class check in?  Check before you leave home and use it if you can.

Lounge access.  If you don’t have lounge access, have you considered buying access to a commercial lounge on a pay per visit basis?  Prices and quality vary widely, but considering how expensive food is at the airport and how much quieter it will be, it can be money well-spent.  Check out options at your airport to decide if it is right for you.  If this is not an option don’t go to your gate too early.  The seating will fill up and you will have to wait a long time in a noisy, crowded area.  Personally, I like to go for walk once I’ve cleared security and am in the departures area.  I find a quiet space, such as an unused gate, sit and relax.  Then I wander down to my gate when it is time to board.

Etihad First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi.  If you can get access to a lounge, use it

Etihad First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi. If you can get access to a lounge, use it

3.  In flight

Hopefully you have boarded safely, found some space for your carryon luggage and are ready to face your trip with nerves intact!    Take all the airline info out of the seat pocket and put it in the overhead locker (unless you worry about crashes or getting sick on board).  That will give you more space for your own gear without compromising leg room.

Carry your own amenities kit just like they hand out in Business and First Class.  Even if you only keep it in a ziplock bag, pack a toothbrush, small toothpaste, lip balm and moisturiser, comb, socks, ear plugs and eye shades if you use them.  Keep it separate to your other toiletries ready to go.  Put that in your seat pocket before you take off, along with your reading material, music, tablet and any other goodies you need.

I like to take a neck pillow too, but make sure it’s an inflatable one, and the best quality you can buy.  They aren’t perfect, but are better than waking up with a stiff neck!  Once the flight takes off and you can move around again, grab any spare pillows or blankets to give yourself some extra luxury.  Often blankets onboard can be terrible affairs – cheap, tacky and they leave fluff on your clothes.  I pack a microfibre towel as a routine on long trips.  They can come in handy as a blanket if you buy an extra large one.

I know people who swear by noise cancelling headphones when travelling in Economy.  Quiet is another quality you are trying to achieve, remember?

Food can be a bit hit and miss, so take yourself a special treat from home.  Even if it is just a little chocolate, make it the best quality you can afford, so you don’t feel deprived.

A little treat can be a lovely thing on a long flight.......

A little treat can be a lovely thing on a long flight…….

Curate your own entertainment.  Don’t rely on the airline to keep you amused – bring that book you’ve longed to read, that film you’ve been dying to see or any other special activity.  If you “save it up” to read/watch/do on the plane you will enjoy it more and the time will pass quickly.

And remember, water, water, water.  Avoid the alcohol (limit yourself to a small glass with meals) and fizzy drinks (bloating is never First Class). 

And finally you’ve arrived!  Disembark calm, relaxed and bright eyed, ready to enjoy your adventure!


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6 Comments on “Frugalfirstclasstravel tips for traveling first class regardless of your cabin”

  1. The Guy 28/10/2013 at 2:59 am #

    Some good tips here Jo. I’d highly recommend joining frequent flyer schemes. They open a lot of doors. I’ve received more complimentary upgrades through my status on these than anything else. Also in my most recent experience the idea of being dressed appropriately does not work. I was still in a business shirt and trousers and didn’t receive an upgrade. My colleague who was next in line was dressed very casually in sweat pants and a T-shirt. He was upgraded to First Class even though he is the same status on the airline scheme as I am. No logic in it and I’m his boss!!!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/10/2013 at 8:32 am #

      Thanks for the updated info. Must admit, I always dress, so if I’m upgraded I assume it’s because I look the part! Maybe it’s a more random event than that. I do think dressing appropriately though – I think you are more likely to be treated well generally. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment!

  2. Jet 01/04/2014 at 4:15 am #

    Some very good points; I for one also swear by my noise cancelling headphones. From a flight attendant’s point of view I’d like to add:

    1) Bring some chocolates/treats on board for your crew. At the start of the flight offer them to a crew member and say something along the lines of “I appreciate how hard you work. I brought these for the crew” (it helps if you mean it too!).

    Most aircrew don’t hear that too often, and my experience flying on other carriers is that those flight attendants will do their best to treat you well. I usually end up getting free meals/snacks, headsets, etc. Just remember not to /expect/ special treatment. Just enjoy it if it happens.

    2) Do what you want with those bulky in-flight magazines and sickness bags, but please avoid removing the safety features cards. Those are required to be there by your governing agency (Transport Canada, FAA, etc). If it’s really in your way, then give it a good read first and remember to put it back at the end of the flight.

    Excellent article, thank you.

  3. Karisa 18/05/2014 at 1:54 am #

    Excellent advice! 🙂 I especially like the part about not rushing! I come from a family that is perpetually late for everything. Since I’ve been on my own, I’ve trained myself to be early most times. It certainly feels more first class than almost missing your flight and running to your gate!

  4. frugalfirstclasstravel 18/05/2014 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks Karisa. Running for your flight (or worse, missing it) is never a first class experience regardless of your class of travel.

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