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Feel first class every time you fly

Use our tips and tricks to make any standard flight feel like first class

There's no doubt you'll have a nicer flight in first class than in standard. There's a reason it's four times the price for long haul and twice the price for shorter trips (according to the Wall Street Journal).

But is it really four times nicer? No. And you can recreate most of the benefit of first class for a fraction of that eye-watering cost.

What do you get for a first class ticket that you don't get in standard?

  • More leg room
  • More space (sometimes including a bed)
  • Better food and drink choices
  • A cute little bag of amenities (high-end sleep masks, moisturisers, etc.)
  • Better service
  • A lounge at the airport before you board

It's definitely not nothing, but it's still mostly stuff you can recreate in standard either for free or a handful of pounds. Here's how.

1. Timing

The cheapest flight every day is normally the most antisocial one, taking off at the crack of dawn.

And that cheapest dawn flight might not actually be your best bet. If there's a flight in the evening for a few pounds more, it might be worth it if you can sleep on the plane (we'll explain below how to make sleeping on the plane a whole lot easier). Also keep an eye out for any flights that might be a little more expensive, but a lot quieter. Saving a tenner to be crammed into the busiest, noisiest flight of the day at 6am can be a false economy, so do your research and think about your options before you jump straight on that cheapest ticket.

2. More space

Getting more space depends on how full your flight is and how you're travelling. You've already checked whether there's an empty flight for a few extra pounds, right? So you've already massively increased your chances of stretching out.

If you're flying solo, you can gamble by taking a flight that normally fills up coach but not business or first (think early weekend flights when there's no meetings to get to) and trying to blag an upgrade. If coach is full and first is empty, someone's going to move up and you can improve your chances by dressing smartly, chatting politely to the crew and simply asking directly whether there's any chance of an upgrade. You can also sometimes buy an upgrade late in the day for a fraction of the headline price.

If your flight's not especially full, dawdle at the gate, board last and look for an empty row. On a half-full flight no-one (usually) cares where you sit, so scope out the empty space and make it yours.

"The middle seat trick"

Want more space when travelling as a couple? Book the aisle and the window, leave the middle seat and unless the plane is full full no-one will book it. You just got three seats for the price of two, and all the space you need to spread out.

3. Leg room

Many airlines will charge you a bit more (but still far less than a first class ticket) for a seat with a gap in front - emergency exit rows, front row, etc. Book early, take advantage and spread out. If you've taken advantage of our space tips, you've already got the room.

4. Amenities

If you fly first class, you get a cute little bag of amenities. sleep masks, pillows, ear plugs, socks, moisturiser, toothbrush, comb… all sorts of little luxuries. The thing is, you can buy the exact same first class amenity bag on eBay for a few pounds.

You can also replicate everything in the bag by taking your own washbag. (You already own a toothbrush. You're wearing socks.) So yes it's nice to be pampered - but unless someone else is footing the bill it's really not worth the price tag. You also get nice pillows, blankets and even pyjamas on some top-end airlines, but, again, these are all things you already own and a good, inflatable travel pillow can be bought at the airport.

Tips summary

  • Fly at weird times, the planes are empty (and don't fly long-haul in the morning, fly late and sleep through)
  • Do the middle seat trick
  • Sit in the middle of the plane, it rocks less
  • Sit by a window so people don't crawl over you
  • Dress super-comfy. Are we saying fly in pyjamas? Yes we are
  • Put your feet up
  • Take a picnic, it's better than economy plane food and you can eat it when you like
  • Don't forget your pineapple
  • Carry the amenities they give you in first - pillow, earplugs, sleep mask. (You can just buy a first class amenity bag for a few quid on eBay)
  • Be nice to the crew, most people ignore them or treat them as bartenders
  • Book a lounge before you fly

5. Pyjamas

If you're going down the blag-an-upgrade route you've dressed up for your flight. Good for you, hope it worked. If you're not trying to get upgraded - and honestly, it's a remote hope these days - dress super-comfy. You're going to be on the plane for a while, so wear something you can sleep in. Something you might normally sleep in. Are we saying wear pyjamas to the airport? We're not not saying it. You'll sleep better in pyjamas.

Allie exploring Iceland

6. Beds

Long-haul first class on Etihad, Emirates or BA comes with actual beds. You can't recreate that in coach surely?

Well… no. But you can get a lot closer than trying to sleep sitting bolt upright in a chair.

Book a window seat so no-one climbs over you. You've already got yourself some extra space with our tips above. Put it to use and spread out. Tip your chair back (yes, all the way back, you've paid for a reclining chair and so has the person behind you). Put your feet up, either on your hand luggage or an inflatable footstool (yes, they're totally a thing). Use your pillow, sleep mask, earplugs, blankets. Now you're horizontal, dark, cosy, quiet. It's still not as good as being in bed at home, or even the suites in first - but it's a lot, lot closer.

7. Food

OK, you've booked an evening flight and slept through it with your feet up in your extra leg room and little bag of tricks. The next thing you need to make standard feel like first is a good meal.

So bring your own.

You can pack food you really like and eat it when it's convenient for you. You can't bring your own drink on the plane so you can't quite replicate the free champagne, but again, is a glass of bubbly really worth paying four times the price? Wait until you land and treat yourself to a glass of what the locals recommend instead.

Eat some pineapple before you fly

And eat some pineapple. The enzymes in pineapple settle your stomach, so you're less likely to get travel sick.

8. Be nice to the crew

People who work for the airlines say that most passengers ignore them while they stare at their phones, and others treat them as a walking bar. Be nice! Say hello and not only will you make their day more pleasant, they're more likely to look after you. That extra-attentive service you'd get in first class can be yours if you're just polite and friendly to the people looking after you.

9. Book a lounge before you fly

The one definite benefit of a first-class ticket is a "free" first-class lounge to relax in before you fly. But you can just book a lounge yourself - they start from as little as £15, and our latest research shows that most people spend more than that at the terminal just waiting for their plane, so the peace and quiet of a lounge is often cheaper than waiting in departures.

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So there you have it - fly like it's first in standard. And normally on long-haul, it'll be for about a quarter of the price!

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