12 Expert Hacks for Flying in Comfort on a Budget


Let’s face it. Frugal flying can be downright uncomfortable. As a frequent traveler, I can personally attest to some of the horrors of flying on the cheap. From creepy or obnoxious seat mates and cramped spaces to cockroaches in my in-flight meal, I’ve experienced it all!  And, even for those of you that don’t travel often, many of you long for a luxury flying experience! Over the years of air-travel, I’ve learned a thing or two about making my trip a luxury experience, expenses aside. This post will walk you through the tricks I and other frequent travelers have come up with to ensure the best possible flight experience, no matter your budget.

In our first section, we will talk about how you may go about earning yourself a frugal upgrade to first-class. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that it can be done for free! In our second section, we’ll focus on how to ensure your flight feels like a luxury flight even if you didn’t get the upgrade you wanted.

1.  Be fashionably late.

While this may sound counterintuitive, being late can actually increase your chances of getting the best seat. Here’s why. Many airlines tend to overbook in coach or book to the brim of capacity. When this happens, many times, because they’re less often purchased, it’s first-class that will still have a little wiggle room. So, if you show up late, (just be careful not to miss your plane!) and the lower-end seats have been filled, you may be offered the opportunity to take a seat in first class at no cost to you. Often, it’s the early bird that gets the worm; but, every once in a while, it pays to be a procrastinator.

2.  Loyalty pays.

Companies like loyal customers. Why? Because the cost of acquiring a customer far exceeds the cost of keeping one. So, given the savings they enjoy because of loyal customers, companies will often pass on those savings to the loyal consumer. If you can be loyal to one airline and travel frequently, you are far more likely to receive these savings. So, when you do fly, be sure to stay loyal. And, if you can, look into a credit card that offers travel points or join the airline’s loyalty program. In doing so, you can rack up points that, once accumulated, you can use to purchase an upgrade.

In addition, for those of you who don’t fly often but are loyal to one airline when you do, it can’t hurt to mention this when you go to board the plane or check-in. Sometimes, just a few honest and positive words about the airline and your loyalty to it can earn you some brownie points. So, if you’re loyal, speak up and make it known. Of course, there are no guarantees that this will land you a luxury seat but, what do you have to lose by trying

3.  Use online check-in strategically.

If used strategically and patiently, using online check-in can afford you opportunities to go for the good seats. To do so, ABCNews recommends you check in about 24 hours before your flight. Then, continually check back to see what seats have opened up. At the last minute, many airlines are desperate to fill empty higher-end seats. They would rather make something than nothing on these seats so savings can be extraordinary during this window. In addition, if you don’t get the chance at a cheap upgrade, you can at least keep an eye out for window or aisle seats (whatever seat is your preference) to ensure your flight is as comfortable as possible. So, set your alarm for about 24 hours before your flight and faithfully keep track of the latest seating updates for best results.

4.  Improve your flight using the Airport Kiosk

If you don’t get your dream seat during online check-in, don’t despair. The airport kiosk offers you another chance. When you go to check-in at the airport kiosk, be sure to check one last time for any last minute cancelations or seats that still need to be filled. At this point, chances are the airline will be willing to offer unbelievable discounts on these seats just to ensure they make some money off of them instead of nothing.

5.  Befriend a gate agent.

It’s amazing how far manners and friendliness can get you. If you find yourself waiting for your flight in the airport and have some time to kill, consider getting to know your gate agent. (And, don’t forget to mention your love of the airline). Many times, agents have the options of upgrading passengers when lower-end seats have filled or higher-end seats have opened up. If this happens, an already established acquaintanceship increases the chances that this opportunity will be offered to you. The truth is, whether you’re at your local grocery store or in the airport, wherever you are, it pays to be friendly.

6.  Offer your services when needed.

If you travel a lot, chances are you’ve experienced a delay or two. Many times, these delays are because of strong storms, other natural disasters, or other types of undesirable situations. If you have a skill that can help in that situation, step up and offer to help. For example, if you see that a flight has been delayed to a foreign country and you speak the language of that country, see if there are enough qualified personnel to arrange flights for the stranded. If not, step up and offer your interpretation services. Or, say you’re a doctor and someone has a medical crisis in the airport or on your flight. Stepping up can save a life and afford you some extra special perks.  As a reward, you might be surprised with an upgrade. And, if not, you can still feel good about yourself for your good deed.

7.  Consider non-refundable discounted premium seats.

Sometimes it’s the little things that can save you big. Most airline tickets offer the option of a refund if the flight should not meet your needs. But, many people know where they’re going and when they want to get there. As long as the flight stays on schedule and delivers the passenger to the correct destination, a refund option is not necessary. But, did you know that this refund option can cost you thousands of dollars? That is, purchasing a non-refundable ticket can actually save you thousands on your flight. For example, IBTimes reports that one non-refundable ticket that would normally retail at $2,148 was offered for $368 simply because it didn’t come with the refund option. And, the best part is, this ticket was for a first-class seat with the airline. Amazing isn’t it? So, if you find a non-refundable ticket available for your flight, be sure to look into the savings that come with it.

8.  Don’t go with the flow.

Just like you wouldn’t want to start out on a long road trip during peak traffic times, when flying, it’s a good idea to choose your flying times strategically to avoid travel peaks. Likewise, if you want a chance at a good deal on a first-class ticket, it’s best to avoid times in which many first-class passengers frequently fly. During the week, for example, many frequently flyer business men and women run the show in first-class. However, on the weekend, after traveling during the workweek, many of them like to stay home and spend time with family. This is also applicable during holiday seasons. So, if you want a chance at snagging a great last minute deal on empty first-class seats, the weekends, holidays and other times when businesspeople usually have time off work are likely your best bet.

9.  Volunteer to take the next flight.

Volunteering to get bumped from an overbooked flight can be a great opportunity to enjoy a first-class seat on the next available flight. But, the trick is, you have to ask. Once you’ve begun to arrange your flight after being voluntarily bumped, politely ask if an upgrade is available. The worst they can do is say no. But, by being friendly and doing the airline a favor, you’re much more likely to get a yes.

10.  Look professional.

The concept of “when in Rome,” doesn’t just apply once you’ve reached your destination. Forbes contributor, Alexandra Talty explains that, if you’re looking for the opportunity to take advantage of an upgrade, it’s more likely you’ll get the opportunity if you dress the part. Now, we know that when traveling, comfort is often a goal. However, just because you’re dressing a little more formal doesn’t mean that you have to be uncomfortable on your flight. A long dress and a shawl can be just as comfortable on long flight as sweatpants, leggings or jeans, if not more so. For example, dresses are often less restrictive than leggings or jeans and your shawl can double as a pillow or a blanket during your flight. Likewise, there are many more formal but comfortable options for men. For example, if you’re heading into a long flight, consider some slacks and a blazer for the daytime and more comfortable wear for the nights. Although this doesn’t by any means guarantee an upgrade, when used in conjunction with some other suggestions on this list, it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances like sweats might.

When you can’t get bumped to first class…

Now, if you’ve tried all of these methods and haven’t procured that much coveted frugal first-class ticket, there are many tricks you can employ to make your flight as comfortable as possible without all the added costs. Here are a few.

11.  Use SeatGuru.

SeatGuru is a handy little tool you can use to ensure you get your dream seat. It helps you locate comfortable seats on a flight via past customer reviews of individual seats. It then provides you with more in-depth information such as the seat’s width, what outlets are available for the seat occupant, the amount of legroom available and the overall comfort level of specific airline seats. On the site, each seat is color coded to indicate ratings based on reviews. For example, yellow means “beware,” red means “poor seat” and green indicates positive overall reviews. To use this took, simply visit www.seatguru.com and input your flight information.

12.  Bring a charger and adapter.

Listening to music, reading a Kindle book, or watching a movie on a mobile device or laptop is a great way to pass the time during a long flight. Many airlines offer outlets for each seat. So, be sure to pack a charger for your flight. And, before your flight, don’t forget to upload your favorite music or movie(s) for some extra in-flight entertainment options.

Also, if you are planning on an international flight, be sure to pack your adapter for foreign outlets. After all, if you miss your flight or have to take an international connecting flight, you will surely appreciate the communication and entertainment resources afforded to you via your mobile devices. After all, having the resources to quickly and smoothly fix a problem in your itinerary will surely feel like a luxury if the problem should arise.


13.  Mark your luggage as fragile.

Did you know that just by labeling your luggage as fragile before checking it, your luggage is more likely to be given the VIP treatment? Luggage marked as fragile is often loaded on last so that nothing crushes it. In addition, because it was loaded on last, it is often the first to come off the plane, ensuring that you don’t have to wait an hour to retrieve your bag from baggage claim. It’s a simple trick that can create a much smoother and satisfactory travel experience!

14.  Create a personal comfort bubble.

Lastly, even on a full plane, there are ways you can manipulate your immediate surroundings to enjoy a much more comfortable ride frugally. To do so, imagine you are creating for yourself a comfort bubble. What will you need to complete this bubble? For some, it’s a gel seat cushion to keep back pain at bay. For others, it’s noise canceling earphones for a peaceful rest or concentration purposes. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Planes can get kind of chilly as it rises in altitude, even on blistering hot summer days. So, be sure to prepare to create a comfortable body temperature with an extra pair of socks, a light-weight shawl or even a hoodie. Also, consider layering your clothes in case the temperatures rise in a crowded cabin. And, remember, even if your airline boasts of blanket and pillow accommodations, these often go quickly, leaving many passengers without. So, come prepared with your own. And, a lightweight pair of gloves will keep your hands comfortably warm during your flight. It’s amazing how distracting cold hands and feet can be to some peaceful shut-eye!


  • An inflatable travel pillow will do wonders for your ability to get some shut-eye on a long flight, even while considering carry-on size requirements. It will take up almost no space but do the trick when it comes to helping you rest comfortably.


  • An eye-mask will help keep the pesky reading-light of your seat-mate from interrupting your attempt at a good snooze.


  • For in-flight entertainment or entertainment via a mobile device, don’t forget to bring your own pair of earphones. Many times, inflight earphones cost extra, are not available or don’t work. Your personal comfort bubble would not be complete without a little inflight entertainment!


  • Lastly, don’t forget to bring a low-dose pain killer and motion sick-ness medicine just in case dry air, cramped leg-room or some turbulence causes you to experience some achiness. Of course, be sure to check with your doctor for the best choice for your well-being. And, don’t forget to check with your airline for dosage and packaging requirements for carry-on medications.

Your flying experience doesn’t have to be remembered as an unpleasant experience. With a few tips under your belt from seasoned travel connoisseurs, you’re well on your way to a much more pleasant start and end to your trips, even with a restricted budget. We hope we have helped you make the very best of your travels today!

If you have a few additional tips and tricks stuck up your sleeve for a more pleasant frugal-travel experience, please share them with our audiences in our comment section. We’d love to hear from you!


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