Five Really Cheap Ways to Fly First Class

We're all sick of airline fees. But, sometimes, you can make them pay off big-time on the comfort scale. And isn't it time steerage passengers like us got a taste of the high life?

Here is one way: use some of the current fees to get upgraded to first or business class for less. It wasn't exactly easy for the airlines to figure out ways to get passengers to pay for these individually "unbundled" services, but since they have, we might as well pay the fees for things we really want.

And some of these are worth it, thanks to certain realities like the sheer cost of "upper class" plane travel today.

VIDEO: Avoid Airline Fees

For example, I checked out the price of first class versus economy on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York in August. With a Sunday to Friday itinerary, a coach passenger would pay $483 roundtrip. The first class passenger, however, would pay a whopping $5,373. The good news is, you can make a change without a penalty fee -- plus, you get to check a bag for free. Okay, that may not quite make up for the scandalous price differential.

Is it any wonder the rich are departing first class in droves? Or making other arrangements, as Paris Hilton so merrily tweeted recently: "This Private Jet takes Huge to Another Level. Loves it!"

We loves it too, Paris, only we cants afford it. We can, however, sit in first class if we play our cards right, and here are my strategies to do just that.

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One of the basic ways to fly first or second class for cheap is to buy (or earn) an upgrade, only that's not particularly cheap. So instead, here are five other ways you can sit up front without busting your wallet.

#1: Do Your Online Check-in at Earliest Opportunity

It's 24 hours before your flight leaves and that's your cue to check-in. Set an alarm if you have to. The reason do this at the very start of this window is because that's when cheap upgrades may be available. They won't last long, though, so if the price is right, grab one.

The reason airlines offer discounted upgrades at this point, is because if they haven't gotten rid of these pricey seats yet, they make nothing on them. So they'll take what they can get, even if it means a big discount. Better something than nothing.

#2: Check-in a Second Time, at Airport Kiosk

Yes, it sounds redundant, but never mind that you're already checked-in and saw no upgrades low enough to interest you -- go ahead and swipe your card at the airline's airport kiosk. Here's why: your carrier may not have gotten rid of all their first or business class seats and at this point, they're getting a little desperate.

If they have any left, you can be sure the discounts will be even bigger. At this point, you may see new prices and say, "I can afford that." But chances are, you can. So go ahead and swipe -- you've got nothing to lose.

#3: Be Alert for Desperate-Looking Gate Agents

Next time you're sitting around the gate area waiting for your international flight, take a good long look at the gate agent -- does he or she look a little anxious? Do you see a pad of paper and a pencil with the agent? You could be in luck.

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