It makes sense to have something like this in place, because the recession killed a lot of overseas business flights. This "new and improved" coach class typically provides roomier seats and perhaps a few extra amenities. Look for Continental to adopt United's premium economy option as their merger gets finalized.
Plus, sometimes you will be offered these mini-upgrades at the kiosk, or even onboard as is the case with Virgin America. Grab it - it can be worth it.
3. Check Last Minute Prices. If you must travel tomorrow or in the next few days, flying first class can sometimes be very close in price to coach fare. Not always, but it happens.
For instance, earlier this week I saw a coach fare on American for a next day flight from Los Angeles to Seattle for $300. The price for first class was only $400.
I'll go that one better: a couple of weeks ago I saw a next-day economy fare on United from Chicago to Dallas for $1,950. What really caught my eye was the first class fare for the same day: $1,874.
Your only problem will be trying to explain this to the company bean counters.
4. The Poor Man's First Class. Southwest and "first class" go together about as well as Lady Gaga and your elderly aunt's sewing circle. But I have to tell you, their EarlyBird boarding program can give you a taste of luxury -- if you consider it a luxury to be among the first to board so you get first crack at today's woefully limited bin space, and first choice of seats on an airline where none are reserved. Best of all, this elite airline treat comes with a Southwest price tag: 10 measly bucks.
Earlier, I mentioned a limp, and a few years back, an injury might have helped you upgrade.
Los Angeles-based TV producer Eric Allen remembers the time he was scheduled to fly economy on Lufthansa with a friend who'd hurt his leg. The friend requested an upgrade for comfort.
"He tried being charming," said Allen, and when that didn't work, "he threw a fit and we ended up drinking champagne all the way from Frankfurt to Los Angeles. I don't think that would happen today."
I know it wouldn't. In fact, anger or rudeness will get you nowhere fast. As for real or feigned injuries, well... if they require first class seating, you'd better be prepared to pay and pay big for it.
Or start getting a little creative and find a first class type of experience, for less.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.