5 Best Cards To Earn First-Class Travel Without the Price Tag

Enjoy luxurious benefits and perks traveling in first class — these cards will help you get there sooner than you might think.
4 minute read | 5/31/19May 31, 2019
businessman enjoying free first class travel

Zero legroom. Cramped seats. Rotten food. It’s no wonder that air travel can be a miserable experience nowadays. But what if there was a better way?

If you have a travel rewards card, you can save up the miles or points you earn and redeem them for trips you otherwise couldn’t afford. Even better, you can use those miles to make your experience more comfortable and luxurious by upgrading to first-class travel.  

Why first-class travel can be worth the splurge

If comfort is key, it’s hard to beat flying first class. While each airline is different, in general, you can expect amenities like:

  • Substantially larger seats with more legroom
  • Personal service with a dedicated flight attendant
  • Access to power outlets to charge your devices
  • Complimentary pillows, blankets, and headphones
  • Free premium entertainment like movies and television shows
  • Chef-curated meals
  • Expedited check-in and security service
  • Priority boarding

With these benefits, you’re more likely to relax and enjoy the flight. You’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and relaxed, rather than stressed and hungry. First-class airfare can make the flight an enjoyable part of your vacation instead of a chore you have to endure.

Best cards to earn first-class travel

While flying first class is an experience worth having, it often comes with a hefty price tag. First-class tickets typically cost hundreds more than seats in the standard cabin.

For example, a flight on American Airlines from Orlando to Philadelphia costs $188 if you opt for basic economy. If you upgrade to first class, that price jumps to a whopping $649. Getting the additional perks and comfort of first class would cost you an additional $461. Keep in mind that’s for a relatively short flight — longer journeys would likely be even more expensive.

Luckily, you don’t have to shell out that much money out of your own pocket to enjoy first-class luxury for less. With a travel card, you can earn valuable rewards to redeem for first-class tickets.

Here are our top picks:

Category Card
Best for generous bonus offer Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best for premium travel perks Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best for luxury benefits The Platinum Card from American Express
Best for flexible rewards redemption Capital One Venture Rewards
Best for business travelers Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred can help you earn first-class tickets sooner. Not only are your points worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you’ll also earn extra points on dining and travel each time you make a purchase on your card in those categories. It also offers flexible redemption methods, which comes in handy for finding first-class seats for less.

  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth $750 in travel
  • 2X points on dining and travel, plus 1 point per $1 on all other eligible purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer available with Chase airline and hotel travel partners
  • There are no blackout dates — as long as a flight is available in the travel portal, you can book it
  • Other perks like primary rental car insurance, trip delay reimbursement, purchase protection, and more

Chase Sapphire Reserve

If you enjoy high-end travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve can help you book luxury flights for less. Despite its hefty annual fee, it offers exceptional value and a slew of premium perks. You’ll get significant travel credits worth hundreds of dollars every year. And if you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 50% more, helping you score first-class seats much sooner.

  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth $750 in travel
  • Earn 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3X points at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on everything else
  • Receive a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each year
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees
  • Complimentary airport lounge access with a Priority Pass Select membership
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Other perks like trip cancellation insurance, primary rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, and more

The Platinum Card from American Express

For travelers looking to make their experience more luxurious, the Platinum Card from American Express really goes the extra mile. Offering high levels of rewards and travel perks, jet-setters will find its benefits justify its high annual fee.

  • Earn 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary access to Centurion and Priority Pass Select airport lounges
  • Up to $200 annual airline fee credit
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees
  • Get $200 in Uber credits every year
  • Other perks like secondary car rental insurance, premium roadside assistance, travel accident insurance, baggage insurance, and more

Capital One Venture Rewards

Voted as “The Best Travel Card” by CNBC in 2018, it’s easy to see why the Capital One Venture Rewards Card is so valuable. You’ll earn a higher rate of return on every purchase you make, helping you achieve first-class status without worrying about spending categories.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10X miles on bookings with Hotels.com through January 2020 and 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees
  • Other perks like primary rental car insurance, travel accident insurance, extended warranty, and more

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

If you own a business, traveling for work can be exhausting. Upgrading to first class can make business travel more enjoyable, and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card can help you earn enough miles to do so quickly. Plus, you can earn impressive rewards in spending categories that commonly rack up business expenses.

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth $1,000 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3X points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • Redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards and they’re worth 25% more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Get up to $600 in cell phone protection against covered theft or damage
  • Other perks like trip cancellation insurance, primary car rental insurance, extended warranty protection, and more

Bottom line

First-class travel is an indulgent experience that’s often well worth the splurge (at least once!). To help you enjoy the perks without the expense, use one of the cards listed above to earn rewards you can redeem for future trips and vacations.

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