How I Fly First Class For Free

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Over the past few years I’ve racked up hundreds of thousands of miles and have had the opportunity to fly First Class on domestic and international flights over 50 times in the past 3 years, between consulting for clients all around the country to taking impulse solo trips through the mountains of Japan and the streets of Thailand. That’s a lot of flights!

The amazing part, is that I’ve been able to take all of those flights and fly First Class without breaking the bank. A common misconception is that you actually have to fly a lot in order to rack up statuses with airlines and that it costs thousands of dollars to get a single seat in First Class. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Very few of the people that sit in the first few rows paid market rate for that seat, and even fewer have flown the miles to achieve that status. During my consulting days, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to hack points, miles, and statuses to take advantage of the many flights I’d be taking over the course of the year. I knew that in order to get status on an airline, especially the top tiers status like Executive Platinum on American or United, that you needed to fly a LOT of miles, but I soon discovered the hidden world of airline elite status challenges.

Airline Elite Status Challenges

Most airlines will match your current status and then require you to complete a “challenge.” This challenge consists of flying a specific number of miles or flight segments in order to extend your granted status beyond the length of the challenge, which usually lasts 90 days. American Airlines does not status match at all — it offers only a status challenge. And it requires you to pay a fee up front for participating in that status challenge.

You might wonder who would pay for such an opportunity. But because the challenge offers immediate status (for a price), anyone who has American Airlines flights coming up might want to make their travels a bit more comfortable and ante up. Think about it this way: for the cost of 1 trip, a traveler may be able to parlay the challenge into a year or more of elite status while they work on qualifying for future status. If you know that you’re taking a few trips over the holidays, it could be easier than ever for you to achieve that status.

It’s as simple as that. Keep in mind there is a cost to accept a challenge, usually around $200. And if you lose the challenge, you won’t be able to try again for about 5 years, so be sure to have your travel plans ready and booked before accepting the challenge.

Airlines challenges can be very rewarding. I was able to accomplish the American Airlines Executive Platinum Challenge in just 1 month during my consulting days, but you have up to 3 months to complete the challenge. If you are interested in completing a status match or challenge, the following airlines list the terms and conditions publicly.

If you are interested in status challenging with another airline, including international carriers, call their frequent-flier program desks and ask for the details.

Once you have status with a single airline, you can leverage that status across airlines. Check out my next article on how to take your status with just about any airline, and match it to the other airlines! And be sure to check out my other tips tricks and travel hacks!

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