Travel Maze: Just Say No to Flying Coach

Fly First Class at Coach Ticket Prices
Fly First Class at Coach Ticket Prices

It's every business traveler's dream never to fly coach again.

For around $150, Nicholas Kralev promises to make that dream a reality. He is offering two short seminars -- a basic and an advanced course -- on how to maximize the impact of your frequent flyer miles to fly in luxury on a coach class budget.

His On the Fly seminar series kicked off last month in Washington, D.C., and more classes will be held there on a semi-regular basis. He's also taking his show on the road over the next few months, stopping in Birmingham, Alabama, Wichita, Omaha, New York City, Phoenix, Boise and Boston. In just four hours -- the total time of both seminars -- he promises to change your flying experience, teaching attendees the tricks of the trade, among them, how to upgraded to first class on a regular basis.

Kralev doesn't have a monopoly on the finer points of taking the greatest advantage of frequent flyer programs: A wealth of information is available through websites like FlyerTalk as well, but business travelers could spend days trying to put it together. Indeed, FlyerTalk participants are also holding a conference in October in the Chicago area to teach their own upgrade tricks, but it's already sold out.

Around the World on the Diplomatic Beat

Kralev has distilled the travel knowledge he gained over the last decade as diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Times, when he racked up more than 2 million miles covering Secretaries of State Hilary Clinton, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.

Unlike other diplomatic correspondents working for larger media organizations, Kralev didn't always get to fly on the secretary of state's plane. It wasn't in the budget. So Kralev says he was forced to fly commercial jets, and he learned to fend for himself.

While it would have been more convenient to fly on the secretary's plane, Kralev said he would never have learned the tricks of luxury flying for less. "I wouldn't have figured out how to spend much less on airfare, but still sleep in flat beds, eat gourmet meals and earn hundreds of thousands of miles," he says.

100,000 Miles: It's Not as Hard as You'd Think

The key to a life of lavish comfort in the air, Kralev says, requires an elite status on an airlines' frequent flyer program.

Kralev has 1K status on United (UAUA), one of the airline's top elite levels for frequent flyers.

There's a catch, of course: A traveler has to accumulate 100,000 miles in a calendar year to obtain the coveted status and the free first-class upgrades that come with it.

Kralev says it's worth it. He's so convinced, he has been creative in his routing on domestic trips to gain the mileage to keep his status.

"Gathering 100,000 miles is also not as hard as travelers think," he says. "The trick is to accumulate miles on one airline. I'm sure many travelers would find if they looked at their flight history in the past year that they would have qualified had they kept their miles in the same place."

Kralev says he hasn't flown coach since 2002 because he's been able to take advantage of 1K perks such as advanced confirmation of first class upgrades and coupons for upgrades on both domestic and international flights.

Allies in the Air War

Another part of Kralev's program deals with booking frequent flyer reward travel.

Kralev thinks too few travelers use frequent flyer points to its highest advantage. To do that, Kralev says the traveler has to think of airlines alliances.

For example, he says, the Star Alliance is comprised of 28 airlines, including United, Continental (CAL), US Airways (LCC), and Lufthansa (DLAKY).

A traveler with enough United miles for a first-class round-trip to Europe could also use that ticket on its alliance partner, Lufthansa, Kralev says.

Why Lufthansa?

Because the airline has a terminal just for its first-class passengers at the Frankfurt Airport featuring gourmet dining, private sleeping rooms, and a chauffeured ride in a Porsche or Mercedes to your plane. All first-class Lufthansa passengers departing or transferring between flights in Frankfurt are eligible to use the terminal, Kralev says.

Tips for the Not-So-Frequent Traveler

Of course, the less-than-frequent flyer may have difficulty accumulating the necessary miles to gain access to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and other perks of elite travelers. But Kralev maintains that there are some things these travelers can learn to at least save money.

For example, he notes that the first elite level in most frequent flyer programs will get baggage fees waived: The can be achieved for just 25,000 miles on United.

Better yet, he says travelers should enroll in the frequent flyer program of Greece's Aegean Airlines, which offers free checked baggage at just 4,000 miles. It doesn't matter if a traveler has no plans to go to Greece: Since Aegean is a Star Alliance member, a traveler can fly United and still earn Aegean miles. Once the 4,000 Aegean miles are earned travelers get free checked baggage on any Star Alliance member including United, Kralev explains.

Kralev, who left his job at The Washington Times last month to devote himself fully to the seminars, says he's convinced there are many travelers who need to be educated.

If the seminars are successful, he won't have to return to writing as a full-time gig and there will be more enlightened travelers able to work the system. Increasing the number of enlightened travelers is a good thing, but then again, these seminars could make the competition for first-class upgrades a lot rougher.