When I was 15, TWA ran a "kids fly free" promotion, and I convinced my stepmother to take me along on a business trip. We got to fly home in first class, and I was hooked. To this day, few words motivate me more than "free first class," and after a 15-year career in travel, I’ve had more than my share of it.
Not all first class is created equal, and now that I’m paying for most of my flights, I’m particularly sensitive to the differences. In the domestic US market, most first class is really underwhelming, but the transcon market continues to be an exception. I’m on my way back to LA from New York today, in seat 9D on United flight 23. About a year ago, United reconfigured some old 757s, and significantly upgraded the comfort and amenities in all three classes. Their "p.s." premium service is so good, the new business class is better than their old first class. (And their new first class seat features the same lie-flat seat that Singapore Airlines is using in their new business class; there’s nothing even close in domestic US service.)
Two discount strategies: While regular business class is about $1,800 one way, a discounted "Z" class fare is about $720. Even cheaper are upgrades from any coach fare that can often be found on eBay. Look for confirmed regional or systemwide upgrades, and look for them close to departure. Upgrades with close expiration dates often sell for $100 or less. Row 9 is the exit row, with a huge open expanse in front of it.