MileValue is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CreditCards.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Note: Some of the offers mentioned below may have changed or are no longer be available. You can view current offers here.


I’m sitting in the Asiana First Class Lounge in Seoul, about to fly one of the newest and hopefully best First Class products in the world on the Asiana A380.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 12.25.08 AM
First Class Suite on Asiana A380

I booked the ticket for 70,000 United miles and around $150 all in because you can still book awards at the old pre-devaluation United award prices.

On a whim, I checked the cash price for the ticket. United is selling today’s Asiana flight for 3.7 million Korean won, about $3,560 one way in First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.58.45 PMI am actually surprised that the flight isn’t much more expensive. This year I flew Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong for 67,500 American Airlines miles and $27.50. A similar flight goes for $11,271 one way if you buy it from American Airlines (oddly $5,000 cheaper than buying the Cathay Pacific flight from Cathay Pacific.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.53.52 PM

These eye-popping prices made me think: How rich would I need to be before I bought these flights with cash?

  • How rich would you need to be before you bought First Class with cash?
  • Why do I redeem miles for First Class instead of economy?

How Rich Would I Need to Be?

In a hypothetical world in which I’m a millionaire (awesome!) and frequent flyer miles do not exist (no!), how much money would I need to have before I bought international First Class for 4-5 figures per flight.

The number I arrived at is that I’d be willing to spend no more than 0.1% of my wealth on a First Class ticket one way. I’m pretty frugal and prefer to protect wealth instead of spending it, so I’m sure some people would purchase these tickets more aggressively if they were rich, but that’s the number I came up with.

That means I’d have to have $3.6 million to fly Asiana First Class today and $11.3 million to fly Cathay Pacific in February.

How rich would you need to be to buy First Class flights in a world without miles?

Why Do I Use Miles for First Class?

  • Because I can
  • Because it’s fun
  • Because I have enough miles for all the trips I want to take (because I fly economy on a lot of awards)

When I figure I’d need $11 million to feel rich enough to buy a Cathay Pacific First Class seat, it seems a bit wasteful that I’ve flown Cathay Pacific First Class (plus Lufthansa, Singapore, Emirates, Thai, Malaysia, American, and United.)

I do it because I enjoy it and because I have plenty of miles for all the trips I want to take.

Even though I travel a ton, my style of travel doesn’t take many miles. Last year I spent nine months outside the US, and this year, it will be about five. But that’s over very few, very long trips. On short hops during a trip, I have no trouble flying economy.

For instance, on this trip to Asia, I am flying about 18 hours of economy and 12 hours of First Class. I conserved miles with all those economy awards because those planes featured unimpressive premium cabins (and I got a full row in economy to myself on two flights.)

Through my travel style, willingness to fly economy, and aggressive opening of new credit cards, I have more miles than I need. I’m happy to spend them for an occasional First Class splurge.

How to Get into First Class

If you want to fly First Class, make sure you collect AIRLINE MILES or points that can be converted to airline miles. Do not collect BANK POINTS that can only be used for a fixed value toward any redemption, since, as mentioned, First Class flights are extremely expensive with cash.

The best airline miles for First Class at the moment are American Airlines miles, Alaska Airlines miles, and US Airways miles.

We know that the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate, some time in early 2015. That means that the chance to earn 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase will disappear soon. Check out all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus.

The best bank points for economy are Arrival miles. The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3k in the first 90 days. Meeting the sign up bonus earns $500 worth of free travel including any flight with no blackouts, any airbnb or hotel stay, and even the taxes on First Class award tickets.

Back in Seoul

The lounge food options were few but delicious. I just finished my meal with some Haagen-Dazs and I’m heading to the showers for a quick shower and shave before departure. Even without $3.7 million to my name, I’m really going to enjoy this next flight.

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.