Buying first-class tickets for your family rarely makes sense, but there are exceptions.
One exception is when your credit card points and miles can make first-flights affordable, as my colleague, Stephanie Zito, wrote recently.
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From my family’s experience, here are four times when you should splurge (with cash or points) for the good seats:
When you need to eat
When we lived on the West Coast, flying required significant strategy to keep my road warrior family fed.
Our cross-country trips back East meant five hours in the air or, perhaps more complicated, a layover too short to squeeze in a meal, but still long enough to make the journey closer to eight hours.
First-class service means water, milk and juice on demand, easy access to a bathroom and a full meal well beyond snacks.
Better yet, you and your family won’t be impatiently waiting for the flight attendant to work his or her way down the aisle.
When you need the space
It’s not your imagination: Seats are actually getting smaller on the plane. And once kids get to toddler stage, it becomes less realistic to keep them contained in the tight space in coach seats.
The first-class or even the premium seat area can provide room to roam.
In one instance, my wife and I found a cross-country flight that had two first-class seats only $5 more expensive than the main cabin seats!
Our eldest, who was under 2 at the time, sprawled out on my wife’s outstretched legs and took a midflight nap. (Your family travel costs increase once your little one reaches 2 years old and requires his or her own seat.)
When you need to make tight connections
Priority seating not only applies to the takeoff and the flight, but to the landing, too.
You’re first to get off, which can save you the stress of racing to make a tight connection.
First-class cargo also has priority at the baggage claim, so you will be getting your bags first and can leave the airport quicker.
When you need to pack a lot
First-class gives you at least two free check-in bags domestically and often even more internationally.
Parents and older children can discuss packing strategies, but younger kids are more of a challenge.
Little ones often travel with pack-and-play retractable cribs, big bags of diapers and toys to keep them occupied to, at and from the destination.
All of that gear requires extra luggage, and your arms are going to be full, too.
Southwest is the only major carrier that allows free checked bags, but if you want to skip first-class costs on the other major airlines, you can still save on your luggage costs.
Consider signing up for one of the co-branded airline cards like the Barclays American AAdvantage Aviator Red, Delta Gold SkyMiles card from American Express or the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card that give you at least one free packed bag and a slightly higher boarding status.
A sign-up bonus on any of those cards could net you the points to help you upgrade your family to first-class for the free meals, extra room and more, too.
See related: 3 simple steps to maximize your points for family travel, 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelers