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8 travel hacks to make an economy flight feel like first class in 2024

Photo by Shutterstock.
Photo by Shutterstock.

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If you can afford to pay the handsome price of $20,000 AUD for a long-haul flight, flying first class is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.

From champagne on arrival to fine dining in rite-of-passage airline pyjamas, first class is all about enhanced guest experiences.

For the majority of the population, economy is the class of choice (which is actually pretty nice when it signifies a holiday!)

Still, I find myself fantasising about the moment where, upon boarding, one of the cabin crew taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Madam, you've been upgraded to first class. Welcome aboard.'

Pop the champagne! I've got my acceptance speech ready.

Back on planet earth (where I live) however, this fantasy occurs less frequently than I'd hope.

But since air travel is about getting from point A to point B, the difference between economy and first class is fundamentally just a good night's sleep and a few more toys.

This had me thinking: why not take advantage of the resources and budget I do have to make economy feel extra special?

So, without further ado, here are eight travel essentials to hack that economy flight so it feels like first class.

1. Wear clothes that make you feel great 

Clothes have a powerful ability to affect how we feel. In fact, this psychological phenomenon is called 'enclothed cognition'.

If it's true that our favourite outfit makes us feel great about ourselves, a smart airplane hack is actually to choose one that creates a nice feeling for you.

Comfort upgrades make a big difference when flying, so you'll want to wear clothing that is breathable, flexible and soft on the skin.

It's helpful to pack a few layers to regulate your body temperature in the air-conditioned cabin and between destinations where you exit the plane.

In other words, don't get caught in a snowstorm on the tarmac while dressed for the beach!

Below are some high-quality flight outfits for both women and men.

Camilla and Marc's Nora long sleeve top and Cassidy soft tailored pant are the perfect pair for a relaxed, athleisure look.

Add a cosy jumper and some comfortable shoes to create the ultimate flight fit.

Camilla and Marc Nora long sleeved top. Photo supplied by Stylerunner.
Camilla and Marc Nora long sleeved top. Photo supplied by Stylerunner.
Camilla and Marc Cassidy soft pant. Photo supplied by Stylerunner.
Camilla and Marc Cassidy soft pant. Photo supplied by Stylerunner.

For men, I recommend a nice soft track pant or these casual Evan linen pants and cotton and linen polo shirt from Gazman.

Gazman cotton linen polo. Photo by Gazman.
Gazman cotton linen polo. Photo by Gazman.
Gazman Evan linen pants. Photo by Gazman.
Gazman Evan linen pants. Photo by Gazman.

There are plenty of high quality, relaxed fit outfits for men on Gazman and similar brands, and these are just a couple of examples.

Look out for soft and breathable materials like cotton, wool and linen to help you feel relaxed enough to nod off in your seat.

2. Invest in quality headphones 

If movies are your thing, there's truly nothing better than boarding a plane and catching up on the latest flicks.

Flights are possibly the only circumstance where it is socially acceptable (even encouraged) to indulge in movies for hours on end - interrupted only by the brief intermissions of TV dinners and toilet breaks.

Counteract the limitations of a small screen by making the most of the sound quality and experience with a good pair of headphones.

Sony WH-CH520 headphones. Photo by Amazon.
Sony WH-CH520 headphones. Photo by Amazon.

Below are some quality brands with the highest customer ratings:

JBL provides quality sound at an affordable price point. You can choose from either a pair of chunky wireless headphones or earphones if you prefer to be more discreet.

Sony headphones are popular among customers, and for good reason. With 50 hours of battery life and the ability to adjust sound controls based on your preferences. Plus, they come in a great range of calming neutral colours and at a mid-range price point.

Beats Studio-3 headphones are a top-of-the range splurge, but with their impressive sound and noise-cancelling abilities, it can be an attractive option for long-haul flights and beyond.

3. Create your own luxury amenities pack

First class travellers look forward to the luxury in-flight amenities package they receive upon boarding.

These packs typically contain essential items that are often manufactured by sponsored designer brands.

With a bit of organisation, there's really nothing stopping you from experiencing this luxury from coach.

I think of an in-flight amenities pack as like a pleasant, packed lunch. Making it is sort of an act of self-love and an affordable luxury.

Below are some of the brands I like to include in mine.

No baggage native collagen eye masks. Photo by O Cosmedics.
No baggage native collagen eye masks. Photo by O Cosmedics.

O Cosmedics O-Biome hydrating and setting spray is a great addition to your flight routine as it can be used as a skin hydrator spritz, but also as a setting spray if you happen to be wearing makeup. This product was also the Prevention best of beauty awards winner 2022.

Pair this with O Cosmedics top-selling B3 plus skin serum and collagen eye mask and your skin will be perfectly plump all flight long.

Combine Nars pure radiant tinted moisturiser with Clarins cherry lip oil and an Hourglass blush stick for a hydrated no-makeup makeup look perfect for long flights.

Clarins men's energizing set. Photo supplied by Fresh Beauty Co.
Clarins men's energizing set. Photo supplied by Fresh Beauty Co.

Clarins ready-made skincare set for men contains all the essentials for an overnight flight, including an energizing eye gel and face wash.

Add a well-balanced, clean fragrance like Beckham's refined woods parfum and you'll feel a million bucks.

4. Pack a travel pillow and sleep mask

Sleep (and comfort) is arguably the biggest difference between first class and economy.

When passengers are not reading books, listening to music or watching TV, they're usually sleeping (or at least trying to).

Sleep accessories like a supportive travel pillow and sleep mask can go a long way in maximising the duration and quality of your sleep onboard.

Ostrich travel pillow. Photo by Amazon.
Ostrich travel pillow. Photo by Amazon.

Consider SNUGL's structured memory foam neck pillow or the minimalist Ostrich pillow (pictured). Make sure to pack a sleep mask - this silk mask works well because it's soft and cooling on the skin.

5. Size matters with carry-on bags

If you have check-in baggage, pack light carry-on that you can access easily from the bag compartment or from under your seat.

Carry-on bags work best when they contain the bare essentials necessary for the flight, rather than for the whole holiday.

Tommy Hilfiger's essential signature tape backpack is the perfect unisex bag for a flight. It's spacious enough to fit the essentials items without being overbearing, and it's pretty versatile for urban travel.

Tommy Hilfiger essential signature backpack. Photo by Tommy Hilfiger.
Tommy Hilfiger essential signature backpack. Photo by Tommy Hilfiger.

If you'd prefer a larger overnight carry-on bag, you can't beat the Ben Sherman Noah Duffle sports bag.

It's large enough to carry a few outfits and the essentials (if you want to save on check-in baggage) but also an appropriate size for carry-on.

Don't take my word for it though - make sure you check your airline's baggage size regulations to be certain.

Ben Sherman Noah duffle bag. Photo by Ben Sherman.
Ben Sherman Noah duffle bag. Photo by Ben Sherman.

6. BYO extra entertainment

If you love reading and haven't converted to Kindle, they're truly fantastic tools for reading on-the-go and packing light for the plane. This Kindle essentials bundle ticks all the boxes.

If you are new to using Kindle, make sure to load books onto the device before you fly in case there's no available Wi-Fi on the plane.

Photo by Amazon.
Photo by Amazon.

For those who prefer gaming to reading, the Nintendo Switch provides an entertaining way to pass the time.

The Switch is compatible with a range of games to suit all interests, including popular games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Minecraft or the latest EA Sports FC24.

Perhaps the true magic of the Switch is that the Joy-Cons (controllers) can be split into two, so you have the option to play solo, or with a friend on your next flight.

If you're feeling more old school, the New York Times crossword book or an all-ages multiplayer card game like Sleeping Queens can be a great boredom buster.

It's also a nice way to break up the flight routine of film, toilet, sleep, repeat.

7. Bring a tasty (TSA-approved) snack supply

The food in first class tastes better. But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you're a picky eater, enjoy variety or want to have the option to indulge in your favourite snacks, simply pre-prepare them before you board.

Bandesun snackle box. Photo by Amazon.
Bandesun snackle box. Photo by Amazon.

If you want to go all out on the snack-front, a snack compartment box (pictured) makes a novel addition to your flight (so long as you don't mind drawing attention to yourself!)

It's also a budget-friendly luxury and a thoughtful way to surprise loved ones with their favourite snacks on board.

If you have kids or teenagers flying with you, they'll love this one.

8. Choose the right airline

The quality and inclusions in your economy flight will differ between airlines.

Sometimes spending a few hundred dollars more on a flight can mean less stopover time (perfect for when you're overtired), better meals or more seat room if you have bad knees.

The difference between airlines really comes down to putting a price on sleep, and what you can comfortably handle especially for those ultra long-haul flights.

Photo supplied by Qatar Airways.
Photo supplied by Qatar Airways.

If you're looking for an alternative to your usual airline, Qatar Airways was voted #2 airline in the world by the Skytrax World Airline Awards.

Best of all, Qatar serves more than 150 key business and leisure destinations worldwide, so the world is truly your oyster.


While it's not impossible to receive a complimentary upgrade to first class, the chances are (unfortunately) slim.

However, by investing a little thought and preparation into your flight plan, it is possible to elevate your travel experience.

Economy may never be as luxurious as first class, but it's always worth a try.


What are the benefits of flying economy?

Affordability and increased flight options stand out as the obvious benefits of flying economy.

Generally speaking, economy flights (particularly the longer ones) include decent in-flight meals and tv screens with a broad range of entertainment options.

It's best to research the particular airline to avoid any disappointment.

How do I find the best economy seat?

This really depends on your preferences.

If you're tall, or have stiff joints, sometimes seating with legroom is the best option. These are often located behind bulkheads or before a galley, such as in exit rows.

If you're passing over some special landscapes, the window seat is a crowd favourite. It's amazing the kind of aerial-view photos you can take from an iPhone 10-12km up in the air.

If you want to reserve a particular seat, make sure you go through the process of selecting you want (and earlier rather than later) instead of leaving it up to an automatic placement.

What is the average economy seat size?

The economy seat size can range depending on the airline and can be a dealbreaker for some people.

The average Qantas economy seat has a seat pitch of 78.7 centimetres and a width of 44.5 centimetres, whereas Qatar Airways has a seat pitch of 81.3-83.8 centimetres, width of 44.5-45.7 centimetres for example.

It's important to note that these dimensions can change slightly depending on the aircraft model.

If you have specific needs, it's best to compare airlines in real-time.

Is premium economy worth it?

Premium economy can really vary between airlines, so it's important to research the specific airline if the cost-benefit is important to you.

Premium economy generally means more leg room, more comfort (sometimes amenities kits can be included), and things like priority check-in or more flexible cancellation policies.

If these sound like compelling differences to you, it can definitely be worth investing in premium economy. Or else consider the benefits of flying business with a budget airline.

However, if you're purchasing a flight in premium economy, don't be fooled into thinking you're paying for business or first class - it's really just economy with a few more bells and whistles.

Is it better to fly economy at nighttime or daytime?

It can be easy to rack up the kilometres and therefore, hours onboard when flying international out of Australia.

The nighttime versus daytime flight debate might always be polarising because sleep and travel preferences can be such a subjective experience.

Flying economy during nighttime might offer some advantages like quieter cabins and potentially more opportunities for sleep.

If you can keep yourself preoccupied onboard with activities (including looking out the window at the passing landscapes), sometimes daytime flights can be more enjoyable.

Plus, some people find it easier to adjust to time zone changes after daytime flights.

Ultimately, there's probably no one-size-fits-all. It comes down to knowing yourself and what conditions you prefer.

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