Several airlines are offering discounts off first-class fares.
As with all other discounts, there are limitations.
For example, Piedmont Airlines usually offers discounts in the 40% to 50% range off its first-class fares. However, you have to purchase your round-trip ticket 14 days in advance and fly on Saturday or before noon on Sunday.
There is a 25% penalty for cancellation, but you can change your itinerary up to 14 days before your flight without penalty.
As an example of the savings, the standard round-trip, first-class fare on Piedmont from Los Angeles to Charlotte, N.C., is $1,088. With the carrier's First-Class Excursion Fare, you can fly round trip for $428, more than a 50% discount.
The regular round-trip coach fare for this route is $964, so the discount is still hefty if you can live with the restrictions.
The lowest discount on coach fares, a non-refundable version, is $318 round trip on weekends and $258 weekdays.
Eastern Airlines also offers a discounted first-class ticket. You have to purchase your ticket 14 days after making a reservation or at least seven days before travel, whichever comes first. Another requirement is a Saturday night stay, with a maximum stay of 21 days. You can travel any day of the week. Figure on a 50% penalty for a cancellation or change.
You can fly Los Angeles-Atlanta round trip, first class for $439, compared to $1,386 for the standard first-class fare. Eastern's lowest discounted round-trip coach fare on this route is a $238 non-refundable rate. If you want to fly coach without restrictions, the round-trip fare is $930.
Continental also has a comparable first-class excursion fare, based on a seven-day advance purchase. The carrier quoted a round-trip Los Angeles-Houston first-class fare of $438, compared to the regular round-trip first-class fare of $870.
For more information, contact your travel agent or Piedmont at (800) 251-5720, Eastern at (800) 327-8376 and Continental at (800) 525-0280.