“On the whole, you will pay less than last year, but how much less and when still remains to be seen,” Ms. Berg said.
First class doesn’t necessarily guarantee space
Flying back recently from his second home in Tucson, Ariz., to Chicago, George Fink, who works in finance, upgraded to first class on American, using 55,000 miles for the one-way ticket in hopes of having more space. Instead, he found himself with a seatmate wearing a mask that did not cover his nose. He implored his fellow flier, who ignored him, to cover up. He next tried the flight attendant, who would not help. The back of the plane was full, too, making it impossible to move. Then the attendants served a meal.
“That meant everyone in first class took off their masks and ate for half an hour so all the masking and spacing was for naught,” he said.
Only Delta and Alaska have committed to reducing density in the forward cabin to 50 percent. (Southwest doesn’t have a first or business class; JetBlue is blocking six of 16 seats in its forward-class Mint cabins.) Fliers opting for the upgrade on other carriers — sometimes at very attractive prices — may very well find their wider, more spacious seats just inches from the passengers next to them.
Experts advise looking for airplane configurations that include single seat configurations. For example, on the Dreamliner that Mr. Hobica, the Airfarewatchdog.com founder, booked from Los Angeles to Newark, the seat configuration in business class was 1-2-1. (Bear in mind that carriers have the right to change aircraft per their contracts of carriage.)
“It’s a good way to fly if you don’t want someone next to you,” Mr. Hobica said.
Megan Solis, a teacher in Chicago, bought three $450 round-trip tickets in business class on United in early September so that she and her husband could take her oldest child to college in Boston, using credits from a previously canceled trip. Currently, the last seat in the family’s four-seat row is empty and they’re hoping it stays that way.
The relatively low fare was secondary in her decision. “I was more comfortable with the space up there, even before I saw the price,” she said.