Sunday 24 June 2018

Seven tips for cheaper business class flights (and a possible upgrade)

How can normal folk fly business class? Our Travel Editor's tips will get you started...

'Flying in style can cost thousands'
'Flying in style can cost thousands'
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Turning left when you board a plane is one of the sweetest sensations in travel.

Lie-flat seats, decent food and wine, plush duvets and personal service... it's a world away from cattle class.

Flying in style can cost thousands, however - so how can normal human beings hack the system? Here are a few tips to get your search for a cheaper business fare started.

1. Bid for upgrades

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Aer Lingus Business Class cabin

Some airlines, including Aer Lingus (above), allow passengers to bid for upgrades on long-haul flights. You make the airline an offer (go to 'Manage My Booking' online), and it awards available seats to the highest bidders. On busy routes, business class can be pricey (or booked out) but quieter days could see you riding up front for hundreds, rather than thousands.

2. Search smarter

Sites like Skyscanner, Kayak or Google's ITA Matrix Airfare Search (matrix.itasoftware.com) allow you to search by class. If your dates are flexible, you have a better chance of bagging a deal. Another trick is to reset the country of an airline website to see business class deals from different destinations.

3. Add a stop

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Icelandair. Photo: Deposit

Similar to regular airfares, you can save on business class fares by flying indirect. On a dummy search for Dublin to New York in October, for example, I found direct flights with Aer Lingus from €1,869 return, whereas flights via Keflavík with IcelandAir were €1,062. The difference in travel time is just three hours.

4. Score points

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Emirates Business Class, with 79-inch lie-flat seats...

Airline points can be an economic way to buy an upgrade, and airlines also tend to favour loyalty scheme members where free upgrades are available. Some, like BA and Etihad, offer household accounts - so several fliers can pool their points.

5. Stay alert

Signing up to airline newsletters, fare alerts and social media gives you first dibs on early offers. Remember that travel agents and tour operators often have special access to sales: give them a call before booking. If you spot a deal, secure it immediately. There's no point waiting.

6. Just ask!

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Qatar Airways Business Class. Photo: Thomas Breathnach

What have you got to lose? Airlines favour customers with status in loyalty schemes, but regular punters can hit the jackpot too. They key is to dress smart, act confidently and make your request politely at check-in (not the gate). Solo travellers have a stronger chance, and it helps to mention a special occasion such as a birthday or honeymoon too.

7. Try premium

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Premium Economy Cabin on the new AA 787

A halfway house between economy and business class, premium economy offers perks like extra legroom, noise-cancelling headphones and earlier disembarkation. On a recent Finnair flight from Tokyo to Helsinki, I upgraded for €71 on the night before travel... not bad for nine hours of flying time. American and Air Canada have new lines in premium economy from Ireland, too.

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