Sunday 18 March 2018

Upgrade your flight for less

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Library Image

Nick Trend

Booking into a premium cabin doesn't always have to break the bank, says Nick Trend

I rarely fly in anything other than an economy seat, but I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class on British Airways' new upgraded service to Moscow the other day.

It reminded me just what a different experience it is to enjoy the space and atmosphere of a premium cabin -- your knees are not cramped against the seat in front and you can lie full length.

You can get up and stretch your legs without clambering over your neighbour, the food is good, and there is no queue for the loo.

And there are other advantages, such as faster check-in, free lounge access, higher baggage allowance and so on.

Most of the time this kind of luxury seems completely unaffordable. But is it? If you plan things carefully, there are ways to make long-haul flying more comfortable without paying through the nose.

Here are 10 cost-cutting ideas.

1 Consider premium economy

Nowhere near as luxurious as business class, premium-economy cabins nevertheless offer significant improvements over the cheapest seats, with more legroom and better service.

BA and Virgin regularly release sale fares for these cabins, with an upgrade fee of just about €200 from economy to premium. A recent return fare with BA from London to Miami came in at €795 in economy and €989 in premium.

2upgrade selectively If a premium or business-class return is too expensive, consider upgrading just for the outbound or return flight.

Aer Lingus has a selection of good one-way business fares on transatlantic routes.

Fly Dublin to New York, Boston or Orlando for €699 one-way all-in and you get priority check-in, access to airport business lounge, lie-flat sleeper seats, priority baggage delivery, gourmet meals and top in-flight entertainment.

3time your trip, and your booking

Business-class fares rise at times of peak demand. If you have any flexibility, check a few different dates before you book to determine the best-value times.

4avoid business travellers

Fares on flights to places that draw a lot of business travellers -- New York, for example -- are often cheaper on a Saturday as most business travellers who have to be there for Monday will travel on Sunday.

By contrast, routes with a high number of holidaymakers, such as those to the Caribbean, tend to be more expensive on a Saturday.

Also, travelling to the Far East means you land the day after you take off, so leaving on a Saturday will get you there on a Sunday (or Monday for Australia); business travellers will be bearing that in mind when booking their travel.

It's also worth checking for any bank or public holidays in the destination you are travelling to (say July 4 in the United States, or Chinese New Year in Hong Kong).

If you travel home on those dates, there will be more availability and lower fares. The same is true of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.

Note that flights go on sale 355 days in advance of travel, so the earlier you book, the easier it is to secure the lowest available fares.

5book a restricted ticket

Business-class fares work the same way as ordinary tickets -- the more restrictions, the cheaper they are.

6book with a specialist agent

Specialist travel agents such as Trailfinders may have access to special offers you can't get direct from the airlines, and they have a comparative overview of all the airlines and fares on the route you are interested in.

7opt for a cheaper airline

Premium cabins in the top airlines, such as BA or Virgin, are definitely a cut above those of most of their rivals, who may not offer a flat-bed seat, for example, or such a big choice of flights.

Airlines lower down the league may also take a little longer to get there because they fly a slightly longer route, but fare differences can be considerable.

For example, Eva Air, a good Taiwanese-based airline which flies from London to Bangkok, has a premium economy cabin called Elite Class with a 38in seat pitch.

A return fare from Dublin in Elite costs from €985 return with Trailfinders.

8ask for an 'it' fare Short for inclusive-tour fares, these are special arrangements that include a certain number of nights' accommodation as well as the flight -- and they are an accepted way of getting around some of the minimum-fare restrictions that are still enforced by some countries.

In effect they are package holidays, though usually you don't have to book accommodation for all the nights you are away.

Bizarrely, they can often end up cheaper than booking a flight only.

9fly around the world If you are travelling as far as Australia or New Zealand, you may want to consider booking a round-the-world ticket rather than a simple return.

The fare is likely to be similar, but you can build in some stops en route and you will probably have more flexibility over changes.

On Air New Zealand, a route from Dublin via Heathrow to Los Angeles, Auckland, Hong Kong and back to Dublin via Heathrow costs €4,585 in business, €2,699 in premium economy and €1,399 in economy (through Trailfinders).

10use air miles If you travel regularly for business and collect a lot of frequent-flyer points, you will probably already know the best way to use these is to upgrade your seat rather than book a free flight.

Different airlines use different systems, but most include an upgrade option.

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