1 // Before you go
Business-types usually travel on Monday and Thursday, while holiday-makers often jet off at the weekend, leaving a Tuesday/Wednesday lull. Book on these days and not only should the flights be slightly cheaper but you’ve also got more chance of bagging an empty seat next to you. Plus, public non-airline lounges, where you pay a fee (usually between £20 to £30) for comfy seats, soft drinks, snacks and wi-fi, can be up to 50% cheaper when booked in advance online through a broker such as Holiday Extras rather than at the door.
2 // Be on point
Firstly, join your airline’s frequent flier scheme; even if it’s your first time flying with that carrier, it will give you priority over non-members when it comes to upgrades. If you’re already part of a programme, it makes more financial sense to spend them on an upgrade than a flight. For example, British Airways Avios have a value of around £0.01 per point on flights (plus you’ll have to pay the tax and fuel surcharges) compared to £0.02-0.16 on upgrades.
3 // Choose wisely
For a better chance of bagging a row to yourself, look towards the rear of the aircraft, particularly the last few middle rows, which fewer people want due to their proximity to the galley (nothing earplugs won’t fix). Also, check out the colour-coded aircraft layouts on seatguru.com, keeping an eye out for ‘secret’ leg-room seats. For example, on the 777, the fuselage tapers from three rows down to two, leaving bags of side space in the window seats.
4 // Get schmoozing
At check-in be upbeat and smiley; these front-line staff deal with stressed and unhappy travellers for most of their shift, and truly appreciate a friendly interaction. Don’t ask directly for an upgrade (they hear it a million times a day). Instead, ask if there are any empty rows that you might be able to sprawl out in. More often than not, they’ll try to oblige.
5 // Pimp your seat
DIY an economy class upgrade with a supportive neck pillow; we love the Caldera Releaf Neck Rest. A decent mask also helps; try Bucky’s 40 Blinks Sleep Mask. Some noise-cancelling headphones are worth having too; Bose’s pricey QuietComfort headphones come up trumps, or for a more affordable alternative, opt for Senheiser CX 300-II Precision earphones.
6 // Do the business
Look for on-the-day upgrades; these are available online or at the check-in desk. You can also phone the airline beforehand to find out what’s on offer. Emirates, for example, offered a bump from economy to business class from Phuket to Manchester for £480. With the original ticket price, the bill came to £877 one-way, as opposed to £2,057 if you’d booked business class in the first place.
7 // Join the jetset
If you’re willing to fly just about anywhere, anytime, privatefly.com sells spare seats on positioning aircrafts at rock-bottom prices. This is when an aircraft needs to be moved from one place to another. How about a seat from London to Geneva on a sleek aircraft for £243 one-way? That’s £103 cheaper than the British Airways business class equivalent on the same day.
The price of air travel
Published in the Jul/Aug 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)