Toddlers vomiting into the aisle. A guy watching bondage porn on his laptop next to you. Sitting bolt upright for 12 hours like a Guantanamo Bay interrogation suspect.
These are the joys of an international flight in coach. Who wouldn’t want to escape the hoi polloi and travel in comfort up front?
The trouble is, business class is freaking expensive. A roundtrip from, say, the U.S. to Europe can easily run $5,000, while a coach fare might be $600-800. But take heart. With a little detective work, you too can enjoy the front cabin experience for far less than this.
Here are some tips for scoring the best deal:
- KNOW WHEN BUSINESS CLASS BARGAINS ARE OFFERED
The periods around major holidays are the best times to score a cheap business class fare, since business travelers are not flying during these windows. For the weeks around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc., airlines drop their business class fares to upsell customers who would otherwise buy a coach ticket. (Better some revenue than giving the seats away to their frequent flyers, which would represent a gesture of goodwill, and who needs that?)
Although hit and miss, summer can also be a good period for bargains, since many business travelers are vacationing.
- TRY TO FLY A ROUTE THAT HAS A GLUT OF BUSINESS CLASS PRODUCT
If you’re flying a route that has a lot of airlines competing for customers, it can be a major win. There are a lot of airlines flying to Asia, for example, which makes their business class fares (for a comparable amount of flying time) 20-40% cheaper than, say, Europe.
- CONSIDER A “LOWER CLASS” BUSINESS PRODUCT
Not all business classes are alike. Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Emirates – airlines like these have sensational business class cabins with service and prices to match. Others, like British Airways – not so much.
British, for example, has reverse herringbone seats, which are a good, lie-flat seat. But they cram them 8 across on some planes, which makes for a very tight fit. (Not to mention that every other seat is facing you, so you’re looking almost directly at the person next to you. If it’s your husband, no problem. If it’s a stranger, it’s WEIRD.
But with that said, they tend to have some of the lowest fares.
So, if a biz class fare on a particular airline seems like a bargain, Google reviews of that airlines’ business class to find out what it’s like. It may not be the most deluxe experience in the sky, but it’ll still be a hell of a lot better than coach.
Tip: if you’re considering British Airways and you’re 50 or older, get a $16/yr AARP membership. You get $200 off every British Airways business class ticket.
- PIECE YOUR FARE TOGETHER – AND CONSIDER COACH FOR A SMALL PART OF IT
My husband and I were traveling to South Africa for the Brand g Africa safari trip, which, for us, was a good 24 hours of flying. We booked American Airlines to Berlin in coach (my husband is elite and gets us upgraded to Premium Economy, which is bearable), then bought a business class ticket on Qatar from Berlin to Johannesburg, which was surprisingly cheap (and Qatar’s biz class is sensational). This was exponentially cheaper than a business class ticket from LA to Johannesburg.
Another example: let’s say you’re flying from San Francisco to Prague. Check fares from San Francisco to cities like London, Paris, Dublin or Milan and find the city with the best bargains. Then just add on a cheap coach flight from that city to Prague – which is probably only a two-hour flight, so who cares if you’re in coach? You’re getting business class for the long portion of your travel and scoring a much better deal!
Sure, piecing a set of flights like this together involves some research, but just do it some night while you’re watching TV.
- FLY PREMIUM ON A DISCOUNT AIRLINE
Airlines like Norwegian Air are surprisingly nice. (Norwegian uses only brand new 787 Dreamliners for their transatlantic flights.) Now, their “Premium” class is more like a domestic first class: wider, leather seats, lots of legroom, but no lie-flat “bed” seats.
However, the price reflects that. Upgrading from coach to Premium costs only about $300-700 more each direction, depending on the flight and how far out you book (their prices go up as the date gets closer). You can also “bid” for an upgrade after the fact if you’ve booked a coach ticket.
So, the next time you walk past the people gazing up at you faux-sympathetically from their cushy business class seats and you wish the plane would just fly straight into a mountain (which is not really a well-thought-out wish, anyway), remember: with a little research, you can score a business class bargain.
Then, you can be the one casting condescending looks at the peasants. Start practicing your tongue-clucking now.