Flying in Business or First Class can be expensive. But for those in the know, there are workarounds, hacks and just common-sense measures that can be taken to come up with optimally discounted fares that they may be willing to afford.
Like clothing items, First Class and Business Class airline seats are plentiful and perishable. And, as not all clothing items are purchased from the designer or manufacturer, distributors have cut their deals with the airlines and offer their supply and demand promotions.
Top among these is Scott’s Cheap Flights, an airline aggregator sales site that was founded on the concept that airline companies make mistakes, and if you watch carefully enough, you can nab a fare at a 10th of the price—say, a $2,900 seat at the rate of one less zero.
Travelers pay a membership fee, note the airports they want to travel between, and the site’s algorithm notifies them when a deal comes through. The process is ideal for backpackers and flexible leisure seekers. However, it will not be suitable for a business traveler trying to get to a meeting in London by a specific date and time. If you belong to the latter group, here’s how you can get the best deals on business and first class.
Count on Consolidators
Consolidators work as wholesale clothing companies might: buying up a steady volume of inventory at one price with the confidence they can sell those inventories to retail shops at a markup. Most consolidators sell only to retail agents, who may mark up the fare slightly or add to a travel package for a set commission. But some consolidators play both sides of the fence or only work with consumers.
For would-be Business and First Class flyers, the savings can be considerable with discounts of 10 percent to as much as 50 percent off premium ticket prices, depending on season and demand. The downside? Not all consolidators are reliable, safe, and consumer-friendly. And some are downright fraudulent.
It would be best to research and check to see if lawsuits are afoot or if customer comments are damning. Customer service varies—providers will handle it most of the time offshore. Talk to a travel agent that may be native to the country you want to visit—they often handle volumes of tickets to these destinations. They can set you up with a discounted ticket accompanied by regulatory assurances or may be able to recommend a reputable consolidator.
Some airline consolidator companies that may or may not be able to manage a deeply discounted upgraded ticket are Momondo, Ladybug, Smartfares, Travelopro, and AirlineConsolidator.
Wait for the Seat Auction
If you are already holding a ticket, you will often get an email a few days before your flight giving you a chance to bid for an upgrade. Or you may not. This is the chance you take—your boost into the premier cabin experience is not assured or guaranteed but will be enormously discounted if you succeed.
The email will instruct you on how to proceed and will require a cash infusion to the airline at the price you offered if you win. Still, if you are willing to front even a few extra bucks, this is a bet worth making. Of course, you will have to be a frequent flyer member, and a member worthy of elite status will only help your chances.
Use a Tool
Every airline guru will give you sound advice about booking off-season or booking three months, three weeks, whatever the measure, ahead of the flight date, especially if it is to be during a crowded holiday season. But there is nothing like a fare predictor tool to help you through the challenging decision-making moments.
Among such apps is Kayak, which has a “hacker” function and a way to tap into flight price algorithms to come up with the best options on dates and places specified. Airfarewatchdog is another site that will watch your routes and alert you to price drops.
Pay with Points
The best and most secure way to snag a Business or First Class seat is to pay for it with points. It won’t hurt your wallet, and, like generalized economic inflation, the longer you hold onto your points, the less valuable they become.
Some co-branded credit card sign-ups come with an 80,000-100,000 point windfall, enough to pay for a one-way Business Class ticket from California to China. You can also reap the points from a partner credit card used by a friend or family member to add to your pot.
Other points players hack the system by making a jaw-dropping credit card purchase with an item that can be turned back into money. Consider an investment in Krugerrands or diamonds. Houses, unfortunately, do not make the cut. There is a risk that the purchased item’s price will go down before it can be sold, or there may be fees involved. And those will have to be weighed compared to an outright purchase for a seat.
A points upgrade from a purchased economy seat is always a smart option. An economy seat may be a mere fraction of the cost of a Business Class seat, and the points for the upgrade may be low enough to be spared for the purchase and regained easily in the future.
For flights on American Airlines, for example, you will need a combination of miles and cash as upgrades may range in points from 5,000 miles to 25,000 miles and require sending in an added $550, depending on flight destination and type and class of ticket you hold.
Check these options as early as possible. Premium seats using this method are rarely available and get snatched up early.