Air travel is now cheaper and easier than ever and has become more accessible to everyone, but while prices have fallen so has the quality of our experience. Too often I have felt like I’m being herded like cattle through to the departure gates and end up in my seat far more stressed than I was when I arrived at the airport. Low cost airlines are great because they allow us to see the world even when we don’t have a lot of money, but they can be infuriating to fly with!
Like any budget traveller I love the thrill of bagging myself a great deal, but have grown to loathe the budget flying experience. Still, I can never justify paying full whack for upgraded seats – so I decided to create my own way to fly in comfort while staying on a budget. I pay as little as possible for my seat and then set about upgrading my flight for next to nothing. Here are my five tips to have a first class experience at an economy price.
Book into a lounge
Wait for your flight away from the noise and crowds of the departure halls while sipping complimentary wine in the comfort of a premium lounge. Many of these lounges offer comfy seats, free wifi, spa treatments, free food, an open bar, and some lounges even have showers and beds you can book into if you’re on a stop over. These lounges only used to be available to business and first class customers but now there are many other ways for economy passengers to avail of them.
As a general rule Airline lounges are far superior to Airport lounges, so try to book into one of them – the BA lounge or Bangkok Airways ones are particularly good. Not all lounges will have the same facilities, so do make sure you choose the right one. Paying an extra few quid for a lounge with complimentary food will save you a lot more buying food elsewhere in the airport or on the plane.
Lounge Pass has 450 lounges in 200 airports all over the world (they even cover Ireland!). You can book lounge access directly on the site without signing up or paying any other fees and prices start at just £12.50 / €14.50 for a pass. I’ve used this before and it’s the best way to start your trip completely relaxed. Give yourself extra time at the airport so that you can make full use of the free food and open bar. If you fly regularly and want to book into lounges you could consider joining Priority Pass which is a sister site of No1 Lounges, you pay £69 a year membership and then you can visit any of their 450 lounges for a set price of £15, plus you can bring a guest.
Lounge Buddy offers the same service over 350 airports, with varying coverage on some countries so if you can’t find your airport on Lounge Pass then check here. They offer a best price guarantee but I’ve compared lounges between the two sites and they seem to cost the same.
Bid for an upgrade
Nowadays many airlines offer their economy customers the chance to bid for a cheap upgrade. We’ve done this many times and most recently got business class flights from London to Singapore for just £300 with Norwegian Airlines.
Usually the airline will email select passengers a few weeks before the flight and offer them the chance to upgrade. Sign up to the airline’s loyalty programme to ensure you get the email, and keep an eye on your mailbox so that you don’t miss the bid window. Airlines typically notify winners 48-72 hours before the scheduled flight. The bid amount you offered is automatically charged to your credit card and a new boarding pass is assigned (with the corresponding perks like lounge access and extra baggage allowance included).
Don’t bid super cheap or you just won’t get the seat, be reasonable for a higher chance to win. One tip I read online recommends the following: calculate the regular cost of a business-class seat and subtract what you paid for the economy fare. Then aim for around 20 to 40 percent of that price. Also, don’t book any extras when you first book your flight if you know you want to bid. You will get free meals, drinks and baggage with your upgrade so don’t add them to your original booking. If your bid is rejected you can always add these later.
Many airlines now offer these auctions and there is even a site called PlusGrade where airlines allow economy ticket holding passengers to bid for upgraded tickets. While I have taken part in lots of upgrade bids I haven’t used this site yet so I can’t give it a review – but I’m definitely going to try it and I’ll update you guys later.
Choose the right seat
Where you sit on your flight can make or break your travel experience, so use Seat Guru to pick the best seat on the plane! This website ranks each seat on your aircraft according to a bunch of metrics – leg room, seat pitch, proximity to the toilet etc. Enter your airline name, flight number and date and it will give you a map of the plane with all seats marked as good, normal, bad or “be aware” – these seats have detailed reviews from other passengers. Seat Guru is a free and really simple way to make your flight more comfortable.
Collect reward points
If you fly regularly and you’re not signed up to any loyalty schemes then you are losing out on tons of perks! Whether your flight is short or long haul, there is no reason not to sign up. Many people think that air miles are just used for booking free flights, and while this is possible it takes a lot of miles to book a flight so it doesn’t happen often. Instead book an economy flight and use your points to upgrade to premium or business without spending any money. Booking your flight as a loyalty member can also help your chances of an upgrade when you check in!
Many airlines are part of alliances – One Alliance and Star Alliance are the top ones. If you belong to a frequent flyer programme with any of the alliance member airlines and fly with another member airline you can earn and redeem miles or points. This means you’re not tied to any one airline to earn points, and your points are combined so you can earn more, faster. One Alliance member airlines are listed here and Star Alliance members here – you can be part of and earning points from both at the same time.
I have earned a ton of points through my British Airways American Express card. I’ve had this for about 5 years and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to travel. This card offers you Avios points as you spend, with many opportunities to earn Avios bonuses throughout the year. There’s a 5,000 point bonus if you spend £1,000 in the first 3 months plus if you spend a certain amount in a year then you qualify for a companion flight. Book any flight, any class, anywhere in the world and BA will match that flight for free for your companion. I’ve gotten many flight upgrades, free flights from Tokyo to Bangkok, free flights from London to Rome, free business class flights from Melbourne to Sydney and many other perks through using my Avios points earned from this card. Definitely one to get if you like to travel.
Bonus: if you sign up via my referral link, you’ll get an additional 1k Avios bonus on top of your 5k bonus, and I’ll get a 4k friend referral bonus too. Win-win!
Try your luck at check-in
Bagging a free upgrade at check-in isn’t a reliable method but it does work sometimes. Airlines will usually have a few upgrade spots available so here are a few tips to getting one of those coveted seats:
Be polite. Any time I’ve been offered a seat it’s when I’ve checked in alone and had a chat with the staff member. Once we got chatting about leg injuries and I was upgraded to a seat with more leg room as I said I had previously broken my leg. Be friendly and ask politely if there are any upgrades available – worst case scenario is that they say no.
Be angry. I’m not great with confrontation but if you are then it could blag you an upgrade. If you have had any problems during with your airline during the booking process now would be a good time to air them and see if you could be moved to a better seat as an apology. Just make sure it’s a valid complaint.
Be Presentable. Don’t show up in your elephant pants with last night’s mascara on and a travel pillow hanging round your neck. If you want an upgrade then you need to look presentable enough that you fit in with other premium passengers. Air staff won’t want people who paid for their premium seats kicking up a fuss if they see that someone has the same seat for free.
Time it right.
Be early: There may only be one or two upgrade spots available so get there first to get one. Or…
Be late: The airline my have overbooked economy seats so they might have to bump a few people to premium. If you check in late you could be in with a chance to be moved up. (just don’t be too late and miss check-in entirely!)
Give these tips a go on your next flight and make the experience easier and a lot more enjoyable! There are also some tips on avoiding the dreaded jet lag and flying in comfort in my post ‘8 Ways to Beat Jetlag For Good’.
Thanks for reading!