Written by Mark Smith. Published on .
Think it through…
You’ve decided to fly to Australia to see the family, maybe you have a new grandchild or haven’t seen your brother since he married that Aussie, or maybe your dream of visiting Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef are finally coming true. It all sounds fantastic and why wouldn’t it?
I’ll tell you why. 20+ hours squashed in with 200 others all just wanting one thing… to know how the passengers in business class managed to get their tickets!
It may surprise you to know that not everyone in business class these days are high powered executives or recipients of trust funds. Most are exactly what I have described above… regular people looking for something better, but with the know-how of how to find the best value for their money.
But to do this, there are a few key things to know before you start trying to find cheap business class tickets…
There is a lot of confusion around flight prices and how they are calculated by the airlines… and with good reason. Airlines use complicated algorithms based on past and current passenger numbers, frequency and popularity of flights to destinations, and a whole host of other variables to make sure that they can charge the highest price to get a return on investment. But there are ways to beat the system.
The biggest influence on pricing is availability. Scheduled airlines operate exactly the same as low cost carriers in that there are multiple fare prices within each cabin class, so even though you get the exact same service and seat as the person sitting next to you, you may pay a lot more (or less) than your neighbour. This means that as soon as flight schedules are released by the airline, the availability is at it’s greatest and therefore at the best price. Be aware that this is also the reason prices both increase and occasionally decrease as people holding seats release them back into the system.
The second biggest influence on flight prices is the season you want to travel in. Airlines know that during busy periods such as Christmas, Easter, and UK summer school holidays, seats will always fill up due to passengers wanting to travel at these times. Because of this, airlines charge higher rates at these times of year. Be aware though that seasons can also apply for destinations, especially when there are special events, so passengers wanting to experience Rio Carnival or an Olympic Games will also likely be hit with higher prices.
Airlines are also very aware of the fact that companies often book their employees to go to meetings and conferences very close to the departure dates. They also know that most company trips only travel Monday to Friday, and that they often only stay a couple of nights in the destination. Because of this, airlines build rules into their lower priced fares to stop businesses getting cheap business class tickets, and unfortunately, these rules also apply to leisure travellers. The real injustice with this is that even though a higher priced ticket has been purchased, the overall availability drops and therefore it is the lower fares that are then unavailable to the general public. Other rules such as a 28 day APEX means that if you book within 28 days of departure you are automatically excluded from the lower priced fares, or if you don’t stay in the destination for a Saturday night you will also pay more.
Lastly, airlines, and the subsequent government taxes, will always make you pay for convenience. If you want to depart from a London airport then you will pay a premium compared to some of the regional airports. The same applies if you want a direct flight compared to an indirect flight, or one stop on the way to Australia compared to two (even though the distances may be similar).
From the above information we now know that booking in advance is going to give us the best deal. This happens when the airline releases their schedule which is usually 331 days before the flight (or 11 months) but you will then need to wait until your return flight is also available.
It also means that, if possible, to travel outside peak periods as even one day can make a big difference. For example, peak season for an airline to Sydney may start on the 12th of December making the cheapest fare that day £3,200 pp. departing on the 11th during the “shoulder” season could save you up to £1,000 pp!
Also, make sure that if you are travelling for leisure to book at least one month in advance and include a Saturday night in your trip before heading home.
If you can’t do any of the above, why not try something a little different. Taking a different route to your destination by flying into a less popular city and then connecting can save you also i.e. instead of Sydney, fly into Brisbane and catch a quick domestic flight to Sydney.
Alternatively, explore some of the lesser known airlines. Become familiar with SkyTrax, the independent customer review website that rates all the airlines. There are some brilliant 5 star airlines such as Asiana, EVA Air, and Garuda Indonesia that often have much lower prices than the big airlines, and still offer the great comfort of a fully lie-flat bed, fantastic food and entertainment selections, lounge facilities, alliance membership points, and the service you would expect from a business class cabin.
If the price still isn’t what you were expecting (or hoping) then have a look at which of the flights you want are overnight and which are during the day. You can always make use of the Business Class perks on the overnight flight so that you arrive refreshed, and look at a Premium Economy or Economy for the day flight when you won’t need a bed.
And keep an eye out for sale periods. Airlines have regular sales on select routes when passenger numbers aren’t living up to expectations. It may mean that sale fares are only for certain destinations and only for certain times of the year, but if you are lucky then grab a bargain and start packing! One thing to keep in mind with sale fares though is last minute sales do not exist. Let me say that again… LAST MINUTE SEAT SALES NO LONGER EXIST! Sales fares are never for flights in the next few weeks (see the APEX rule above) or for flights that are popular (see the availability rule above).
I appreciate that us listing out all these different tactics are a lot to think about. But that is why we’re here. It’s our jobs to know these alternative carriers, discounted routes and special fares. But it’s good you now know how we go about try saving you money!
The best thing you can do is find a travel agent that you trust. A good travel agent will let you know that there is a cheaper flight a day or two earlier, or that if you flew with a non-mainstream carrier that still has excellent ratings you can save. They should know the routes that can offer better value and then the choice is yours if you want the convenient direct flight or an indirect that will save you.
You should always have options, but if you’ve left it to the last minute on a busy route with a mainstream airline, and then are surprised at the cost when you look online, pick up the phone and speak to a specialist that is in the know. It could save you thousands!
Lastly, there is one final way to get cheap business class tickets…
Put on a shirt, shine the shoes, and hope the staff at the check-in counter have a sunny disposition!
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