F irst class and business class are normally the preserve of corporate travellers and well-to-do individuals. These high revenue flyers are the most profitable passengers for many airlines, particularly on the lucrative transatlantic and transpacific business routes. Here are a few basic tips to help you fly business class for less.
1. Business class airfare sales - Every so often, various airlines will sell premium cabin seats at a very tempting fare. For example, in December 2011 British Airways sold Club World seats from London for £1,006 return - you could travel to US/Canada or as far as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Rio De Janeiro. From North America the sale fare was priced at $2,102 return. Virgin Atlantic matched the fares on overlapping routes for their Upper Class.
In October 2011, Turkish Airlines offered a Oslo-Istanbul-Bangkok return fare in business class for under €1,000. In 2009, Etihad sold business class from Brussels to Sydney or Melbourne (via Abu Dhabi) for less than €1,600.
To take advantage of such fares you need to keep up with the airfare market - get on email lists, follow airlines on social media like Twitter and Facebook. When a great fare is released make sure you book early.
2. Consolidate - Get a quotation from a business class specialist consolidator who may have access to "unpublished" premium airfares which can undercut the normal market fare by 20% to 50%. There are a number of such specialists in North America and UK. If flying to Asia call an "ethnic" travel agent who may also be cheaper, particularly to Hong Kong / China. Using consolidators is optimal about 1 to 2 months before travel.
3. Fly ex-EU instead of ex-UK - When booking business class fares from London (especially with British Airways) then consider starting your journey from Europe. Take the example of a London-Tokyo flight - often it will be up to 50% cheaper to fly Milan-London-Tokyo or Istanbul-London-Tokyo. Note, you will have to pay extra for the positioning flights to and from the starting points and you must fly on all sectors that you book.
Another reason to avoid the UK is Air Passenger Duty (tax) there is the highest in the world - particularly for premium passengers - which costs air travellers some £2 billion per year.
4. Credit Card Bonuses and Spend - Especially popular in the US is the use of airline credit cards, many of which come with significant mileage/points bonuses. The miles or points can quickly build up which can then be used for business class redemptions - ensure you book well in advance.
Some card programs (such as Amex Membership Rewards) are very flexible and have multiple airline partners. This means you can take advantage of some of the better redemption possibilities - such as London-New York in Virgin Upper Class for 63,000 ANA miles (instead of 90,000 Virgin miles).
5. Fly OpenSkies transatlantic - OpenSkies, British Airways' Euro subsidiary flies from New York to Paris on a Boeing 757 configured to just 64 seats. Their premium economy 'Biz Seat' has a roomy 52" of legroom - prices start at around €980 return - it is probably the best premium economy product on the market. The 'Biz Bed' business class seats have 73" pitch and can be booked from around €1,900 return.
6. Consider "off-beat" carriers - There are a large number of airlines flying transatlantic between New York and London such as Kuwait Airways and Icelandair (via Reykjavik) and they can sometimes undercut fares of the major carriers. Kuwait Airways' business class tickets for example are available from around £980 or $1,400 return using Boeing 777 aircraft.
Obviously airline standards vary (seats, service, ground facilities) and you should always do your homework before you book. Icelandair, for example has a seat pitch of only 39" on its Boeing 757s in "Saga" (business) class.
If flying trans-Pacific from the West Coast to Asia then price up your business class flight on one of the less well-known Asian carriers - like Asiana or EVA.
7. Split Ticket - Consider splitting your journey and buying separate tickets which can reduce your business class fare significantly. For example, if travelling between Australia and Europe you could consider purchasing a business class fare to Europe from a point in Asia (such as Singapore, Manilla, Denpasar) and buying a separate Australia-Asia positioning fare. Denpasar to London via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific can be particularly good value in business class.