The Travel Adviser: The meek shall inherit the business class

In Europe and the US, these ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Ryanair are attracting new customers with menu-like pricing.

By
March 2, 2015 11:14
Lufthansa Airlines

Lufthansa Airlines. (photo credit: COURTESY LUFTHANSA)

As per the famous platitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” While I strongly hope they will, in fact, inherit the earth, one of the oft-repeated questions I receive is how one may inherit the heavens.

Or more specifically, how do you get upgraded to business class and enjoy a slice of heaven in the skies? As we move deeper into the second half of this decade, it is important to understand that airlines are moving to a two-tiered system. Global deregulation and Open Sky policies have thrown open previously closed markets, allowing foreign airlines that once could only fly between their own nation and designated cities in Europe and North America to touch down wherever they want. Technology has lowered the entry barrier to upstart airlines, which no longer require sales and marketing offices everywhere they fly.

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In Europe and the US, these ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Ryanair are attracting new customers with menu-like pricing. You pay a bargain rate for a place on the flight, but everything else has an added fee: meals, baggage, seat location and even the basic act of printing the boarding pass.

Low-cost carriers like Easy Jet and Southwest are finding their market base nibbled at by these newer upstarts, and later this year there will be newer players in the game.

That niche can be profitable provided you’re running each plane at near full capacity, utilizing the newest planes with the most efficient engines and focusing primarily on those customers whose main objective is to get from point A to B, paying the least amount of money with a secure and safe airline.

Creature comforts be damned, and if the flight runs smoothly and the service is pleasing, it will satisfy the masses.

It’s when flying greater distances, sitting in that aluminum can for over five hours, that the vast majority do want their creature comforts, would like a bit more legroom and are not opposed to a bit of pampering. The experience can be glorious: All the pains and indignities one typically encounters on a long flight in coach are nonexistent as you’re sipping cocktails and noshing on quality chocolates, after your multi-course meal is served on real china and you’ve stretched out in your roomy, fully reclining seat.

Once you’ve flown with the elite, it’s tough to go back with the masses. So unless your company permits you to fly business class or you’re able to afford it, you need a plan to increase your odds of being upgraded.

It is possible to experience the comfort of business class without paying through the nose. It requires a lot of legwork on the ground before you travel, but once you’re relaxing in premium class with a drink in your hand, it will have been worth it. Here are the basics to making it happen: To fly Business, become elite Most airlines still offer upgrades as perks to their most loyal flyers. Unless you’re one of those people who travels tens of thousands of miles each year, the best way to earn status on frequent flyer programs is still through airline credit cards. They offer hefty sign-up bonus points and reward miles for purchases. While many cards are excellent for accruing miles, you need to focus on credit cards that help you accrue so-called elite qualifying miles.

Over the last few months El Al has been touting its Fly Card, offered by Diners Club, proclaiming that it “transforms your purchases into flights.” Of course, it’s only for those customers with an Israeli bank account, but it’s a first step. United Airlines promotes its United Mileage Plus card, issued by Chase, by offering first and second checked bags for free and no foreign transaction fees.

For a far more exhaustive, nay nerdier look comparing the best airline credit cards, I offer you this link – which delineates all the pros and cons: www.

nerdwallet.com/blog/top-credit-cards/nerdwallets- best-airline-credit-cards/ To fly Business, buy upgrades with miles or points If you have a lot of miles, use them to help you get into business cabins for less than the price of a business-class ticket. Depending on the destination, it often is one of the highest-value ways you can spend your miles. Taking the Big Apple as an example, the least expensive business-class ticket among the three airlines that fly nonstop from Tel Aviv – Delta, El Al and United – is approximately $3,400. If you purchase a full-fare economy ticket at approximately $2,700, you can use your miles on Delta or United or your points on El Al to upgrade to business class. This scenario is the same for British Airways tickets to London or Air Canada flights to Toronto.

Ask yourself what you’re saving your points for – if it’s for a round-the-world first-class ticket when you retire, keep those points close to your chest; if it’s to obtain an economy-class ticket for you or someone you love, again, hold on to those points. But if you’ve decided that YOU deserve a bit of pampering, then utilize the points to sit in business class.

To fly Business, consider a cheap, last-minute upgrade at the airport Many airlines will give you the option to upgrade your ticket for a discounted rate at the last minute if they have the room. This is not the time to be meek, but to stride forcefully up to the airline counter, make eye contact with the ground agent, crack a smile, flash those eyes and ask that most personal of questions: “Can I be upgraded on this flight?” You also need to dress for success. Airlines want their first- and business-class passengers to look a league above, so make sure you do, too. Think smart casual as opposed to showing up in your tracksuit. As my sage mother taught me, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Few airlines have a set policy; most will start upgrading their most frequent fliers or those with expensive tickets.

Air Canada, flying nonstop between Toronto and Tel Aviv on her brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, doesn’t strongly promote their upgrade option.

Obviously they prefer selling those seats to business clientele, but they do have a clear policy, which is laid out on their site.

Last-minute upgrade purchase Treat yourself to the comfort of business class! The next time you check in online or at the airport, you may be offered a last-minute upgrade purchase to the business-class or premium economy cabins.

Take advantage of this offer and treat yourself to the comfort and added perks of business class, with lie-flat beds on most international flights, premium wines, spirits and cuisine, and a host of other luxurious amenities.

However, make sure to note the most important item in the small print: “The price of the last-minute upgrade is based on the flight segment for which the upgrade is being selected.”

In simpler language, based on the capacity of the business-class cabin and the price of your ticket, the airline’s computer models have decided exactly what rate to charge you for each flight. I’ve had clients pay $500 for the upgrade, while others were offered it for $1,000 and declined.

To fly Business, fly when business travelers aren’t You’re more likely to be offered an affordable last-minute upgrade or find a very inexpensive business-class fare if you schedule your trip when business travelers are not flying. Bluntly speaking, hoping for an upgrade at the start or conclusion of the workweek is an exercise in futility; simply finding a seat to purchase these days, when airlines have reduced capacity to a bare minimum, is enough of a challenge. Being upgraded would require nothing short of a miracle, so don’t get your hopes up.

Few business travelers are going to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning; holidays are actually times when business travelers stay home, so premium cabins are emptier then. One other tip is when you’re on a flight in which economy class is chock-full but business class has lots of space, the airlines will ask for volunteers to be bumped; short of that, they will have no choice but to bump passengers to business class. The best way to get high up on such a list is to do web check-in. More and more airlines are giving you that option when you check in, giving you the time to decide how much you’ll spend to be upgraded.

To fly Business, get help landing a deal You don’t have to do it on your own. Because travel agents deal in so much volume, they have access to fares which you might not. Discounted business-class fares are routinely marketed exclusively to travel agents, resulting in savings of hundreds of dollars off the business fares offered by the airlines themselves.

If all else fails, break your leg. Per a recent airline survey, nearly two-thirds of airline staff revealed that a passenger with a broken limb was more likely to get the business-class experience for free.

The writer is CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem; questions and comments: [email protected]


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