International travel comes with all the excitement and grandeur that makes you proud to be a traveler—the anticipation of new cultures, new food, and new sights. But being stuffed into a coach seat for 17 hours on a long-haul flight can make even the most passionate travelers long for their own beds, not to mention put a crimp in your back, neck, and sleep cycle during the first days of your trip.
For long-haul flights in the summer, travelers with a little extra cash in the budget should consider upgrading to a business-class seat. Though the internet is littered with fly-first-class-for-cheaper-than-coach-type articles, most of the advice found there is bunk. Plain and simple, business class seats cost more, sometimes three- to ten-times more than their economy-class counterparts. But in summer, business travel lags while coach cabins overflow with tourists. "Our research shows that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer are the best times to fly business class," says Matthew Bennett of FirstClassFlyer.com, a newsletter aimed at those seeking upgrades. "Why is that? Business travelers are at home." In better economic times, business seats saw nary a discount,but now even the major airlines are offering discounts to fill the airplane's front section.
While insiders will tout little-known airfare classes (sometimes called "Z-fares"), restrictions on these fares can be cumbersome and the research it takes to track them down is often beyond the means of the average tourist. However, many big-name airlines are now offering steep discounts on their websites. For instance, a round-trip business-fare ticket with Luftansa from New York to Munich runs around $2,500 in August, some 40 percent off the usual fare, according the SmarterTraveler.com.
Here are three tips for actual travelers on how to get the best business-class flight for your international travels.
Know Your Seat
Not all business-class sections are alike. Seats vary from full "lie-back" options to the less-desirable recliner models. Most big-name airlines have been converting to the lie-back sections—American Airlines and China Airlines (Taipei) have recently upgraded their fleets to include comfy, fully horizontal pods in business class—but check on the type of seat you're getting before pulling the trigger on that "discount" seat.
Split It Up
It's a risky model, but it can save you some cash. Most long-haul flights end up at a major regional hub. Savvy flyers can buy a first- or business-class flight to the hub and then fly in coach to their final destination to save on airfare. The risk is that if you split flights between different carriers, the second airline isn't responsible if you don't make the flight due to delays. Build extra travel time into your schedule if you plan to try this. Bennett suggests upgrading for just the portion of the flight where you need it. "Some people use miles to upgrade just the transatlantic portion if flying to Europe," he says. "They don't suffer as much jetlag on the way home."
If you don't know that frequent-flyer miles and airline credit cards are a conduit to upgrades, we can't help you. But assuming you're already part of these programs, be on the lookout for other avenues. American Express's Platinum Card gives cardholders two-for-one deals on business-class flights. British Airways and Chase Sapphire are offering sign-up deals equivalent to a free upgrade. Airline e-newsletters also contain deals on first- and business-class sales as well.
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