Crunching the numbers on travel is an eye-opening experience. According to Inc. Magazine, the annual bill for business travel worldwide is around $1.2 trillion. Ustravel.org reports that direct spending on business travel in the U.S. topped $307 billion in 2016. Leisure travelers spent more than twice that amount.
The bulk of travel expense goes to airline seats, and even budget-conscious flyers are often lured into the premium cabin. Who doesn’t want the reclining leather seat, the footrest or the free cocktail? Who wouldn’t rather arrive at the destination crisp and rested rather than rumpled and stiff?
However, those coveted seats come at a high price, and nothing eats into company profits or vacation budgets like paying full fares.
Flying Business Class
First things first, know the difference between first class and business class. On some airlines, there is no distinction. However, if both classes are offered and you don’t know that, you could inadvertently book first class and pay hundreds or even thousands more than the business fare.
For business, fly on weekends or midweek. Arrive late Sunday afternoon or stay over Friday. There are more likely to be business-class seats available, and you’ll pay less for them. For some reason, it’s usually cheaper to stay three nights midweek than two.
Using Travel Points
One of the easiest ways to fly business class for less is to buy an economy ticket and apply points to upgrade your seat. If you can resist the temptation to blow all your points on one flight the first chance you get, you’ll more often get to fly business class.
You can always just pay for more points, but there are some pitfalls. There are a number of websites for buying and selling points, but not all airlines accept them. You could be penalized points or get stuck with disallowed points that you can’t get rid of. You might even pay more than you would if you shopped around for a better deal.
If you do purchase points, you’re better off dealing directly with the airlines. The price of miles is a rather elusive figure that fluctuates all the time. It depends partially on how and when you plan to redeem the points, but somewhere around 2.5 cents is a safe bet. Also, don’t buy massive quantities and stockpile them. Some are devalued over time, so frequently check airline websites for promotional prices. And whatever you do, don’t squander valuable points on short flights.
So, don’t postpone that warning from the airline. When you get emails alerting you that your points are about to expire, act on them. Loyalty rewards aren’t what they used to be, but you’re in for a nice upgrade to business class when they add up.
The Benefits of Travel Cards
For the greatest rewards, use an elite travel card. Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum, for example, typically offer 40,000 to 50,000 reward miles for opening the card and spending around $3,000 in a short amount of time.
Some, such as the Delta SkyMiles American Express card, are co-branded, which means purchases of any kind rack up airline rewards. The best cards have transferable points. Once you’ve met your minimum spending obligation, opening a separate card for yourself or your spouse could result in another 50,000 free points.
Most elite cards charge high annual membership fees, so figure out if you travel enough to make the fee worth it. For frequent long-distance flyers, the fees pay for themselves in no time.
Tips for Flying in Style for Less
- Check for discounted seat upgrades during online check-in or when you arrive at your gate. Airlines sometimes reduce fares if seats are still available shortly before the flight. If you’re willing to gamble, an upgrade just before takeoff might be less than the price posted online. It never hurts to ask. Just ask politely.
- Avoid travel rush hours and book a flight in coach class. Now and then, a prime seat in business class goes unsold. Try to get a seat close to the front of the plane so that you can see vacant seats in business class. As soon as you hear that cabin door shut, nicely ask the flight attendant if you can move. Some airlines won’t budge, but others don’t mind. Your chances of this free, last-minute upgrade are better if you’re dressed for business and you’re traveling alone.
- If airlines are offering promotional packages, their loyal customers hear about them first. Be sure that you’re subscribed to online newsletters, and follow airlines on social media. You may come across early-bird fares or other special offers.
The Best Travel Websites for Business Class
Doing your homework online will result in big savings. There are plenty of websites out there to help you find the best deals. Some of the better-known sites include Orbitz, Kayak, Google Flights, Travelocity, Momondo, and Skyscanner.
However, for terrific bargains in business class, there’s a better way to do it.
Airlines don’t always want the public to know when they’re planning to heavily discount seats, so they sometimes sell seats in bulk to business-class specialist consolidators. Consolidators have access to unpublished fares for up to 50 percent off.
If you use an agency like this, be sure that it’s reputable and in good standing with industry entities such as the American Society of Travel Agents. Read all the fine print for restrictions and return policies, and pay by credit card. If the consolidator is legitimate, he won’t have it any other way.
Here are some of the best websites for getting you into the premium cabin for less:
- Executive Class Travel: Since 1992, this company has catered to movie stars and high-ranking government officials. They offer discounts up to 70 percent on international and domestic flights.
- Alpha Flight Guru: This full-service, upper-end travel agency offers discounts on unpublished fares. According to their advertising, it’s possible to save 30 to 50 percent on international travel. Once you’ve entered your criteria, a guru will call you and take over as personal concierge. The company is open round-the-clock if you need to make changes.
- Flight Snap and associated Fly Infinite boast discounts of up to 80 percent. You’ll get a complimentary baggage allowance, and an eight-hour or longer layover will result in a free hotel room.
- With SkyLux Travel, you can get up to 80 percent off on international fares and 60 percent off on domestic flights. Trip protection is provided at no charge on most tickets. A full-service travel concierge will be assigned to you.
- ITA Matrix is behind several of the leading travel search engines like Orbitz and Kayak. You can’t actually purchase your ticket on its website, but you can select a flight and book it directly through an airline at that price. OnTheFly is the mobile app.
- Last-Minute Business Class wholesales tickets, limos rides, and luxury hotel rooms. You can save up to 70 percent on major airlines worldwide.
No matter where you’re headed, you needn’t pay so much for business class to get there.