For most of us, turning left when boarding and settling into a seat that reclines and fizzes to your heart’s content is something we can only dream of.
But business class seat prices have fallen significantly in recent years as airlines struggle to fill their luxury cabins.
Before the pandemic, the smartest cabins were primarily occupied by those traveling for work. But as companies stopped sending their executives abroad for meetings, airlines began cutting prices to tempt leisure travelers.
Research for the Mail by The Flight Center shows that seats in business class cabins from April to December this year are 10% lower than the same period in 2023 (flightcentre.co.uk).
Direct business class return flights to New York with Virgin Atlantic are now available from £1,799, while direct business class return flights start from London to New Delhi with Air India are from £1,503. For those wishing to travel with a stopover, passengers on the latter route can save almost £500 if they have a one-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi when traveling on business with Etihad (£1,043).
It is also now possible to book business returns from Manchester to the golden beaches of Cancun, Mexico (via Lisbon) with TAP Air Portugal from £1,503, and the traditionally expensive route from London to Sydney (via Beijing) for £2,799 with Air China via Trailfinders (trailfinders.com).
Frequent flyer clubs are worth joining and most will let you exchange points for an upgrade. Pictured: Business class cabin on an Emirates flight, which was found to be the third best airline for business travel.
“Demand for business class seats returned extremely quickly after the pandemic and capacity was low, allowing airlines to charge high prices,” says Justin Penny, head of aviation at The Flight Centre. “But since the start of 2023, demand has fallen and capacity has increased again, meaning airlines now have to fight for position and win over customers with low prices, especially those flying transatlantic flights. Prices have dropped a lot in 2023 and there are still some great deals.
Here’s how to get the best business class deals on a budget:
GET A BIDD
In addition to low fares, many airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Etihad, Cathay Pacific and Qantas now allow travelers who have reserved economy or premium seats to bid online for a business upgrade.
Airlines typically open online auctions two to seven days before a scheduled flight (and close no more than five hours before the flight). Travelers are usually notified by the airline via email and asked to submit a bid (there is usually a minimum bid) and enter payment information. If the upgrade is successful, you will receive an email from the airline and will be entitled to all the benefits of your new travel class, including lounge access and additional baggage allowance.
IF you’re happy to change planes at a major European airport, you can make big savings. And if you’re willing to accept a long layover or better, an overnight stay, there are even greater discounts. For example, TAP Air, the Portuguese national airline, offers significant discounts if passengers stay overnight at its Lisbon hub (see table).
BOOK EARLY FOR BUSINESS
FOR the cheapest rates, it is important to determine when to book. For domestic economy flights, the cheapest time to book is five months before departure, according to flight engine Kayak.com, while for international economy fares, the ideal booking period is eight to 23 days before departure.
However, in business class, you must book as early as possible. “For leisure travelers looking to travel on business, the further in advance you can book, the better the prices,” says Justin Penny. “Business travelers generally tend to book three to four weeks in advance of the trip, so if leisure travelers book during this time, they will pay these inflated prices.”
ERROR fares are pricing errors made online by an airline or travel agency due to human error or incorrect currency conversions. These fares are often up to 90 percent cheaper than the standard price and must be honored by airlines once purchased. Error fares are often only available for an hour or two before being spotted by airlines and removed, so sign up to receive email alerts from sites like kayak.com, hopper.com and secretflying.com.
SET PRICE ALERTS
YOU can set up alerts using Google Flights that will track prices for particular routes and email you when prices significantly increase or decrease. To do this, select your departure and destination airports as well as your travel dates. Select return or one-way tickets and the class in which you wish to travel. Once flight prices are displayed, you can click a toggle that will enable tracking.
JOIN THE CLUB
COMMON flying clubs are worth joining and most will let you exchange points for an upgrade. With BA, you can upgrade a premium economy seat to Business Class from London to Dubai with 20,000 Avios points, whereas you would need 65,000 points to upgrade from Economy to Virgin’s Upper Class cabin on a London- Washington, DC.