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At InsideFlyer UK, we do like to cover how to travel “Up Front” for less. Of course, everyone would love to turn left as they board! However, we also recognise that the vast majority of air travel is in Economy Class as, even with PhD level travel hacking, Business and First can often still cost at least 2-3x an Economy ticket.
Indeed, with deals that will get you around the world in Economy for the same price as a train ticket to London from “the North”, it’s hard to justify the extra expense for Business Class – especially if you’re on a tight budget or prefer to spend your money on a better hotel/activities when you’re there.
Last year I took a fair few flights in Economy to both Boston and Miami, so I thought I’d share some of the tricks I used to make the journey that little bit more comfortable, without breaking the bank:
1. Fast Track Airport Security
Nobody enjoys airport security. What can make the experience even more miserable is queuing for potentially hours before you even get to empty your precious possessions into plastic trays to be scoured for contraband and excessive liquids.
Long an exclusive benefit only for those flying in the pointy end of the plane, or those with high level elite status, many UK airports (except Heathrow!) have recognised they can profit from status-less Economy Class passengers also wanting to avoid this misery, and are offering fast track access for around £4 per person. Visit the website of your departure airport to see if it is available.
As this generally has to be purchased at least 1 day prior to departure, you are gambling on whether it will be busy or not. I have in the past paid for it, when the standard queue was completely empty making it worthless. On other occasions however, the queue has been snaking back into the check-in area, meaning my £4 piece of paper allowed me a movie-star like experience, skipping right to the front of the queue (with a significant amount of jealous stares from the poor souls stuck in the ordinary queue).
Personally, if I’m not in Business Class or my BA Silver status won’t get me into Fast Track – £4 is a small price to pay to ensure I don’t spend the first few hours of my holiday waiting in a queue!
2. Lounge access before the flight
Now this one does depend on the airport you are departing from, but it can make a massive difference by setting the tone for your trip. There is nothing worse than getting onto a plane already agitated and uncomfortable!
There are three ways to get into a lounge if your ticket doesn’t already include it:
- If you have the right elite status with the airline alliance you are flying with, this generally will allow you access to alliance lounges at your departure airport. For BA status, which is probably the most common in the UK, you need at least Silver to gain access to oneworld Business Class lounges. You can check oneworld lounge availability and entry criteria here.
- If you don’t have elite status with your airline’s alliance or are flying a non-alliance airline (like most LCCs!), there are a number of lounge access schemes such as Priority Pass, Lounge Club and Dragon Pass. You can either pay for membership to these schemes directly or get access via premium credit cards such as the American Express Platinum and HSBC Premier cards. Terms of access and guesting privileges will vary depending on your membership, and you’ll need to check with the specific scheme for available lounges at your departure airport.
- The final way if you have neither of the above, is to just pay the entry fee for the many independent lounges out there. In the UK, you’ll be looking at between £18 and £50 per adult. Given the prices of most airside bars and restaurants, this can represent good value if you have a number of hours before your flight and you intend on eating a meal and having a few drinks.
As with airline run lounges, the quality can vary immensely. It’s important to research your options before you travel and choose the lounge that is best for you.
For our last Economy trip we went from Manchester Terminal 3 – which I DETEST. It is the most horrible, cramped and overcrowded terminal I’ve had the misfortune to use in the UK. The Escape Lounge however really was an escape. Comfortable seating areas overlooking the runway, complimentary drinks including wine, beer and spirits and made to order bacon/sausage baps – bliss!
It really made a difference to the start of the trip – allowing us to relax whilst waiting for boarding above the hordes fighting for seats in the terminal below.
3. Careful seat selection
This can make your trip infinitely more comfortable. Seat selection policies vary enormously between airlines, but generally speaking your choices are to pay for advance selection, or wait until online check-in 24hrs before to do it for free.
As with property, seat selection is all about location, location, location.
By paying attention to aircraft layouts and check-in policies you can increase your chances of a good seat. There are plenty of websites out there giving you advice on which the better seats are. On night flights especially, ensuring a comfortable seat can be worth paying for.
This could be an entire article on its own, but I thought I’d share with you a little example from my most recent Economy flight as an idea:
We were flying back from Miami to London on a BA A380. As it was an overnight flight, I decided to pay for exit row seats on the upper deck to guarantee comfortable leg room. I also chose the rearmost cabin, as this was more likely to be quieter for the night flight. All the other seats except exit rows were free before check-in as BA charges a ridiculous amount even for a normal seat.
During online check-in, I checked the seating plan elsewhere in Economy, out of curiosity, as people started to be assigned their seats for free. The upper deck remained surprisingly empty, whilst the main cabin on the lower deck was practically full. It seemed BA was automatically assigning seats starting downstairs, and most people were just accepting these – even though you can move them for free to other standard seats.
Once on-board, our upper deck mini cabin of 32 seats, had a grand total of 6 occupants. The main deck downstairs, was virtually full. The result – very quick and personal service from our cabin crew, and a central row of 4 to ourselves allowing one of us to lie down to sleep – more room and a better staffing ratio than First!
Check out more tips for staying comfortable in Economy in Part 2 later this week!