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For most of us, turning left when boarding and enjoying an unlimited drink and a reclining seat is something we can only dream of.
But business class seat rates have fallen significantly in recent years as airlines struggle to fill their plush cabins.
Before the pandemic, smarter cabins were primarily occupied by those traveling for work. But as companies stopped sending 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 per cent lower than for the same period in 2023 (flightcentre.co.uk).
Direct return business class flights to New York with Virgin Atlantic are now available from £1,799, while direct return business flights from London to New Delhi with Air India cost from £1,503. For those happy to travel with a stopover, passengers on the latter route can save almost £500 by having a one-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi when flying on business with Etihad (£1,043).
It’s now also 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 London to Sydney route (via Beijing) from £2,799 with Air China from via Trail Finders (trailfinders.com).
Frequent flyer clubs are worth joining and most will allow you to redeem points for an upgrade. Pictured: Business class cabin on an Emirates flight, considered the third best airline for business travel.
“Demand for business class seats returned extremely quickly after the pandemic and capacity was low, so airlines were able to demand high prices,” says Justin Penny, head of aviation at The Flight Centre. “But since the beginning of 2023 demand has fallen and capacity has increased again, meaning airlines now have to fight for their position and win over customers with low prices, especially those flying transatlantic. “Prices dropped quite a bit in 2023 and there are still very good offers.”
Here’s how to get the best business class deals on a budget:
In addition to low fares, many airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Etihad, Cathay Pacific and Qantas now allow travelers with seats reserved in economy class or premium economy class to bid online for a business upgrade.
Airlines typically open online deals two to seven days before a scheduled flight (and close them as soon as five hours before the flight). Travelers are usually informed by the airline by email and asked to submit a bid (there is usually a minimum bid) and enter payment information. If you successfully upgrade, the airline will email you and you will be entitled to all the benefits and perks of your new travel class, including lounge access and additional baggage allowance.
IF you are willing to change planes at a major European airport, you can save a lot. And if you’re willing to accept a long layover or, better yet, an overnight stay, there are even bigger discounts to be had. For example, TAP Air, the Portuguese flag carrier, offers big reductions if passengers spend the night at its hub in Lisbon (see table).
BOOK IN ADVANCE FOR BUSINESS
FOR the cheapest rates, it’s important to consider when you should 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, when it comes to business class, it is best to book as early as possible. “For leisure travelers who want to fly for business, the further in advance they can book, the better the prices will be,” says Justin Penny. “Corporate travelers generally tend to book three or four weeks before travel, 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 typically up to 90 percent cheaper than the standard price and airlines must honor them once purchased. Erroneous fares are often only available for an hour or two before airlines detect and remove them, 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 send you an email when prices increase or decrease significantly. To do this, select the departure and destination airports and travel dates. Select round trip or one-way tickets and what class you want to fly in. Once flight prices appear, you can click a button that will activate tracking.
JOIN THE CLUB
Frequent flyer clubs are worth joining and most will allow you to redeem points for an upgrade. With BA, you can upgrade a seat from premium economy to business class from London to Dubai with 20,000 Avios points, while you’d need 65,000 points to upgrade from economy to Virgin’s Upper Class cabin on a flight from London to Washington , DC.