How to fly business class for the price of economy
At the end of May I flew business class on BA to New York. As an ex-teacher and now a travel writer who specialises in budget independent travel, you could be forgiven for wondering how on earth that budget managed to stretch beyond economy. Well, the answer is, it didn’t. My ticket from Europe to New York’s JFK airport cost me the princely sum of £342. This is the story of how I did it.
Error fares explained
I travelled on what’s known as an error fare – and it’s just that, a mistake fare. Sometimes, perhaps as a result of exchange rate glitches or human error (who cares so long as it’s a mistake in your favour) the computer offers up a fare at way below market rate. They don’t last long, sometimes staying available hours or even minutes. So how do you find one among all the many destination combos and available dates?
Subscribe to alerts
I subscribe to many email newsletters but those that are the most useful in this respect come from Secret Flying http://www.secretflying.com, from CheapFlightsLab http://www.cheapflightslab.com and from FlyNous http://www.flynous.com. Each have the facility to subscribe on social media – in fact I first became aware of Secret Flying via a post that popped up as a retweet on Twitter. Follow them on whatever platform you’re most likely to spot them. Make sure you have notifications switched on. In this instance I saw the deal first on a Secret Flying Facebook post.
Sift out unwanted deals
I tend to stick to the well respected airlines and travel booking sites that I’ve used before. So if a deal has to be booked through a consolidator’s website and I’ve not heard of them, I don’t use them. Equally, I don’t want to be bombarded with offers that originate outside Europe, so I select European deals only.
The business class fare I found actually originated in Oslo, Norway. The return flight was in four legs: OSL-LHR-JFK-LHR-OSL. The way air tickets work, if I’d been a no-show for the first leg from Oslo to London, the rest of the ticket would have been cancelled. I couldn’t have just travelled straight from Heathrow. However, so long as I didn’t have checked baggage (and remember business class offers a more generous cabin baggage allowance) then I would be permitted to exit in London on the return leg and just “miss” the onward flight to Oslo.
A few words of warning
As I’m UK-based, the cost of getting to Oslo had to be factored into the equation. I’d never been to Oslo and decided to travel on the morning flight from LGW to OSL the day before my New York flight and make a mini-break of it. My one-way flight cost £45 and I added a budget hotel room on for about £30. If you’re keeping a tally, that’s £417 to fly to New York business class – pretty much the same as a reasonable economy fare. Norway’s not cheap, but I could have chosen a hostel should I have wished. I could also have chosen an error fare via somewhere that offers cheaper accommodation, Spain for instance, or waited for one originating in London.
In the event, that Oslo flight was delayed by a staggering eight hours, scuppering my plans to explore the Norwegian capital but fortunately not impacting on my New York flight. But – and I cannot stress this enough – be generous with your connection time: had my inbound flight arrived too late, I’d have forfeited my NYC error fare as the two segments weren’t purchased as part of a single through ticket.
Sometimes, these error fares are honoured and sometimes they are not
The airline is under no obligation to honour an error fare. Basically, once you find and book an error fare, sit tight for a week or so. Use a credit card to pay for the error fare and don’t invest any money just yet in hotels, connecting flights or airport transportation. That way, should the error fare be cancelled, you won’t be out of pocket.
Once you have a confirmed ticket (check on the airline’s own website against your booking reference) then things should be OK. Make sure you have decent insurance cover just in case and it’s also wise to book your accommodation on a free cancellation basis. Sites like booking.com do this as a matter of routine; you can usually cancel right up to the day before without incurring a financial penalty but check carefully before you commit.
They work for economy too
At the time of writing Malaysian Airlines has an economy class error fare deal to Manila in the Philippines for £265 with availability showing from October 2016 to April 2017. These flights originate and end in London, so no need to mess about with connecting flights like I did for New York. Business class error fares come up less frequently but they do come up. The trick is to keep an open mind. Rather than look for a particular route, see which error fares come up and then book the one that excites you. I’ve never been to the Philippines…
Sit tight until the right deal comes up – and then grab it before it’s gone! Happy travels.
July 18, 2016 | Categories: Airlines, Europe, Flights, Independent travel, Money-saving tips, North America, Online booking, Travel advice and information | Tags: cheap flights, error fares, flight deals, secret flying | 5 Comments