If you’re a frequent flyer for business or leisure, odds are you’re regularly scheming ways to get an upgrade out of coach. With airlines monetizing everything down to the last peanut, air travelers need to adopt guerrilla tactics to make their loyalty status payoff with prized business or first class upgrades.
We interviewed TheLuxuryTravelExpert — who prefers to retain his anonymity — to get an update on all things luxury travel related, and learn his proven moves for getting a flight upgrade for little to no cost.
Tell us about your blog and how you arrived at becoming a luxury travel expert?
I am not part of the travel industry. I am a doctor, and I have been blogging about my travels for years, mainly sharing my stories with families and friends. Three years ago, I felt the need to bring the blog to the next level, and opened it up to everyone, with a focus on luxury travel. I aim to make my blog a reference source for fellow travelers with the same spirit. There is an avalanche of travel websites, reviews and agencies out there, that can inspire the demanding traveler but also cause a lot of frustration and confusion (“too many choices!”; “is it worth it?”; “will it fit my taste?”). I try to filter all that information into my blog, based on my own 20+ years of experience traveling around the world. I keep the blog as a hobby, and as such, I have to limit my output to three newsletters per week (as my main profession keeps me busy for most of my time).
You recently posted a comprehensive post on securing flight upgrades without paying for them. Tell us about those tips, particularly those that will interest our subscribers, which tend to be savvy business travelers and frequent flyers.
The way I always end up in Business Class is mostly by keeping an eye out for Business Class sales, with fares that often come in the range of Economy Class tickets. Qatar Airways, for example, launches several times a year a sale with amazing Business Class fares from Europe (where I am based) to Asia and Australia for less than 1000 euros per person. Occasionally, they also launch 1-4-2 sales, where you buy one Business Class ticket and get a second one for free for your travel companion (which is sometimes cheaper than booking two Economy Class tickets).
If you want to get an upgrade from Economy to Business Class, or Business to First, your best chance is with miles. However, I almost never use miles to upgrade from Economy to Business myself since most airlines charge an insane amount of miles to do so (so you’re better off using your miles for immediately booking a Business class ticket). However, the one exception must be British Airways, where you only need 25,000 Avios miles to upgrade one cabin during a long-haul route (e.g. Europe to USA, or Europe to South Africa) making this a superb deal, which I often make use of.
And when you’re a frequent flyer with top status, you better park your miles with an American carrier since they will award you with upgrade vouchers (in most cases 4 each year).
What are some of the interesting trends that you’re seeing evolve in luxury travel to capture the attention of the jet set?
I notice that several luxury hotels are trying to lure guests with new gadgets, amenities, and over-the-top experiences. To name a few examples: arriving by paraglider at Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman, an underwater restaurant at Conrad Maldives, a tree pod dining experience at Soneva Kiri in Thailand, and your own submarine at Laucala Island in Fiji. The most stunning new feature I witnessed myself recently is the retractable roof at the palatial overwater villas of Soneva Jani in the Maldives, which slides back at the touch of a button so you can lie in bed and stargaze (it closes automatically in case of an on-coming shower). I also noticed that the top hotel brands are taking luxury to new heights – literally – by offering travel on private jets, such as the Four Seasons Boeing 757 which offers onboard hotel service while guests hop from one Four Seasons resort to another.
When it comes to top notch service and pampering, who is your favorite US-based airline and non-US based airline?
USA-based airlines: American Airlines offers by far the best Business Class seat of all USA carriers. Unfortunately, that Zodiac seat is only found on their B777-300ER aircraft, and in addition, while customer service on American Airlines is still great, I find it to have declined since its merger with US Airways. For example, recently, I was disappointed to be served the exact same menu in First Class on the London to LAX route as in Business Class a few weeks earlier. While United’s seats are not nearly as comfortable as the ones on American, and while United has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months, I find their new Business Class Polaris to be a great soft product: amenities are great, food is very good (the best of all US carriers) and they even offer pajamas in Business Class on certain routes.
Non-US based airlines: competition is stiffer here, and it would be a close call between Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. Qatar is doing a great job with super friendly crews, superb new Business Class products (they launched their QSuites this month), great food, and the world’s best Business and First Class lounges at Doha Airport. However, IMHO, they are still inferior to the Asian hospitality of Singapore Airlines, which offers the widest Business Class seat in the industry and the best gourmet food in the sky.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the “Middle Seat” by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.