Turn left without paying those eye-watering rates. Julia Hammond reveals how
Sign up for ‘error fare’ alerts
Error fares are just that: mistakes. Specifically pricing mistakes, usually caused by human error, incorrect currency conversions or programming glitches, which can lead to flights being offered well below the market rate. While rare, they do occur, most often on indirect flights, as the extra pricing components make these fares more complex. We recently found a Club World return (BA’s Business Class) from Oslo to New York, via London, for £342 — the typical fare is about £1,650. Once spotted by the airlines, error fares are pulled, meaning they’ll sometimes be available for just an hour or two, so sign up for email alerts (and monitor social media feeds) from the likes of secretflying.com, www.cheapflightslab.com and flynous.com. Occasionally, airlines refuse to honour error fares, so don’t book hotel rooms and the like until you have a confirmed ticket.
Upgrade with points
Using air miles to fly ‘up the front’ isn’t just an enjoyable indulgence — it makes sound economic sense, too, since you usually get much better value from your loyalty points by spending them on an upgrade rather than buying an Economy ticket. Take BA’s Avios scheme: 1,000 points are worth just £1 should you use them to buy, say, an Economy return from London to New York. Purchase a Premium Economy flight with cash, however, and put your points towards an upgrade to Club Class, and those 1,000 points are worth £140. You’ll be spending more, of course, but getting much better value — and a rather more memorable experience.
Bad weather and flight cancellations can work in your favour. With a planeload of passengers to rebook, airline agents will welcome the news that you’re prepared to wait a day or two and may reward that patience — or incentivise it — with a free upgrade. Rather than queue at the desk, where agents are likely to be frazzled, call the airline and politely explain that you’re happy to be flexible — in return for some recompense. Snowbound in New York en route from London to Nicaragua, we made it clear that an indirect routing was just as acceptable as the route we’d chosen. The result? We were upgraded from Economy to First by American Airlines for free — and got a Big Apple mini-break to boot, accommodation paid for by the airline.
Airlines hate to lose money by flying with empty seats, so cheap upgrade offers can appear when a cabin is underbooked. Once you’ve bought an Economy ticket, regularly check the airline website’s ‘manage my booking’ page, or its app, for upgrade deals. An hour or so before take-off, carriers are even more eager flog those unsold Business seats, so (even if you’ve already checked in online) ask at the desk what the cheapest upgrade rate is. Flying Economy from London to Barbados with Virgin, we were offered a £999 upgrade to Business — the price difference between the two classes in advance was about £2,200.