If you want to upgrade your economy class experience without paying business or first class fares, there are a few tips and tricks you can have up your sleeve to make your travel more comfortable.
While it might mean forking out a little bit of money for the privilege, it’s usually better than paying the full fare – and it helps to know what to ask for, too.
Related story: How to hack your way to a family holiday
So if you’ve bought economy class tickets already but wanting a more premium experience, here are the tricks to hacking economy class, according to Point Hacks frequent flyer expert Daniel Sciberras:
1. Buy lounge passes from external companies
If you don’t mind flying economy class but want a business class airport experience, you can buy lounge passes through platforms like Priority Pass which includes more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world.
“Membership starts from as little as US$99 (AU$146) for a standard annual fee, then US$32 (AU$47) member fee per visit,” Sciberras told Yahoo Finance. They might not offer a large range of lounge access in Australia, but incentivise customers by taking $36 off your bill at some airport cafes and restaurants where no lounge is available.
2. Choose an economy seat with added benefits
No, we don’t just mean premium economy: there’s actually a type of seat that exists on the upper end of economy class that “ranks between economy and premium economy in terms of comfort and extras”.
“Virgin Australia’s Economy X is one such example that offers passengers 40 per cent more legroom, priority screening through airport security, preferred overhead lockers, and priority boarding,” Sciberras said. International bells and whistles include guaranteed meal choice and noise-cancelling headphones.
A domestic flight from Sydney to Melbourne would cost an extra $35 per person each way, while a Sydney to Los Angeles flight with Economy X is another $199.
3. Research your plane seat configuration
Sciberras recommends Seatguru.com, which is a website that features aircraft seat maps, seat reviews and a colour-coded system that identifies which airlines a better and which ones are sub-standard.
“This is ideal when it comes time to choosing your seat and making sure you aren’t stuck in a bad spot,” he said. “Just make sure you know what flight and aircraft you’re on, so you make an informed decision.”
4. Choose a seat at the back
It’s not always the worst thing to have a seat at the back, according to the frequent flyer expert.
“This could work in your favour on long-haul flights. There may be less passengers sitting at the back, giving you a greater chance of having a row to yourself.”
5. Pay to enter a Virgin Australia lounge
Just because you’re flying economy doesn’t mean you’re barred from lounges, period: if you have a legitimate Virgin Australia boarding pass, non-lounge members can buy a lounge pass at the entrance two hours before departure.
However, it doesn’t come free: you’ll have to cough up $65 or 10,000 Velocity points, but if you need to get some work done in comfort and have time to kill, it could be worth it.
5 things to ask for if you’re flying economy class
1. You can sometimes get a cheap upgrade at the check-in gate
Don’t pay the full business class fare: at some airlines and on international routes, you might get lucky and score a cheaper upgrade.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask for a quote to see how much it will be – it may be just a few hundred dollars additional. You’ll just need to weigh up whether this is worth it for you,” Sciberras said.
2. Try asking for seconds at mealtimes
Still hungry? There’s a chance there’s some left-over meals, so you might be able to score seconds after everyone’s received their meals. You’ll probably have better luck with this on overnight flights when people are sleeping through mealtimes – and be sure to find out where the snack bar is if you’re on a long-haul flight, Sciberras added.
3. Get help from the in-flight staff when travelling with kids
The frequent flyer expert recommends Etihad as having one of the best services for an on-board nanny with its Flying Nanny service that helps keep children entertained. And while most airlines don’t offer help to this extent, they’re usually happy to help with the kids.
4. Try nab an upgrade if you’ve bought a more expensive economy ticket
“While it’s easy to go for the cheapest ticket when booking your flight, buying the slightly more expensive one – such as the flexible ticket – can have its perks,” Sciberras said.
“If an airline is looking to upgrade people, it’s more likely to happy for those who haven’t bough the ‘super saver’ seat.”
5. Let the flight crew know you’re celebrating a special event
Travelling for your honeymoon or birthday? Let the flight crew know as they might be more willing to grant you special perks, Sciberras told Yahoo Finance.
“Some airlines have been known to bring out a cupcake on your birthday. Just try to let them know as far in advance as possible.”
2 secrets to scoring a cheeky upgrade
1. Volunteer your seat in an overbooked flight
Overbooked flights happen more frequently in the US than they do in Australia, so if you have the flexibility to give up your seat on an oversold flight you’ll likely be compensated with travel vouchers, overnight accommodation or more, Sciberras advised.
2. Bid for an upgrade
Velocity allows passengers to bid for upgrades through its UpgradeMe Premium Bid webpage, and Qantas has something similar called Bid Now Upgrades – but this is invitation-only for selected Qantas flights.
“Those who are eligible can make an offer to a more premium cabin, using a combination of points and money if you’re a Frequent Flyer member, or just money if you’re not a member,” said Sciberras.
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