How to fly business class for cheaper than you’d think.

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There’s more than a physical bulkhead separating business and first class passengers from the rest of us down the back of the plane.

Sure, added benefits like amenity kits, pyjamas, china crockery, fine wine and starched linen serviettes are lovely. But the real difference between travelling in the front or the back of the plane is passenger’s arrival condition.

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First and business class passengers step from the plane refreshed, relaxed, their clothes crisp and prim, hair and makeup immaculate (and that’s just the men!). Economy class passengers on the other hand emerge dishevelled, akin to being homeless and sleeping rough. Which in effect they have.

So, what’s the secret to travelling business (or, dare we dream big, first) class on an economy budget? We’ve got a few travel hacks to help you get those cheap business class tickets.

1. Search Skyscanner for cheap business and first class airfares.

Skyscanner has the capability to search for the cheapest flights on any route in any class. Looking for the cheapest business class flight within Australia? Search Australian domestic flights. Looking for the cheapest business or first class fares from Australia but flexible on destination? Search cheapest flights to anywhere! If you’re flexible when it comes to travel dates you can find the cheapest month for business class flights to your chosen destination.

2. Business class seats at an economy price.

Take a look at the airlines with a cheaper business class. ScootBiz is the name given to business class on Singapore Airlines’ low-cost offshoot Scoot. Flying Boeing 787 Dreamliners, ScootBiz is a no-frills business class, more like what full-service airlines call premium economy. The business class benefits on offer from ScootBiz include a 30kg baggage allowance, complimentary entertainment streamed to your own device, premium meal service including one alcoholic drink, sizeable armrests between leather seats that recline a full 20cm, AC power socket that takes Australian plugs, increased legroom and extendable leg rests. Check Skyscanner for ScootBiz return airfares starting from as low as $500 between Sydney and Singapore.

Jetstar Business is another low cost carrier offering that offers a more affordable business class. Called the ‘poor man’s business class’ by one reviewer, you can’t argue with low airfares. Leather seats recline 20cm, leg-rest and adjustable lumbar support increase the comfort factor. Entertainment is provided via complimentary iPads (which economy class passengers have to pay for) and amenities kits, pillows and blankets are on offer.

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LISTEN: This 16-year-old is right up the front of the plane. As in, flying it. (Post continues below.)

3. Bid for an upgrade in online auctions.

In a bid to fill empty business class seats on a flight many airlines offer online auctions allowing economy class passengers to bid for a low-cost upgrade to business and first class, offering a great deal on the original business class fare. There’s also the option of paying for a fixed price upgrade when you check-in from most airlines.

The formula for a winning bid is somewhat ambiguous with airlines keeping their results for winning bids under wraps. Here’s how bidding for a flight upgrade works:

Qantas – Bid Now Upgrades scheme is available on selected domestic and international flights by invitation only for passengers holding economy tickets. Passengers may receive an email from Qantas up to seven days prior to travel if their flight is eligible. Travellers make a minimum bid using a mix of frequent flyer points and cash (non Qantas Frequent Flyers can pay in cash). You will find out if your upgrade bid has been successful between 12 and 24 hours before your flight.

Virgin Australia – UpgradeMe Premium Bid auctions are offered by email to selected passengers one week prior to departure. Passengers can make a cash bid for Virgin Australia premium economy or business class seats. Virgin sets minimum and maximum bids to avoid unrealistic bids and these auctions are only offered on for bookings made direct with Virgin’s website (this includes getting redirected directly from skyscanner.com.au).

Other airlines offering similar online upgrade auctions are Malaysia Airlines (MHUpgrade), Etihad Airways (PlusGrade) and Cathay Pacific (Enhance). All offer upgrades on select flights to select customers with passengers bidding the cash amount they’re prepared to pay to upgrade to the next class.

Bags! Source: Virgin Australia.

4. Frequent Flyer loyalty programs.

Airline loyalty programs have come a long way since airlines started enticing travellers to accumulate frequent flyer miles. Virgin’s Velocity program is one of the few that allows ‘family-pooling’ which is one way to accrue enough points for a free business class upgrade.

Both Virgin and Qantas programs allow points accrual on purchases other than flights, which can eventually be redeemed for flights. Be aware though, you’ll need to spend an awful lot of money before you’re flying business class to London.

Airline branded credit cards are another way to accrue points on purchases that can eventually be exchanged for flights – handy if you’re a business owner utilising a credit card to manage large business transactions. Many will also offer attractive point bonuses on sign-up, often enough for domestic flight, so it pays to shop around for the best deal.

5. Book early and find flight deals.

Subscribe to airline newsletters so you’ll be the first to know about their upcoming business class deals which are often released to their loyal subscribers first. Deals like ‘companion flies free’ or earlybird special fares in conjunction with package tours are typical deals offered to subscribers first. Social media is also being used to advertise short-sale deals so make sure you follow the airlines you’re thinking about travelling with.

6. Be polite, dress nicely & travel solo.

If all of the above fails, it doesn’t hurt to dress as though you’re travelling in business class even if your ticket says economy. Airlines overbook flights on the assumption that not every passenger will show up. That invariably means that a couple of economy class passengers get ‘bumped up’ to business. If you’re travelling alone you’ve more chance of getting that free upgrade.

And lastly, smile and ask politely if there is any chance of an upgrade. You never know your luck! Be polite to the check-in crew and you may just be rewarded with an upgrade. At worst, you’ll make their job easier and that’s not a bad thing.

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