Affordable business class upgrades

Isn’t it annoying how fellow travellers always seem to have nabbed a great deal on a business class upgrade? In this week’s Travel SOS, Kay O’Sullivan has some pointers for Mary who is keen to grab a business class bargain.

Q. Mary

It seems as though every time I fly, someone I speak to has managed to get a great deal on a business-class fare. This varies between getting the deal through their travel agent, or buying an economy ticket and upgrading for a truly minimal amount. What am I missing? 

A. Mary, I agree, it’s galling, especially when it’s always someone else getting a great deal and you’re stuck down the back or paid full whack for a fare. 

Here’s what I know for sure. You absolutely should form a relationship with a travel agent. They get first dibbs on all the best bargains, such as the legendary two-for-one business class seat sale when the national carrier hit the strong headwind caused by the GFC.  (I’m still smarting about missing out. I could have just about afforded it.) But that kind of largesse only comes round once in an economic cycle. 

I’ve also known people to snare bargains through websites that offer cheap business class fares on some of the second-tier airlines (i.e. not Qantas, Emirates, BA, etc.,) as long as you can be flexible and don’t have a specific must-fly date in mind. I’m loath to recommend them as some friends were bumped off their return flight and then had to pay the full amount to get home. They did get their fare refunded but it was nerve wracking, as well as inconvenient. 

Increasingly, airlines offer deals or auctions on business seats when they have an empty cabin. I’ve been asked a couple of times if I wanted to upgrade but the figure mentioned was in the thousands for one leg to Europe, so hardly a bargain.

Finally, you should sign up for airlines’ newsletters and sales alerts. You never know, you might just get lucky. But the most realistic way of getting a super-cheap business class seat is sticking with one airline and building up frequent-flyer points. 

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has written about travel for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.


Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS  to [email protected]


Other articles:

Why economy class is good for you

Seven ways to land a flight upgrade

Flying at the pointy end

Written by kayo