Top tips for booking a cheap business class flight starting in Europe.

Since I’ve been writing the blog I’ve frequently mentioned fare deals and cheap business class flights from Europe to North America, Asia or the south west Pacific.

Typically these deals will start somewhere like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Barcelona or Dublin (for example) where as I know a lot of people reading the blog are based in the UK.

Why aren’t there any good deals from the UK?

There are occasionally, but not that often.  There are a couple of reasons for that; the first reason why not is down to what’s called Air Passenger Duty, or APD.  Its a tax which the UK government levies on all fights starting in London.  For premium economy and higher, that’s currently £150 return on a long haul booking.

However, if you start somewhere like Paris, and are travelling through London to New York (for example), then you don’t pay APD as long as your connection in London is less than 24 hours.

The other reason why flights from the UK are higher is just economics.  British Airways has over 55% of the slots at London Heathrow and thus can price non-stop journeys at a premium.  Competing airlines that require a connection will generally be cheaper, but not by that much.

A market like Copenhagen where the home carrier is a lot less dominant, yet there’s still demand generally produces much more competitive fares.

How do I book?

Via an online travel agent like Expedia, a fare search tool like Kayak, or direct with the airlines themselves on their own website, for example Qatar Airways, Swiss or Etihad.

What happens if I don’t fly the first flight?

The rest of the trip will be cancelled and there’s nothing you can do.

Let me expand on that a little.  Lets say you’ve booked a flight with British Airways from Copenhagen to London to Las Vegas.  You must turn up at Copenhagen to check-in and fly or the rest of the trip will be cancelled.  There is no way around this and is one of the hard and fast rules of booking one of these fares.  You therefore need to factor in the cost and time saving of booking a flight out to the starting point.

What about the last flight?

If you decide not to take the last flight, using the example above, from London back to Copenhagen (where the ticket starts and ends), there’s realistically very little the airline can do.

However that said there are a few things to be aware of.  Checked bags complicate things significantly.  See my section on that below.

The other point is don’t drop the last segment regularly.  There have been isolated reports about prolific offenders getting warning letters from the airlines threatening to take their miles and points away.  There have also been a very few reports of them threatening to charge them the full price, however I suspect they would have a very difficult time if that ever came to court.

Getting out there

As mentioned above you will need to factor in the cost of getting to your starting point.  If you don’t get there to fly the first flight, then the rest of the trip will be cancelled, so this is key.

Before you book the main trip, it’s worth looking at how much it will cost to get you out to your starting point – there could be a trade-show or conference going on making the flights busy and expensive.  Also consider looking at other airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair or Norwegian.  Do make sure though that you’re leaving and arriving at the same airport, for example Orly and Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

Also consider whether you want to go out the day before.  Potentially get the last flight the previous evening and stay overnight at an airport hotel but this then adds to the costs but gives you a considerable time buffer if things go wrong.

The other option worth consideration is going out on the aircraft that will form the return flight.  This is colloquially known as a back to back.  This can be very reliable however there’s a bit of a check list:

  • This will not work if you have checked bags
  • Pick an airport when you don’t have to re-clear security or immigration to get back on the plane
  • If you do have to go through this, then pick somewhere where the walk / queues aren’t too long
  • Make sure you have your return boarding pass before you leave for your first flight and that you have already checked in online
    • If online checkin fails, then ask at the airport for them to check you in there

Airports like Amsterdam are great as you’re simply able to walk off the aircraft and hang around the gate area until everyone has disembarked and they start boarding again.

What about checked baggage?

Travelling with checked bags complicates things which means if you can, it’s best to go hand-baggage only.  However sometimes it is unavoidable.

The easiest way to deal with it is to travel to your starting point the night before, stay at an hotel and then check-in the next day as normal.

If that’s not possible, travel to your destination with bags earlier in the day, wait for them to be delivered to the carousel, and then go to checkin as normal.  You must leave sufficient time for this – I’d recommend at least three hours.

The final option is a little more complicated for the airline staff, but is do-able.  Lets say you’re going to Copenhagen in the morning, then back from Copenhagen in the afternoon, and onwards to Las Vegas in the evening.  You should be able to turn up at Heathrow in the morning and ask them to tag your bags from London to Las Vegas for the evening flight only.  This typically only works if you have status as they essentially have to keep the bag at the airport all day.  It can be done.

On the way back, it’s not uncommon for the airline to refuse to tag your bags from Las Vegas only to London; sometimes they may only tag it all the way through to Copenhagen.

If you have to check bags then there a couple of things that can help.  Firstly, build an over-night connection.  Say you land from Las Vegas into London at 14.00 – schedule your flight to Copenhagen the next day entirely.  You can have up to 24 hours at each point.

The next option is to build your itinerary so as to mix airports.  See if you can fly into London City, and then out from Gatwick (for example).

The other technique is simply to accept the bags being tagged, and then when landing at Heathrow, go into the the baggage reclaim area, and the baggage services desk and ask for your bag back.  This may take a while, but they have to give it to you but be prepared to wait.

Anything else?

Take some time to plan and think through every step of your journey.  Booking one of these trips for the first time can be quite daunting, however there is a huge amount of value to be had, especially with premium fares.  If in doubt, post a message and there will be lots of experienced people to help and guide you through the process.