Real life travel hacking: how I paid an Economy cabin price for a Business Class seat to Europe

Hi Frugalistas!  I’m planning a trip to Athens later this year.  It wasn’t a trip I had planned and budgeted for, so I want to get the best value seat I can.  I also don’t want an Economy (Coach) seat.  It’s a long way to Europe from Australia, so Business Class is definitely the way to go for me.  A peak season Economy (Coach) class seat to Europe return on one of the premium airlines runs to about $2300 including taxes, so I’ve set that as my budget for my Business Class seat.  And I made it – here’s how:

Etihad First class lounge seating area in Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport

The new Etihad First and Business Class lounge in Paris

Booking Sydney to Athens in Business Class for free

This part was easy.  I head to the Virgin Australia website and cash in some Velocity rewards points for a Sydney to Athens Business Class seat on Etihad. I’m able to pay for my taxes with points as well, so I’m off to a good start getting my seat for free.

I check the return flights, but unfortunately I can’t get a seat home on a date that suits.  A bit more creativity is therefore in order……

Booking Athens to Sydney for the price of an Economy (Coach) seat

Thinking hard about this, I come up with three options – either buy through a points aggregating site (where you can pick up some fabulous discounts if you are lucky, but of course, you can’t accrue mileage points), buy a seat on a cheaper (probably one of the Chinese) airline, or come up with a super-duper deal.

I check out the points aggregating  websites first.  These are sites that purchase mileage points, then sell tickets at a significantly discounted rate.  They quote price reductions in the range of 50-70%.  I’ve never booked through of these sites, but I’m intrigued by them.  This is probably as good a chance as any to try one.

I hunt around, and do manage to find a number of flights that meet my budget.  Unfortunately they are all on airlines that have long layovers in Asia, necessitating an overnight stay.  Two problems:  one, I don’t really have time to spend 37hours getting home, and two, having an overnight stay in a hotel puts me over budget on this occasion.

I discount a mileage aggregator this time round.

Next, it’s onto trying to find a deal on a cheap airline.  The Chinese airlines offer the best value for flights to Europe from Australia, but unfortunately most of them don’t fly direct from Athens to China.  I need to make a 2 stop trip.  This adds to the duration of my travel time.  Then there’s the long layover in China.  While the price is right, with 2 stops and long layovers I’m thinking I’ll need a week to recover.

So it’s back to drawing board……

wing tips on an Etihad plane

I’ve got some Membership Rewards points on my American Express Card that I can put towards travel expenses booked through the Amex Travel Service, so I head off there.  Fingers crossed, because this really is the last roll of the dice.  If I can’t get the fare for my budget I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  Fortunately for me, I’ve enquired at the right time, as Emirates are discounting Europe heavily.  I can earn Qantas Frequent Flyer points, but not status points on the fare that’s on offer.  It’s a fare with a good connection in Dubai, that gets me home to Sydney in the evening (which I prefer).  It’s also on the A380 that I enjoyed in First Class last year.  Big ticks all round but…….

At $3100 including taxes, it’s already a good deal, but still over budget.

This is where my Membership Rewards come to the rescue.  By the time I add my points in to my payment, my outstanding balance is just over $2300.  I’ve met my budget!

Athens, here I come!

Real life travel hacking lessons

Regardless of where you are heading, there are some lessons to be learned from my experience:

1.  If you want to use your mileage points, either be flexible with your dates, or book early.  I had enough points to get home from Athens, but couldn’t get a flight that suited me.

2.  Try mileage aggregating websites for great deals, but don’t assume they will be cheaper, or more convenient.

3.  Sometimes a cheap flight just isn’t practical.  A 37hour marathon, with 2 stops on the way home is endurance test for anyone, regardless of your class of travel.  If you want a bargain deal, you may need to trade off price and convenience.

4.  Always have multiple tools for paying for your flights.  I try not to use my American Express membership points unless I need to.  I don’t routinely pump them into my frequent flyer accounts, or use them to pay my card off.  This gave me a good balance to use when I really needed them.  Those reward points wouldn’t have been worth a cent sitting in either of my frequent flyer accounts – I couldn’t use them from my Velocity account because I couldn’t get a flight, and I still wouldn’t have had enough points on my Qantas account to buy a Business Class seat.  By leaving them on my Amex card they were worth their weight in gold.

5.  You can just get lucky.  Emirates just happened to be discounting at the time I enquired.  That seat could have been $4000 otherwise.

6.  You need to know what the price of your seat is normally and when it is discounted.  Then you can tell if a price that’s quoted to you is actually a good deal or not.  I know that Emirates will discount seats in Business Class to Europe from Australia for about $6000 or so return.  I also know that when they are not discounting, those same seats can be over $8000.  I know what a cheap seat to Europe costs, so knew I was on a good deal.

What are your favorite travel hacking tips?

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3 Comments on “Real life travel hacking: how I paid an Economy cabin price for a Business Class seat to Europe”

  1. thebritishberliner 19/05/2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Well done. You certaintly got a bargain. 🙂
    Which Chinese airlines have you used? I have flown Cathay Pacific in the past and they were fine.
    A few months ago, I saw an excellent First Class deal on China Eastern Airlines but the reviews were so horrible that I didn’t dare try them and booked Qatar instead, as we’re flying into Bangkok and flying out of Bali!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 19/05/2014 at 7:10 pm #

      I’ve only ever flown Cathay, but they aren’t cheap. The ones I had in mind were China, China Eastern and China Southern, that all fly out of Sydney. We can pick up business class for under $5000 which is significantly less than most others.

  2. Anne @ Pretraveller 19/05/2014 at 8:10 pm #

    Jo, it is great that you have been able to use your various schemes to get your business class flights to and from Athens. Hope you have fun!

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