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How to hack business class in 2021

Times are tough for travellers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

Wondering how to fly business class for cheap? Once you go business, you’ll never go back—champagne, amenity kits, gourmet food, oh my! While this philosophy can be as bankrupting as it is alluring, given how high standard fares are for business class flights, it doesn’t have to be.  From innovative business class hacks to booking tools—including some of Skyscanner’s—that are right under your nose, you might be surprised how affordable some of the world’s best business class cabins are.

How to fly business class for cheap - a leather business class seat with TV and open windows

How to fly business class for cheap

Redeem miles and points for business class travel

One of the most valuable travel hacks to master, for business class deals and otherwise, is the miles and points game. Miles and points, whether earned from credit card sign-up bonuses or from flying, hotel stays and car rentals, can make business class more easily accessible in one of two ways.

The first way is to use your points to book business class award tickets. For example, for just 48,000 United MileagePlus miles (which you can earn by either traveling on United or by transferring the points from a partner credit card), you can book a one-way business class flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok on Star Alliance airlines like ANA and EVA Air (and, of course United).

You can also use points to upgrade an economy (or, in some cases, a premium economy) ticket, which is one of the most underrated business class flight deals. If you’re flying on American, for example, international upgrades start at just 8,000 AAdvantage miles and may also include an out-of-pocket fee depending on your original fare booking, while certain foreign airlines like Korean Air require only points to upgrade eligible fares. Utilizing points is one of our favorite methods for flying business class for less.

Stalk business class sale fares

Another way to fly business class cheap is to keep an eye on sale fares. While “regular” prices for international business class flights can be upwards of $2,000 one-way, even on relatively short flights from the U.S. east coast to Europe, it’s not uncommon to find sale fares. This is even possible on extremely desirable carriers like Qatar Airlines, whose annual “Global Fare Sale” sees business class prices plummet by as much as 50 to 75 percent, and which is consistently ranked as having one of the best business class seats (provided you don’t mind backtracking through Doha).

If you can’t find business class deals using your own methods, Skyscanner’s tools can help you take advantage of them. If you’re flexible on time, you can use the Skyscanner app to find the cheapest month to fly. Once you find the specific destination and dates you want to fly, you can change the filter to show business class flights. Try adjusting the dates to see if prices change. The same itinerary can be hundreds of dollars cheaper if you fly on a different day. Keep in mind that when you book your flight affects price, too.

Flying into a major hub can result in cheaper business class flights. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind but want to view arrival airports by price, check out Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” search tool. This is a popular choice for people whose destination is flexible. To use it, just select “Everywhere” in the “to” field and hit search—it’s that simple!

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Play the business class upgrade game

An additional alternative to paying for even cheap business class flight deals is to play the upgrade game, which was briefly alluded to earlier in this article. You don’t necessarily need to use miles and points to do this, although being a frequent flyer member (particularly an elite one) can increase your position of priority on the upgrade list.

One way to do this is to bid on an upgrade, a feature offered by airlines as diverse as Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines. If you’ve purchased an eligible fare on an airline that participates in upgrade auctions, you’ll receive an email a few days before your flight inviting you to make an offer on a business class seat. Obviously, the higher you bid the greater your chances, but many upgrade auctions have surprisingly lenient lower limits.

Other airlines, such as Brussels Airlines and United, may offer you the opportunity to upgrade to business class at check-in for a price of their choosing. This is typically a more expensive option, but it results in an upgrade that’s confirmed on the spot, allowing you to immediately settle into the luxurious experience of business class without anxiety or worry.

Pick and choose your luxury

Business class is wonderful, but not everyone needs the highest level of luxury available. One option for flying business class for cheap is to pick and choose exactly which luxury items those will be. For instance, many elements of the business class experience are available for piecemeal purchase, such as VIP lounge access, extra legroom, in-flight meals and priority check-in, security screening and boarding.

Another thing to consider when eyeing a seat in the front of the plane is the premium economy versus business class debate. While business class offers a flat-bed seat, a multi-course meal and a level of opulence you might not even know exists in the sky, premium economy offers slightly less, but often at a much lower price point. Premium economy seats, for example, are often similar to what you find on domestic first-class flights in North America, while the food and drink options sit somewhere between economy and business as well.

A person wearing white t-shirt and black pants, with a black wheeled suitcase in the center of the image

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Avoid antiquated business class advice

It’s never a bad idea to dress nicely when you fly, to treat a check-in agent with respect or to sit close to the podium at the boarding gate. On the other hand, contrary to what you would’ve read elsewhere, things like this almost never result in being upgraded to business class. In fact, given how many different ways that exist to buy-up to business class, airlines almost never give free upgrades (known within the industry as operational upgrades, or “op-ups”), period.

Hope springs eternal, of course, and you often get what you desire in life when you’re least looking for it, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. Whatever you do, don’t ask an airline employee for an upgrade directly. That puts them in an uncomfortable position.

The bottom line on how to fly business class for cheap

Business class can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are as many ways to access business class as there are reasons to want to. You can play the miles and points game, score a business class sale fare, bid to upgrade or simply purchase certain luxury enhancements to your travel experience.

Regardless of which strategy you end up employing, make sure to sign up for Skyscanner Price Alerts in order to get notified of the best business class price, however high or low it ends up being. And check out our other tools that will help you book flexible fares and greener travel.

FAQ

How can I upgrade to business class for cheap?

There are plenty of hacks to score cheap business class tickets, like using credit card points or airline miles, waiting until the last minute, looking for mistake fares and participating in an auction upgrade from airlines that offer it.

Why is business class so expensive?

Business class offers perks like priority boarding, comfortable seats with extra legroom, gourmet food service, premium beverages, access to lounges and more, depending on the airline. This is why is costs more than economy tickets.

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COVID-19 travel info graphic for Skyscanner's interactive global map.

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