Looking for flights to Europe

It is that time of year again, when I start to think about flying to Europe. Maybe a spring trip? Definitely a summer trip.

I waste hours and hours sitting at the computer, looking at flights and prices, but I don’t book anything because we have not made up our minds about when to travel. The most I do is print out possibilities and put them in a file. We have enough frequent flyer miles on British Airways and Delta to upgrade to First/Business Class, so I focus on these airlines or on airlines having Business Class sales.

Why do I put us into these expensive Business Class seats? Because once you have flown Business Class to Europe, it is hard to go back to coach. Because we have managed to upgrade or get tickets at super sale prices every year since 1999. Because I am tall and don’t fit into those coach seats. Because we are flying babies and need to be pampered. Because I turn 52 tomorrow and Steve is already past that, and life is short. Just because.

I go on British Airways (BA) to see if there are seats available to upgrade, but I plunk in FROM and TO, select a month (March? April? May?) and it says NO or, even better, “We regret to advise that this section of the site is temporarily unavailable.” I should just pick up the phone and call them!! But, do I? I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to look at options online, because I have no idea of when or where we are traveling. I don’t like phoning and making someone run all these arbitrary options so I can see what might be available if we decide to do the trip. I want to sit at my computer plunking in options: different dates, different airports, different airlines, until – bingo!! – a magically good fare with good routing and good dates pops onto my screen. Preferably with a low cancellation/change fee.

British Airways Club World
Lots of leg room in BA Club World. I have never been so comfortable on a flight.

What I want is some great BA discount fare, like I got two years ago (thanks to Judy posting about the sale on SlowTalk): Club World (BA business class) for $2200 return from Phoenix to Heathrow, such a great fare that we decided in a couple of minutes to just do that May trip we had been dithering about. We booked an inexpensive return ticket with America West, who used to partner with BA, so we were able to check our luggage in Albuquerque all the way through to London, even though we had separate tickets for each part of the flight. Coming home, we spent the night in Phoenix, but it probably would have been better to do one more flight and get home, although we still talk about the screaming Russian cab driver who took us to the hotel that afternoon, so it was worth it for that.

Frequently when we do the long flight home from Europe and are on the east coast, waiting for the next leg of the trip, I wish I could just check into a hotel and sleep, then fly home. You have to go through security again anyway to get on the local flight. But it is probably not worth it, leaving the airport, getting to a hotel, going back the next day; better to just tough it out and get home.

Last year I waited and waited, but there was no sale. Finally, in a moment of desperation, I picked up the phone, talked to someone, and booked a good fare ($1000 return) and upgraded with miles. When booking an upgrade with British Airways, you can only book the BA portion of the flight with them. All that was available for outbound were flights from Denver, but coming back we flew to Dallas, then flew to Albuquerque on an inexpensive one way ticket on American Airlines (we were able to check our bags all the way through).

I was booking only two months ahead, which explains why we ended up flying from Denver. I figured we could buy a cheap flight from Albuquerque to Denver, but we couldn’t and ended up driving, which was fun and I would do this again. The six hour drive from Santa Fe to Denver, along I-25, is beautiful. The BA plane out of Denver was smaller than the one we were on the year before from Phoenix. It had Club World, but no First Class and no Club World in that small upstairs area. I always feel more comfortable, less claustrophobic, on larger planes. Of course, that makes no sense at all – both are aluminum tubes flying through the air. I don’t let myself think about that.

Trying to find a sale on Business/First Class fares

British Airways is having a Summer Premium Offer for Club World seats: $3600 return, Phoenix to London; but only $2252 return, New York to London. Flights in July and August only. Offer ends February 1.

Delta is offering I Leisure fares, purchased 50 days in advance, maximum stay 30 days. Sample price $2555 return Albuquerque to London. I was able to find these in the spring and summer.

The January 2007 issue of Money magazine had a good travel article: “7 amazing travel secrets – revealed!”, Donna Rosato lets novices in on what the pros already know — flying in style is easier than you think, by Donna Rosato, December 20 2006

There are several useful travel tips in this article, but the one that caught Steve’s eye (he reads Money magazine, not me) was “A First-class Seat for a Coach Price”.

From the article: “The airlines have a secret. … In many cases, you can buy a first-class ticket for little more than the walk-up coach fare. The trick is searching for a fare code designation that’s called a “Y-up” or a “Q-up.” “.

The article recommends using FareCompare where you can search for these types of fares. The fares are not cheap, but are cheaper than full fare coach and much cheaper than business class fares. The website gives you the cheapest fares by month for your destinations. You don’t book the flight on Fare Compare; they link to popular booking engines. Click and it takes you right to the information for the flights you were looking at on FareCompare.

Searching, searching, searching

I tried a few searches for flights departing on April 3, returning April 30 (the possible spring trip), Albuquerque to London. All prices are for one person, return, taxes and fees included. Make sure you compare apples to apples when comparing fares. Those taxes and fees can be several hundred dollars per ticket and some websites hide them until the end of your searching.

British Airways, Club World – $ 7693 – yikes!!
British Airways, Premier Economy (World Traveller Plus) – $1742
British Airways, Economy (World Traveller) – $1043

No discounted price for Club World! Even World Traveller Plus is nearly twice what it was last year. Their current sale is only for July and August.

Delta, Business/First – $2555 – this is their I Business sale ($1000 more if flying Thursday – Sunday)
Dela, Economy – $817 ($756 if you take a route with an extra stopover)
I priced the flight from Cincinnati to London, thinking it would be cheaper because you are not paying for First Class from Albuquerque to Cincinnati, but it was more: $2674 and $3682 if flying to Paris (but who said anything about Paris?).

In past years, I found the flights I had to book with Delta to upgrade from, were $1800 – $2000, so for a few hundred more you can purchase the Business Class ticket.

Searching for the same dates and route on Orbitz shows American, Northwest and Continental economy flights for under $900. Orbitz and FareCompare both told me that Delta currently has the least expensive Business Class tickets.

New lower cost Business Class airlines

What about that new all Business Class airline, MaxJet? They just started flying from Las Vegas direct to London, and I read good things about their service on SlowTalk. They also fly from New York and Washington and only fly into London Stanstead, which is north of the city. It would be easy to get to Cambridge, Oxford or the Cotswolds from there.

Maxjet, Las Vegas to London, $2042. Departs 7:30pm, arrives 12:30pm. Return departs 1:00pm, arrives 4:30pm. We could take Southwest to and from Las Vegas. Refund fee $300, change fee $100. Flights are Monday, Thursday, Saturday.

They use Boeing 767-200 planes with 17 rows of seats in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration. Check out the best seats on Seat Guru.

Use your Frequent Flyer Miles to upgrade

Awards tickets with Delta from the US to Europe are 50,000 miles for Economy, 100,000 miles for BusinessFirst. This is for “skysaver” which is very hard to get (the number of seats are limited). For more than double those miles, you get “skychoice” which seems to be always available. But, that would use up all our miles.

I checked for SkyMiles flights in April and only SkyChoice is available and that is 250,000 miles each! And you still pay nearly $200 in “taxes and fees”.

If we buy tickets we can upgrade with 25,000 miles, but that too is getting harder to do these days get (the number of seats are limited), and with Delta you cannot upgrade from a cheap ticket. If I cannot get one of the I Business sale fares, I will try to buy a ticket and get an upgrade. I have done this many times. I phone with a range of dates and routes, then see if they have any flights with upgrades available. If they do, you purchase the ticket on the phone and they immediately apply the upgrade.

Last resort, ask at check in if you can purchase an upgrade

Some airlines let you buy an upgrade on checkin. We did this once with Delta, but it was on an expensive, last minute ticket. They don’t offer it on cheaper tickets. We tried to do this with American, but their check process was such a zoo that we did not manage to do it. We have done this with Hawaiian Airlines. We have never done this on an international flight.

Ultimate last resort, ask at check in if they will upgrade you for free

This used to happen. Okay, it never happened to me, but people on SlowTalk have said it happened to them. Apparently, it does not happen often anymore, because the airlines try to sell the upgrades, but it never hurts to ask.

Pauline’s current conclusions

Unless British Airways comes out with a sale in the next month, I am choosing between the following options:

– Purchase a ticket and upgrade with miles on British Airways or Delta.

– Delta with their I Business sale fares, flying from Albuquerque.

– MaxJet flying from Las Vegas.

I promise myself, I will pick some dates, make a decision, make a commitment and then book something. If I can’t find anything, then I will email Jim Zurer and have him find me a good enough First/Business class fare. He seems to be very good at that!!

Things to watch out for when booking online

– Before you purchase, double and triple check the dates. I have a friend who bought tickets for the wrong month and did not realize it until the week before her trip. That was an expensive mistake because she had to rebook the ticket.

– When comparing prices, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some sites list the return price, while others show the one way price even when booking a return flight. I once thought I found an incredible price on British Airways, then realized it was double because I had been looking at the one way cost. Their site shows you the price for each part of the flight.

– Another apple to apples thing, be sure the numbers you are comparing include all taxes and fees. These can add a few hundred dollars to international tickets.

Websites to help you figure it all out

First Class Flyer: I think I should join one of those websites where they tell you exactly how to get the best fares, like First Class Flyer, the Insider’s Guide to First Class Air Travel & Elite Status. From their home page: “You know there’s a way. Some people pay full-fare for First Class, while others pay much less. Now you can be one of them.” Yes, I want to be one of them!!

$97 per year for a subscription. They are having a 14-day free trial – you have to give them your credit card, but they don’t charge you for 14 days and you can cancel if you don’t like the newsletter (from the home page, click “Subscribe Today” and you will see the “Free Trial Issue” form.

Okay, I ordered it. I used my British Airways Visa, killing two birds with one stone. The good news is that you download the newsletters and I was able to get the January newsletter and back issues for all of 2006. The bad news is that now I need to sit down and read them.

Inside Flyer: Their tagline is “Required reading for Frequent Flyers”. The website has some free online articles. A $45/year subscription gets you the monthly print edition and access to the website articles.

Resources

Slow Travel – Europe Trip Planning – Booking Flights: My article about how to book your own flights.

Slow Travel Message Board: These people know how to find the best fares and flights. I don’t think any of them dithers the way that I do. Read old threads or start a new thread to get current suggestions.

Seat Guru: Their tagline is “your enlightened guide to airline seating”. This is a brilliant website! Look up your airline and type of plane and find out exactly what the seats are like, which ones are good, which are bad.

British Airways

Delta Airlines

Orbitz

FareCompare

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.