Every departing flight with an empty seat is a missed revenue opportunity for the airline. So what do they do about it? They get tactical.
They want the seat filled, so they reduce the price accordingly. But they do it very discreetly. The passenger in 2B wouldn’t be too happy to know she paid $2,000 more than the guy in 3C.
That’s when premium fare opportunities arise for the savvy traveler — a lifeline, if you will, to a great low fare.
Not small discounts, but big ones
These aren’t economy fares that nudge up and down by $50 to $100 at a time. They’re discounts of thousands of dollars on business- and first-class flights on major airlines.
Most people realize that an airplane seat has many different prices, if only because they change nearly every time they’re checked. Some industry estimates say there are up to one million fare changes lodged with the Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO), the largest fare aggregator, every day.
The best time to buy a premium airline ticket
So when is the best time to buy an upgraded ticket? Simply put, when fares are extraordinarily low.
It sounds obvious, but if you don’t have a sense of context, or an “upgrade mindset,” you might use your miles when a great low cash fare is available instead. So consider flying when it works best for a deal, not when it works best for the airlines.
How airlines get tactical
Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and New Year’s are all times when tactical fare discounting takes place for premium seats. It’s when many business travelers stay home, so airlines have unsold premium tickets.
Last year on Qantas, for example, a year-end holiday round-trip fare in business class from Los Angeles to Sydney was discounted from $5,457 to $2,719, a 50% saving. A winter holiday business-class fare to Asia was offered for $2,190 round trip; regular business-class fares were more than $4,100. These fares are sporadic and often fleeting, but great for the flexible traveler not on a tight schedule.
Recently, Sofia, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bucharest and Budapest have been softer markets. So the airlines look for ways to bolster premium sales to those destinations. While you may not want to go to those cities, you can take advantage of the fact that most European cities are relatively close to each other. Flights within Europe are cheap, and at times, even free when you fly within airline alliances.
Open-jaw business- and first-class ticketing strategies can also help you leverage low-fare routes to save as much as 50%, too.
Here are examples of soft routes where airlines are dumping seats for cheap:
• Business class from Boston to Mumbai, India, for $2,238 — normally $3,151
• Business class from Boston to Lyon, France, for $1,981 — normally $3,300+
• Business class from Miami, to Sao Paolo, Brazil, for $1,824 — normally $2,300 to $4,300
So save your miles for upgrades when they really matter and use cash on great deals, instead.
See you up front.
A look inside Qantas’ first 787-9 Dreamliner
First Class Flyer publisher Matthew Bennett, aka Mr. Upgrade, has specialized in research, insights and unusual opportunities for premium air travelers since 1996.