“…Please book for me the cheapest economy ticket….!
This is a standard request from many travellers many of whom travel all over the world for business and are therefore required to keep company/business costs as low as possible and to get maximum value from their travel. Their air ticket forms part of this value and as partners to their businesses, my team and I are always very conscious of this need and we try to meet the demand the best we can. Unfortunately, we do not always succeed; and this is because economy class tickets are not always cheap.
First off, last minute and non-stop economy fares are usually priced higher. The inconvenience of planning ahead and a longer trip duration is all you need to travel at a cheaper rate. But, to get the lowest economy fares, it is always best to buy your air ticket, at the very least, 21 days in advance. Purchasing the ticket months in advance gives you the highest probability of buying the cheapest economy ticket.
Secondly, there are those economy tickets that are highly restrictive. These economy class tickets can be expensive if you must cancel/miss your flight for any reason. Restricted tickets have rules that range from non-refundable, name change not permitted, to non-transferrable to non-assignable. This allows the airline to give you the low price but severely restricts any flexibility a passenger might need. The passenger must therefore make that flight as scheduled or they will risk additional and or cancellation costs when they need to change the departure date of the trip. With some airlines, the ticket is so restricted that the passenger must buy a new ticket – and forsake the other one - if they are forced to postpone the trip. In this case, cheap is very expensive. I recommend that each of my clients always asks and reads the airline rules before buying the ticket. I should also mention that incase a flight is over-sold, ticket holders with the cheapest tickets are usually the first to be bumped off!
For my third example, let us talk about the Premium economy ticket. There are some airlines that offer premium economy tickets, mostly on international flights. The premium economy seats are in a separate cabin, just a few rows ahead of the economy area and behind the business class cabin. The Premium economy cabin is usually separated from the economy and business class cabin by a curtain or a wall. You will find that premium economy tickets are generally priced at 70% less than a business class ticket but 80% more than your normal economy tickets. But this is not always the case. Because airlines ticket prices are determined by a number of factors such as demand and timing of purchase, there will be instances, especially at check-in, when you will find premium economy tickets that are priced less than the normal economy tickets. If you are a holder of a frequent flier card, a premium economy ticket offers more frequent flier miles, priority boarding and upgradeable opportunities to the Business or 1st class on the flight. For Kenyans travelling in the United States, note that there are currently no US airlines that offer premium economy, but offer what they call enhanced economy. So always remember to check for premium economy when booking your ticket, especially if you are booking on a day closer to your date of departure. Also on the day of travel, ask at the check in desk for any upgrade opportunities to premium economy. If the airline has not filled their premium seats, you may just get an upgrade at a discount that sometimes translates to just 15% more of your economy fare. And why not? Premium economy seats are generally fewer therefore they have wider seats, have extra seat incline, extra legroom and sometimes-larger TV screens. And, if your company travel policy does not allow business class travel, premium economy is a great compromise. You will not only have travelled in comfort, but your expense report will show an ‘economy’ ticket allowing you to stay within policy.
Lastly, there are the ‘No frills’ or low cost airlines that offer the very basic and perhaps the cheapest economy tickets. In East Africa, these are found on domestic routes and short haul flights (any flight duration that is no more than 3 hours). The ‘No frills’ policy ranges from unavailability of seat selection (a seat is guaranteed but on a first come, first served basis), no entertainment, no meals (snacks can be bought inflight) and little luggage (if you do have luggage, you will part with a princely sum to check it in and it is chargeable by weight, sometimes even more than your one-way ticket price). The best thing about No frills airlines though, is that the tickets are always priced one way, giving you the flexibility of choosing to fly one way and maybe driving back on your return journey.
And just to give you a sense of exhilarating comfort about flying economy, several rich American celebrities have been spotted flying the infamous cattle class. They include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who were recently seen flying economy from Paris to Nice, and, even though the flights on this route do not offer 1st class seating, it is still good to know that sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get to where you must!
The Author is the Founder and CEO of Saffara Ltd
This article was published in the East African Newspaper. You can read it here as "Tips on flying economy class for business"