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How to book business class flights for cheaper than you’d think

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.

Looking for cheap business class tickets or want to score an upgrade to first class? Here are some tips and tricks to help you find the best business class deals for your next flight.

Please note: Before your trip, stay updated on the latest travel restrictions by checking official government advice from your destination and on on Smartraveller.gov.au before your trip.

Seven options for upgrading to business class flights cheaply

There’s more than a curtain separating business class passengers from the rest of us at the back of the plane.

Sure, added benefits like amenity kits, pyjamas, china crockery, fine wine and starched linen serviettes are lovely. The real difference, however, between travelling in the front or the back of the plane is your arrival condition. Business class passengers step from the plane refreshed, relaxed, their clothes crisp and prim, hair and makeup immaculate.

Economy class passengers, on the other hand, can emerge feeling a little less fresh. Seats are slightly more cramped and a little bit less luxurious. The meals aren’t quite up to the same standard.

The extra comfort is something that generally comes with a cost. Many travellers balk when they see the difference in price of an economy and a business seat. However, there are several ways to find cheap business class tickets.

So, what’s the secret to travelling business (or, dare we dream big, first) class on an economy budget? We’ve got a few travel hacks to help you get those cheap business class tickets to Europe, America, Asia and more.

Seven effective ways to get cheap business class tickets:

  1. Find cheap business class flights by being flexible
  2. Book with low-cost carriers
  3. Bid for an upgrade in online auctions
  4. Upgrade with frequent flyer loyalty programs
  5. Wait for sales on business class airfares
  6. Travel alone
  7. Dress nicely and be polite

1. Find cheap business class flights by being flexible

If the experience is the most important part of your trip, it pays to be flexible. By searching for deals by the best month, you can get cheap business class flights to your chosen destination much more easily.

Alternatively, it might be that you need to be flexible with your destination. Different airlines have business class sales at different times. If your dates are set in stone, having a look at a variety of airlines and airports can help get you discount business class airfares.

To help you, Skyscanner has the capability to search for the cheapest flights on any route in any class. Looking for the cheapest business class flight within Australia? Search Australian domestic flights. Looking for the cheapest business class fares from Australia but flexible on destination? Search for cheapest flights to everywhere.

2. Book business class seats on low-cost carriers

Take a look at the airlines with a cheaper business class. ScootPlus is the name given to business class on Singapore Airlines low-cost offshoot Scoot. Flying Boeing 787 Dreamliners, ScootPlus is a no-frills business class, more like what full-service airlines call premium economy.

The business class benefits on offer from ScootPlus include a 30kg baggage allowance (plus 15kg for cabin baggage), complimentary entertainment streamed to your own device (plus 30MB of Wi-Fi), premium meal service including one alcoholic drink, priority check-in and boarding, sizeable armrests between leather seats that recline 20cm, a power socket that takes Australian plugs, twice as much legroom and adjustable headrests.

Traveller rolling a suitcase at the airport

Another low-cost carrier that offers a more affordable business class is Jetstar Business. With Jetstar Business, you’ll have leather seats that recline 20cm with leg-rests and adjustable lumbar support increase the comfort factor. In business class, entertainment is provided via complimentary iPads (which economy class passengers have to pay for) and noise-cancelling headphones. You can also enjoy amenity kits, pillows and blankets, as well as priority boarding.

3. Bid for an upgrade in online auctions

To get cheap business class tickets, it can pay to fly with an airline that offers an auction system to its economy passengers. This gives passengers the chance to make a blind bid on an upgrade. This isn’t a surefire way of getting an upgrade, but when you do win it’s one of the easiest ways to get cheap business class tickets.

As a result, many airlines offer online auctions allowing economy class passengers to bid for a low-cost upgrade to business or first class, offering a great deal on the original fare. There’s also the option of paying for a fixed price upgrade when you check-in from most airlines.

How online bidding works

The formula for a winning bid is somewhat ambiguous with airlines keeping their results for winning bids under wraps. Here’s how bidding for a flight upgrade works:

Qantas – Bid Now Upgrades scheme is available on selected domestic and international flights by invitation only for passengers holding economy tickets. Passengers may receive an email from Qantas up to seven days prior to travel if their flight is eligible. Travellers make a minimum bid using a mix of frequent flyer points and cash (non-Qantas frequent flyers can pay in cash). You will find out if your upgrade bid has been successful between 12 and 24 hours before your flight.

Another popular option are the Virgin Australia – UpgradeMe Premium Bid auctions. These are offered by email to selected passengers one week prior to departure. Passengers can make a cash bid for Virgin Australia premium economy or business class seats. Virgin sets minimum and maximum bids to avoid unrealistic bids. These auctions are only offered on bookings made direct with Virgin’s website (this includes getting redirected directly from Skyscanner).

Similarly, other airlines offer online upgrade auctions. Carriers like Malaysia Airlines (MHUpgrade), Etihad Airways (PlusGrade) and Cathay Pacific (Upgrade Bid). All offer upgrades on select flights with passengers bidding the cash amount they’re prepared to pay to upgrade to the next class.

4. Upgrade for free with frequent flyer loyalty programs

What’s better than a cheap business class flight? A free one! Frequent flyers will see that they get points every time they fly and one of the perks that these can be spent on is upgrading your seat. Suddenly you’ve gone from economy to business class without adding anything onto your fare.

Thankfully, airline loyalty programs have come a long way since airlines started enticing travellers to accumulate frequent flyer miles. Virgin Australia’s Velocity program is one of the few that allows ‘family pooling’. This is one way to accrue enough points for a free business class upgrade.

Both Virgin and Qantas programs allow points accrual on purchases other than flights, which can eventually be redeemed for flights. Be aware though, you’ll need to spend a lot of money before you’re flying business class to London.

Airline branded credit cards are another way to accrue points on purchases that can eventually be exchanged for flights. These are particularly handy if you’re a business owner using a credit card to manage large transactions. Many will also offer attractive point bonuses on sign-up, often enough for domestic flight, so it pays to shop around for the best deal.

5. Wait for airlines to put business class airfares on sale

Whether you want cheap business class airfares to London in Europe or to LA in the USA, there are times when airlines will have specials on their best seats. One of the best ways to find out about business class sales is to subscribe to airline newsletters.

Deals like ‘companion flies free’ or early bird special fares in conjunction with package tours are typical deals offered to subscribers and frequent flyers first. As airlines are also using social media to advertise deals you should make sure you follow your favourite carriers.

Because airlines work closely with websites like Skyscanner, it pays to follow us on social media, sign up for our newsletter or download our free app. These are all great ways of keeping up to date with upcoming deals. 

6. Travel alone

The chances of multiple business class flights being available for an upgrade are slimmer than a single chair being free. It’s no guarantee, but if you’re travelling alone you’ve more chance of getting that free upgrade. It also helps if you’re a member of the airline’s frequent flyer club.

Man travelling alone with carry on luggage for business class flights

7. Dress nicely and be polite

It doesn’t hurt to dress as though you’re travelling in business class even if your ticket says economy. Because airlines work the assumption that not every passenger will show up, they often overbook flights. That invariably means that a couple of economy class passengers get ‘bumped up’ to business. Ask nicely when you check in if there are any business class seats available and you may get to turn left when you board your flight. 

No matter when you feel ready to travel again, aiming for an upgrade to business class can make all the difference when you fly.

FAQs about flying business class

Is business class the same as first class?

Although both business and first class are a step up from economy class, they’re not the same. First class areas offer a higher level of service than business and are normally only available on long-haul flights with full service carriers.

Does business class have beds?

Whether your business class fare comes with bed depends on which airline you fly with. Some business classes have seats that fold out into beds (like British Airways and Singapore Airlines), but others simply have larger seats than economy class.

Which airline has the best business class cabin?

According to the Skytrax Best Business Class Airlines Award, Qatar Airways has the best business class. Qatar Airways is also a regular winner of the overall best airline award, having won the title more often than not over the past decade.

Where can I go?

Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.

Read more

Keep up to date with the latest travel news with Skyscanner’s coronavirus travel advice.

Find out which carriers are rated as the world’s best business class airlines.

Still not sure about shelling out extra for a seat upgrade? Find out how a top-quality flight experience can improve your holiday.