WideWorld spoke to two experts about their best tips: Matt Daimler, founder of the brilliant www.SeatGuru.com site that allows flyers to check their tickets for maximum benefits, and George Hobica, president of www.airfarewatchdog.co.uk, the one site everyone should check before buying their tickets.
Check your tech
Long haul gets boring unless you’ve got the tech. The SeatGuru website tells you whether you’ve got a laptop charging point to help you pass the time with your own computer. Check your entertainment system too: “Audio/video on demand is the newest and best, with a choice of twenty movies or so at your seat you can start and stop when you want, games, TV shows, things like that. Asian carriers have led the pack in deploying it, with only the newer planes on other carriers installing it,” Daimler advises.
Are you being served?
Every airline does food delivery in different ways but there’s no dodge to get yourself seconds – even sitting by the galley. “If anything trying to sleep near a galley can be annoying,” says Daimler. “They’re prepping for meals and clanking before the flight lands. Also the galley has a lot of light coming from it too, so it’s disturbing to sit there.”
There’s two schools of thought: those who want to get on first and those who want to get off first. Unless you’re a favoured flyer, you can’t have both. Most carriers have back to front loading, so get a seat near the back if you’re the former. “Getting on first is best to get a limited number of pillows and blankets, also if you have carry on luggage and you want the overhead space.”
Some of the newer A/V systems on the plane require big electronics, and they come with a drawback: an electrical box underneath the seat, taking up legroom. It’s not under all seats, so check to guarantee it’s not going to ruin your legroom. The SeatGuru site displays this information on its interactive seating maps.
Look for the business
“Because less people are flying, the price gap between classes is narrowing,” says Hobica. “Some companies now have bans on business class flying. It makes business class cheaper than ever, to the point where it’s not all that much more than economy was last year. British Airways is doing a £1200 return business class flight to the USA, which is crazy. First class is only £500 more – that ‘s a ticket that used to be £6000 pounds!”
Pack it in
Always go for hand luggage only. Carriers are all starting to charge for bags, and it saves you time too. “Synthetic fabrics are lighter and dry quicker,” says Hobica. ”If you’re taking sneakers with you, Nike and Adidas do squishable trainers that fold flat. If you’re bringing toiletries only bring small, approved containers, even if you’re checking it in. You can now get e-books like the Kindle so you can load all your guidebooks on there or get them for your iPhone.”
Fly by the seat
If you haven’t booked already, go to SeatGuru.com and look at their comparison charts of different plane layouts. An advanced user looks at their destination, looks at the carriers, and compares the differences: the planes they use have differences in classes of seating. “It can be a couple of inches of legroom,” Matt Daimler says. “Delta might be a 31”, BA 32”, United Airlines 33”. Looking at it that way you find the best basic services before you book. Don’t overlook an inch, it adds to your comfort.”
Grub for a deal
The bottom line is, whatever you bring on the plane is going to better than anything they serve you in economy, suggests Daimler. “Pick up something you like, make sure you can get it past security – a sandwich, a bottle of drink after you pass security, and it’s a better meal than what you’re going to get on the plane. There’s no guarantee with food.”
Check your status
Matt Daimler suggests signing up to every frequent flyer scheme you can. “They’re all free to sign up for, it’s just a matter of flying enough to get the next level of status.” In some cases that could mean less than five trips a year. “In the US they’re starting to charge for baggage now, so they’ve made that something you get free at any level of frequent flyer status– that can add up and save hundreds of dollars in baggage fees -and get you priority baggage check ins and priority seating.” Concentrate your flying with one airline and that should happen.
Fly the flag
So when it comes to it, who does Seat Guru Matt Daimler choose to get aloft? “I really love to fly British,” he contends. “They care a lot about service compared to some of my American counterparts. And anytime you fly to Asia, fly Singapore or Cathay Pacific. They have great food service, good in-flight entertainment and service. A lot of the US carriers haven’t invested as much in their products over the past seven to ten years, so they’re a bit behind. United, Delta or American Airlines are actually all a little disappointing.”
George Hobica recommends subscribing to every email newsletter going to get the best deals direct. “They send out promo codes via email where you can save – especially easyJet. Virgin Atlantic just had a 25% discount code exclusive for their subscribers: that’s an amazing deal.” George’s own website airfarewatchdog.co.uk puts all these codes in one place and directs you straight to the carrier’s websites to use them, so if you don’t want the hassle of signing up it’s a great shortcut.
“Seasonality is always important – ski destinations are loads cheaper in summer, like Austria and Switzerland,” Hobica points out. “The US is going to be a lot cheaper than last summer – pretty much all long haul routes will be cheaper.” The bargains don’t end when you land, either: “Once you get to these destinations, hotels are cheaper too – we’re finding a lot of ‘buy one night, get one night free’ deals. All you need to do is sign up for the e-mail newsletters of the large hotel chains where you’re going.”