Flight Upgrades for Less
7 Tips to secure extra space for a minimal cost

Whilst of course it’s always great to secure a flight upgrade for a good price, for some with tall family members, it becomes even more important when flying long haul.  With my 18-year-old son now 6 foot 5, it’s a real struggle for him to fit in a standard Economy seat, especially for a duration of 8 hours plus. Below we share our tips, which I hope are helpful! Do remember that whilst our ‘inclusive tour’ fares may be slightly more expensive than booking directly with the airline, we only require a deposit rather than full payment, which keeps your options flexible and cash flow positive! Good Luck and Happy Travels!

1. Exit row seats

When flying Economy we tend to pay and ticket our flights early, so we can try and book the leg room seats.  Please note that whilst BA has a minimum age of 12, for Emirates and some other airlines it’s 16 as these are often, but not always, Emergency Exit Rows (or the area where cots can be fitted).

2. Economy Plus options

An increasing number of airlines are offering extra leg room seats, but not a formal Premium Economy cabin with the extra trimmings. For example Virgin have now launched their Economy Delight seats which are pre-booked whereas Etihad have extra leg room seats which are paid for once your flights are ticketed. So if you have tall travellers in your party it may well be a good idea to travel with an airline that offers this extra leg room option in Economy.

3. Premium cabin sale fares

Depending on flight duration and when you book (availability), the upgrade is typically £300 – £800 per person, each way to upgrade to Premium Economy seats and 3 – 4 times the Economy cost to fly Business.  We’d advise therefore booking early and keeping an eye out for Premium cabin sales, often advertised separately by British Airways.  Whilst these are unlikely to yield cheaper premium seats over key Christmas dates, you could have luck in the Summer holidays.  Remember we can hold seats with a minimal deposit so that if a sale comes along, we can then switch to sale seats for you!

4. Purchasing extra Economy seats

An increasing number of airlines now offer the opportunity to purchase the third seat in a row of 3, when you have already purchased two at full price, for a reduced price, such as Ethiopian.  Whilst this does not bring extra leg room per se, sideways space can also be helpful for sleeping!  Air New Zealand also has a similar offer called a Sky Couch where you purchase 3 seats for 2 people that also have a foot rest that raises to form part of the couch to allow 2 people to lie down next to each other across the seats.

5. Bidding for an upgrade

When it would be nice, but not essential, we’ve seen a few airlines such as Virgin and Air Mauritius inviting you to bid for an upgrade depending on remaining availability – recently we succeeded in upgrading on Virgin using the minimum upgrade bid they would allow, but of course this isn’t guaranteed.

6. Utilising reward points

Of course it’s also worth collecting your points with some excellent reward schemes.  Personally I collect via AMEX but you have to book very early to use a companion ticket.  Routes which tend to have these available include popular routes such as New York, Dubai, Nairobi, Johannesburg, but can be tricky during the school holidays (we’ve had more luck in the longer Summer break).  If you book very early (on BA it’s generally 11.5 months prior to your return date), you’ll have a good chance.

7. Flying non direct

We don’t tend to recommend flying non-direct when there is a direct flight option, as we’ve seen so many clients miss their onward connections when departing late flying from London. With airports like Heathrow running at 99% capacity, there’s little ‘give’ when things get out of kilter.  However, if you leave a good connection time of 3 – 4 hours, you should be fine.  We are seeing quite high fares on Middle Eastern Airlines, but if you connect in Europe, using airlines like Austrian, Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish, you can sometimes secure reduced Business Class fares (and of course Economy and Premium Economy should the airline have this latter cabin type). 

About the author

Bushbaby was founded by Abi in 2004, with the aim of helping families experience authentic and memorable long-haul holidays, whilst not compromising on style and comfort when travelling with young children in tow! Abi has travelled to over 60 countries with her husband Jim (who proposed at Everest base camp) and lives in Surrey with her 3 children.

Abi Shaw - Bushbaby founder and avid explorer!

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