Tips to get the most out of flights
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Durban - Silly season has officially begun and with it come the joys of travelling.
Be it to visit your new husband’s mother-in-law, klink eggnog with old res mates in NYC, or take five on a tropical beach somewhere close to the equator, plenty of South Africans will be air-bound for between two and 20 hours during December and January. But it doesn’t have to be noisy, busy, crowded, hot, sweaty or delayed.
Leisure travel pro and frequent flier, Sean Penn, chief executive of Pentravel, gives festive fliers his inside scoop on how to get the extra mile on board this holiday:
l First-class comfort is the business: If you’re off to have tea with the Queen, you can fly like a VIP on British Airways 747 flights from OR Tambo to Heathrow – for the cost of a business-class ticket. What used to be first class is no longer and has become a third option for business travellers (in addition to the main cabin and upstairs). Tucked away in the nose of the plane, it’s quiet, more spacious and has retained the sleek finish that only millionaires were free to enjoy. Sip on fine fizz, pop back the seat and your flight will be as good as your holiday – just remember to ask your agent to reserve this for you when booking.
l Early birds get the upgrade: If you’re flying BA economy to Cape Town, Jozi or Durban, forget packing at the last minute; beat the traffic and arrive at the airport at least 1½ hours early. Visit the sales desk and ask for an upsell to business class. If there are seats available it’ll cost between R400 and R500 to upgrade. Add to that the business lounge, wiggle room on board and accessibility to the exit, and it’s money well spent.
l Buy three, get four: Flying locally this Christmas? Book Kulula’s MN flights that have four digits, for example, MN 1234. These little gems are BA flights. Part of the same holding company, Comair, occasionally BA will help its low-cost sister out by taking one of its shifts. You’re welcome.
l Loyalty pays back: During the year, instead of flitting between domestic airlines to get the best deal when red-eyeing for business, stick it out with one carrier and join its loyalty programme – even if it costs a few rand more at the time. You’ll be rewarded for your allegiance and can cash in air miles for long-haul flights and upgrades, significantly lowering the cost if you’ve banked enough.
l Don’t be left on the tarmac: If connecting between cities and continents, ask your agent to book all your flights through one carrier. This guarantees your belongings travel with you all the way from A to B. Or, if there’s a long delay, you’ll be put up in a hotel – at their cost. You’re also protected should your domestic flight be late in getting you to the international gate on time – a little extra that will go a long way if you’re left stranded on the tarmac after missing your connecting flight.
l Bide your time in transit: It’s a reality: there are more security and check points at airports everywhere.
This takes time, so avoid packing in your flights too tightly; rather allow a leisurely three hours between connections and keep your blood pressure low by browsing the duty-free or enjoying a coffee or cocktail, depending on the time zone, while patiently waiting to board.
l The rise of premier economy: Business is the new first class. Naturally, savvy airlines have introduced a new tier that offers that little something extra, without the price tag. Welcome, premier economy. Available on Virgin Atlantic, BA and Singapore Airlines, among others, it’s an up-and-coming mid-product that provides long-haulers with a bunch of bells and whistles.
l Can’t pack light? Twenty-three kilograms is the weight of the average family pooch and this just doesn’t allow for an outfit change come rain or shine or all those buys you’re guaranteed to bring home. So if you’re a heavy-handed packer, consider flying Etihad. It offers a glorious 46kg a person on selected air fares, just not all in one bag. This applies to your connecting flights too, which in Etihad’s case will be on SAA. No need to leave any of your pretties at home.
l Delta deluxe: Flying North to the US? If you’re using its national carrier Delta, enjoy a little lux with Delta Comfort. Limited to rows 29 to 32, it offers more legroom and extra lean-back. This little bit of special comes at a cost of between R1 000 and R3 000 on top of your fare. But if you’re a SKYMILES member, your status could also influence the fee.
“I fly a lot, so aircraft, airports and connections are part of my everyday life,” says Penn.
“But it doesn’t have to be a pain. By booking through an agent like Pentravel, or joining an airline’s loyalty club where you are rewarded for frequent flying – enough even to earn business-class tickets to London like I do – you can enjoy the benefits that different carriers offer and which make travelling that much more fun.”