Luxury for less – how to upgrade flights

WE all know that feeling when after a long wait at the airport, you hear the boarding call for your flight. To your dismay you see a long queue of people waiting to get onboard the aircraft first, to grab the best space in the overhead locker.

When you finally board the plane, you’re directed to turn right at the door. You head past several rows of business class seats. A collective sigh is audible as most of the passengers shuffle past towards the economy cabin.

You think… “Business class would be nice… but it’s just too expensive, right?”

Thanks to frequent flyer programs such as Virgin Australia’s Velocity, you could get into the business class cabin for a lot less than you think.

Frequent flyer programs allow you to earn points when you take flights, as well as an array of partner airlines – with Velocity this includes the likes of Singapore Airlines and Etihad.

Better still, there are plenty of other ways to rack up a healthy points balance with partners such as BP service stations, Flybuys, Thrifty and Hertz car rentals and a number of credit card partners.

Once you’ve accrued enough points you can redeem them for frequent flyer flights and upgrades, which can drastically reduce your travel bills and allow you to travel in style for a fraction of the cost of a paid ticket.

Both frequent flyer seats and upgrades are limited in their supply – there are far fewer of these so called ‘reward seats’ than standard seats – so the earlier you plan your trip the better your chances of finding a frequent flyer seat on the dates you want to travel.

If you can’t find a reward seat on the day you want to travel, try looking a few days either side of your ideal date to increase your chances of success. And have your credit card handy as points only cover the cost of the ticket, you’ll need to pay the taxes using real money.

So is it worth it? Here is an example of the experience. At the end you can decide.

Take the Perth to Melbourne route for example. Virgin Australia operates several direct flights a day on this coast-to-coast link, including the early morning VA676. This flight is special as it one of several services where you’ll find the airlines flagship A330-200 (332) aircraft.

Here, the business class cabin is laid out in the airline’s luxurious ‘The Business’ format which features a fully flat bed in a suite-like 1-2-1 configuration. You can check the aircraft type at the time of booking at Virgin’s website by clicking on the red flight number. If it shows ‘332’ you’re in luck.

A frequent flyer seat on this service can be yours for 39,300 points* (plus taxes). Upgrades are cheaper still, but do rely on availability. The cost of upgrading will differ depending on the kind of ticket you buy. Call Virgin before you book your ticket to check availability of upgrades and confirm the total points required.

The first perk of ‘The Business’ is access to the airlines premium lounge. Thanks to the upgrades at Perth Airport, Virgin’s new T1 hub is home to its flagship lounge, which includes ample comfortable seating, a bar, cafe, buffet meal service as well as shower facilities.

Then there’s the priority boarding privilege which allows you to walk straight on board.

Flight attendants welcome each passenger and direct you to your seat. The seat itself is impressive. Each passenger has aisle access. Seats come with noise-cancelling headphones, a blanket, pillow, ample storage space and a very large 16-inch touch screen packed full of movies and TV content.

After take-off hot towels are offered, followed by a drinks service with espresso coffee, artisan teas, water, juice and even champagne. This is followed by breakfast, where orders are taken from a multi-page menu found at your seat.

Following the main course you’re invited to enjoy more coffee, tea, juices or other drinks and a snack service is always available – the cookies are superb.

You’ll then be free to relax in your very comfortable fully flat bed. It stretches out to 203 cm long and is excellent for relaxing, watching movies, reading and also sleeping. The crew keep an eye on the cabin throughout the journey and are visible if you want a snack, drink or just a chat.

They’re also accessible via the call bell located on a small LCD display, which also controls the seat and lighting functions.

Another perk of upgrading to business class is you’re first off the plane.

Business class passengers also get priority baggage with Virgin so your luggage is among the first off the plane meaning you’re free to leave the airport quickly and efficiently at your destination.

Chris will be back later in the year to explain how the Qantas Frequent Flyer program compares. Until then, if you’ve enjoyed upgrading to business class in the past, let us know what your best travel tip is for using frequent flyer points by sending us a letter or email to the editor.

*All points, flight and experience details were correct as of January 2018 and are subject to change.

Check Virgin’s website for current details.