As a young management trainee back in the day, I used to fly a fair bit, and every time I would get on a plane, I would wonder how could I travel in those wider seats rather than being stuck in the back of the aircraft in economy class. Over a period of time, while my official entitlement at the workplace continued to be economy, thanks to the recession, I figured out many ways to make that journey after a long day in meetings, in business class, while paying economy class fare most of the time.

The easiest way to fly business is to buy business. On domestic routes in India, I’ve frequently noticed airlines selling business class tickets at much more reasonable fares nowadays. I am talking about 14,000 one way ticket between Mumbai and Delhi or 3,000 one-way between Mumbai and Vadodara. Sometimes, they could be even cheaper than economy. You should compare on the airline’s website as economy and business class fares appear next to each other. It is not an everyday phenomenon, but when airlines run their frequent sales, you would find them more often. This is true for international flights too.

There are many ways to get upgrades. Let’s go with the free ones first. All the Indian full-service airlines offer loyalty programmes to their passengers. I always recommend flyers, frequent or not, to sign up for the programmes and add their membership numbers to their flights. With all the miles you accumulate, you don’t just have to redeem them for free flights, but also for upgrades on your upcoming flights.

All the three full-service carriers, Vistara, Jet Airways and Air India, offer you the ability to upgrade by using your miles on tickets for yourself or for others using your miles. On Jet Airways, you can confirm an upgrade online, using the “Manage My Booking" section on the website. For Vistara and Air India, you would need to call the airline so that they can check availability and confirm your upgrade. Air India miles can also be used to upgrade your tickets on other Star Alliance carriers such as Lufthansa and United. Miles-based upgrades are also possible on various international carriers, for instance Emirates and British Airways.

You can get upgrades at the airport; however, I would expect there is much more competition at the airport as compared to confirming them ahead of the flight, so do try beforehand.

When you become a status holder on the airline, the airline also grants you upgrade vouchers, which you can then use to upgrade your upcoming flights. These vouchers are over and above the miles you earn and are valid for a limited time only. So, it’s always better to use them rather than save them forever.

For Jet Airways flyers, these vouchers are now electronic and can be found in your Jet Airways account. You can use these vouchers for domestic flights on Jet Airways or international ones as well. You need one voucher for every 1,500 miles of flying, so while Mumbai-Delhi would be one voucher (706 miles), Delhi-London would cost you three vouchers (4,191 miles distance). Not every fare class is eligible for upgrades. As a rule of thumb, deep discounted tickets don’t get upgrades.

In the case of Vistara, these vouchers are one-class upgrade, so you upgrade from economy to premium economy and premium economy to business class, if seats are available, at the airport one hour before the domestic flights. And while on Jet Airways and Vistara the vouchers are transferable, on Air India, you can use only your own upgrade vouchers for yourself.

Coming to paid upgrades, Jet Airways, Air India and Vistara allow you to bid for an upgrade online before the flight. They also offer confirmed upgrades to those who are willing to pay for them upfront. Air India claims, if you bid, you could get an upgrade at a deep discount but you have to be willing to wait till boarding starts for the upgrade to be cleared.

One of the most lucrative sources of revenue for the airlines is selling upgrades at the airport. It always helps to ask the airlines staff at the check-in counter if you could buy an upgrade and see the price they quote. Air India has a fixed price for their upgrade sales at the airport under the Get Upfront offer which they actively market before the flight. An India to US (east coast) ticket can be upgraded one-way for 75,000 ($1,100) from economy to business class, which could be well worth the price for that half-a-day journey, with the better seat and food. As a point of reference, a non-stop Mumbai to Newark round-trip business class ticket could cost you upwards of 2.5 lakh and economy could be only 50,000. The next time you are walking past business class, remember, it’s not as difficult to get up front as it used to be.

Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.

Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.

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