How to fly premium cabin at economy prices, Highlife-style

Most frequent travellers will attest to this; once you fly premium cabin, it’s very hard to go back to coach – especially when travelling long-haul. To satiate my appetite for luxury travel, over the years I’ve grown accustomed to using a combination of mileage redemption tactics, upgrade rewards and clever itineraries to maintain the enjoyment of air travel.

While this tip has been common knowledge among luxury bloggers and air travel enthusiasts, it’s still one of the most cost-effective ways to travel in business or first-class for those based in Europe. I’m talking about flying out of Cairo, Egypt when travelling long-haul to benefit from some fantastic premium cabin airfares at economy prices.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian government devalued their currency, which currently trades at 1 GBP=20 EGP, making the value of your pound sterling stretch quite far. Affordability and stagnant demand has meant most premium Middle East airlines like Qatar Airways and Etihad need to keep airfares attractive for the local market. Once you apply the favourable exchange rate, the net outcome for the wider traveller community is unbeatable business and first-class pricing when you make Cairo your departure point.

For example, lets say you want to spend New Year 2016 in sunny Bangkok and want to fly premium cabin. A quick search in Google Flights to fly out from London on Thursday 29 December and return Saturday 14 January in business class would give you pricing similar to this:

£2,351 GBP return with Qatar Airways
£2,291 GBP return with Etihad

I chose these two airfares in particular, as I rate both airlines on the basis of service quality, hard product and cabin experience. It’s also worth noting these weren’t the cheapest business class options available. Turkish Airlines had a published fare of £1,599 GBP, which would have required a 20-hour stopover in Istanbul. And arguably, when you stack up the experience of flying Turkish Airlines against my chosen two options, the experience isn’t really on par when compared with the 5-star service you typically get on Middle Eastern carriers.

Now change your departure point from Cairo, and you get this on the same airlines:

£728 GBP return with Qatar Airways
£842 GBP return with Etihad

Similar to the London departures, flying out of Cairo requires a stopover (Doha for Qatar Airways, and Abu Dhabi for Etihad), and of course you’ll need to get yourself over to Egypt, which will be at an additional cost. But considering you can get a direct flight on British Airways or Egypt Air in economy for less than £400 GBP, it still makes financial sense from a savings perspective. Better still if you have some Avios miles accrued with BA and can book a business class seat to complete the whole journey in style.

How does this compare if you were flying economy? To do this direct from London to Bangkok for the same dates, you’d be looking at £944 GBP with Thai Airways as your best option. It’s not a bad fare for the convenience of not having to do that additional flight to Cairo. For connecting flights, you can get a fare as low as £630 with Kuwait Airlines, but this does require a 10-hour stopover in Kuwait City. And don’t forget you’re still flying economy long-haul, most likely in a cramped seat for over 11 hours.

Of course nothing beats flying direct. Not everyone will have the flexibility or appetite to do an additional flight segment, suck up the timing anomalies that can happen between arriving from London and the subsequent departure time out of Cairo, as well as the travel planning that needs to go into a multi-leg itinerary. Having said that, the experience of premium travel is wonderful, and something everyone deserves to experience. Luxury travel hacks like these can help you achieve just that, while still keeping a firm handle on your budget.

Happy travels, and let me know if you’ve done similar ‘creative’ itineraries to fly premium cabin, in the interest of travelling in style.