This month we're lifting the veil on travelling like a VIP and showing you why celebrities, business executives and royalty aren't the only people who get to view the world from the comfy seats.
When booking a holiday, how often do you pay attention to your upgrade or luxury options: seldom, rarely, never? Often the very act of travelling or going on holiday is a luxury in itself, so people tend to ignore the perks that are available to them, under the assumption that everything extra will be stupidly expensive. That's not the case all the time - admittedly it can be, but if you know where to look and what to ask for, you'll be surprised by what’s within your grasp.
Work Within A Budget
The basic cost of any trip can be broken down into the following categories: flights/transport, accommodation, food/drinks and entertainment. The big question you have to ask yourself is this: what kind of VIP treatment am I looking for? Think about your budget, your personal preferences and what you'd like to do on holiday, and let those be the deciding factors on where you go.
If it’s a fancy hotel with amazing amenities you’re after (spas, restaurants, room service), you may have to skip on the shopping excursions and find a cheap flight over - or take the train or a bus. Frequent flyers can even use Avios (formerly frequent flyer miles) to pay for tickets, which frees up funds for other parts of the trip - for a full explanation on spending Avois, check out How To Collect And Spend Avios Miles. If you’re going somewhere like Las Vegas and want to live it up every night, you may have to stay in a self-catering apartment and eat cheaply during the day.
A great way of combining luxury with self-catering options is renting a villa. It sounds like a big splurge, but if you're travelling with your family or a group of friends it becomes a lot more cost effective. By renting a villa, you're able to specify your 'luxury' must-haves, be it a pool, a deck with a view of the ocean, a tennis court or walking access to the beach. Any extra wish-list items you've got, like a chef, can be arranged too. A company like CV Travel offer a wide selection of luxury villas in the most coveted destinations around the world - from the Greek Islands to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and even further afield to the Caribbean, Morocco and Thailand. I'd highly recommend booking with an established business, which is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and holds a bonded Air Travel Organisers' License (ATOL), especially if you are booking independently.
Consider Pre-Packaged Holidays
Don’t let scoffing backpackers or vehement independent travellers put you off: packaged holidays are designed for people who want a slice of luxury at a reasonable price. If you’re going to an island or a ski resort, a package deal will often include meals, drinks and entertainment in the cost. If you’re someone who enjoys a few toots every night while on holiday, this can be a life saver! The upfront expense can be quite a knock at first, but if you consider the cost of buying food and drinks every day, you’ll end up forking out a fair chunk of money anyway. Cruises are also great that way - all your meals and entertainment and drinks (if you've booked an all-inclusive package) are covered, so you know exactly what you’re spending before you've even left the house.
Ask And You Shall Receive
You are always hearing about people getting upgraded to First Class on a flight or moved into a Premium Suite when checking into their hotel. The old 'Lucky Upgrade' myth has been circulating for decades. The thing is, most people are too shy to try it because a lot of the time you’ll get denied. That’s a guarantee: you will get turned down almost every time, but it's worth a try.
Play The Game. If you work up the gall to ask for an upgrade, be nice. There isn't a gate agent or flight attendant in the world who will upgrade someone who is trying to throw their weight around. But if you smile and remember to say your "pleases" and (most importantly) "thank-yous", they'll be more inclined to give you a break. Also, dress nicely - especially at a hotel or an airport check-in counter. As tragically superficial as this sounds, you'll give yourself a much better chance of getting that elusive upgrade if you look like the rest of the people who are in luxury hotel rooms or First Class seats already.
Another way to win yourself an upgrade is to make your holiday an important occasion. Tell the hotel clerk or restaurant manager that you are celebrating your honeymoon, birthday or wedding anniversary as soon as you arrive. Great experiences are the best PR any business can buy, and by announcing the paramount importance of your holiday to staff, you will make it their priority to impress you. You might not get the best room in the house or a free meal, but you can bet your boots you’ll get VIP treatment.
Meet And Greet Parking
The airport is generally your holiday’s first and last stop - two very important punctuation marks on any trip. Getting there comfortably and in good time sets a relaxing tone for the rest of the journey; rushing and getting flustered is certainly not becoming of any VIP traveller. One way to make sure that happens is to drive yourself to the airport.
Historically speaking, airport parking has always been an unreasonably expensive luxury. Most people would rather take the train, bus or even walk, when parking a vehicle at the airport for one week will cost almost the same price as your accommodation. This is not the case any more though. While official airport parking on site remains pricey at almost every airport around the world, a growing demand for cheaper alternatives has given rise to new, affordable options that are safe and reliable. Don’t believe us – try generating a basic quote at any UK airport and see for yourself.
The Ferrari of airport parking is a Meet And Greet service. Here’s how it works: you drive right up to the terminal doors, hand your keys over to a uniformed chauffeur and head inside while he/she parks your car at a secure location nearby. There’s no need to find parking or take a transfer - everything is prearranged. Upon your return, your car is brought back to the terminal, so that you can walk out the door and drive home. Easy peasy. Selected venues will even give your car a good shampoo while you’re away.
The Price Test: I ran a standard search for on-site parking at London Heathrow's Terminal 1 and weighed the prices I found against the Meet and Greet services offered through Essential Travel’s search engine. The average price for official on-site parking was between £70 and £80 for a week, while a VIP Meet and Greet service came in between £77 and £85. So it is a slightly more expensive service, but the margin is far smaller than you'd think when looking at what the two offer you. For a mere extra £5, you could have the chauffeur send-off that luxury travel insists on.
Is It Safe To Use Meet And Greet Vendors? As well as offering a lowest price guarantee, independent airport parking operators are also bench marking their security standards by applying for service awards like 'Park Mark' and the AA Police/Gold Award, ensuring that your car is safe.
Relax At An Airport Lounge
Spending several hours inside an airport can be soul destroying. You can’t sleep, because the plastic chairs are too small and uncomfortable for a human being. If you do manage to pass out, a crying baby will inevitably wake you up during the best moment of a good dream. Restaurants are unreasonably expensive, while bars will charge a fortune for the sourest, warmest beer - only because they know how badly a frustrated traveller needs it. This, in a nutshell, is why Airport Lounges are the way to go when you've got an extended layover. There are comfy seats, snacks, drinks, WiFi, television and even showers at selected venues - all at your disposal for a once-off payment. It seems like a slap when you first arrive and fork out the money, but weighed against the cost of food, drinks and entertainment at any of the regular airport vendors, this slice of luxury is a bargain. It’s the same logic that makes package holidays a good deal. Prices for airport lounge tickets start at £13.50 and move upwards, depending on the length of your stay and the amenities available to you.
Priority Boarding and Allocated Seating
If you're flying during a busy time of the year, get priority boarding when you purchase your ticket. This allows you to get on the plane first, while the other passengers wait for their zones to be called. It's a small perk that makes a big difference when a flight is full or overbooked - especially for those who don't like waiting in long lines and fighting about overhead luggage space.
With low-cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair, priority boarding is available for less than a tenner if purchased when you are booking your ticket. NOTE: it is more expensive if you buy this add-on at the airport on the day of your flight, so book ahead.
Why Allocated Seating Is A Good Idea
Aeroplanes aren't naturally built for luxury, just like people aren't naturally built to squeeze themselves into small seats. Unless you're in First Class, laying back in one of those space-age pods that vibrate and make peaceful ocean noises, where you are seated matters. Most airlines allow you to choose your seats, though it comes at an extra cost at times. When you're booking online, take some time to review the seat planner and select the spot that will make you the most comfortable. If you can't find the seat planner on the website, call the airline and ask.
What constitutes a good seat?
It really depends on your needs. A window seat is always nice if you're one of the chosen few who can fall asleep while flying. The window and the side of the plane provide a solid base for your little pillow, giving you a faint sense of neck support. Check out the travel gift prizes up for grabs this month, including the Embrace Neck Collar, on our competition page.
If you have long legs and struggle with your knees, look for the seats that are between cabins with extra leg-room.
If you need to use the loo a lot during a flight, choose an isle seat. There's nothing more frustrating than having to ask the person next to you for the third time if they can rearrange themselves so you can pass. And it’s pretty painful for them, too.
Some airlines will charge a small fee for allocated seating. Easyjet offer extra-leg-room seats and upfront seats for £8, while other seats are £3 per selection. Ryanair offer similar prices, which vary depending on how far you are flying and when you book a specific seat. If you can't find the seat planner or the drop-down that allows you to select your own seat, call the airline and ask about it, because you'll always pay more on the day.
Join A Rewards Programme
If you enjoy travelling and spend a fair chunk of change on flights every year, register with a rewards or a frequent flyer programme. A low-cost airline like Ryanair doesn't offer much in the way of a rewards scheme (their reasoning is that ticket prices are already at rock bottom), but British Airways Executive Club membership is a good way for frequent flyers to cash in on priority boarding, check-in and seating deals.
Besides the advertised perks of joining something like the Executive Club, members are privy to upgrades when flights are overbooked. Rather than leaving open seats in First Class, airlines will bump up preferred customers.
Last Updated: December 2012