4 Simple Tips for Happy Stress-Free Travel

I’ve done a lot of travelling in my life, and every time I booked a flight I would take an economy class seat (or “cattle class” as a good friend of mine calls it. But I have a dream. One day, I want to be able to book a business class seat on an international flight, and fly in luxury with my wife.

Imagine getting in a plane, flying for 12 hours, and arriving fully awake and refreshed. Imagine dining in luxury with champagne and caviar. Imagine a flight attendant handing out pyjamas and turning your seat into a comfortable bed. All of this is possible, but out of reach for most people.

Or is it?

Every journey starts with a small step. I’m nowhere near being able to afford business class, but I discovered that there are a few simple things I can do to make long-haul flights a lot more comfortable. Case in point: our recent trip to San Francisco, where I spent a mere $65 extra to improve our comfort level considerably.

Here are the 4 easy and affordable steps I followed to make our flight happy and stress-free.

1. Pick the airline carefully

One airline is not like the other. Some are well known for their exceptionally high quality of service, like British Airways, Air France, and Emirates. Others are well known for being, well, terrible. Yes United, I’m talking about you. Here’s an actual conversation I had on an United flight:

Me: “I’d like a glass of water please”
Flight attendant: “Oh, well, I guess I’ll walk all the way to the back of the plane and get it for you then.”

No kidding.

Fortunately not all airlines are like that. Air France and British Airways have great food and impeccable cabin service, which makes all the difference on long flights.

One thing to look out for: many times airlines will outsource a flight to another airline. Watch out for something like “flight provided by…” appearing on the reservation. I once booked with Lufthansa and ended up on an United flight because I didn’t read the fine print. Don’t let this happen to you!

2. Join a loyalty program

Every airline nowadays provides a loyalty program. You earn points for every flight you make which you can redeem for seat upgrades on future flights. Enrolling in a loyalty program is completely free, so the airlines are basically handing you a free gift.

Every airline has their own points program, but since enrolling is free anyway, you might as well join all of them. A great site to keep track of all your loyalty programs and points is AwardWallet, which I use myself. AwardWallet is completely free and will keep track of all loyalty programs for you. It will log into each airline on your behalf, download your points, and show everything in a handy consolidated dashboard. A great timesaver!

Note that airlines work together in alliances. For example, Air France has a loyalty program called Flying Blue and they are part of the SkyTeam alliance. Another member of SkyTeam is Delta Airlines, so if you fly Delta you can use the points you saved up on Air France flights for a seat upgrade at Delta. Points are often transferrable between alliance members.

It takes a long time to collect enough points to actually upgrade a seat. But since the award miles are free, and enrolling in the loyalty program is also free, you might as well start today.

3. Get a seat upgrade

When you book a flight, the airline will randomly assign you a seat and you will have no idea where in the plane you’ll end up. But if you check in online, you can actually pick the seat yourself

So which seats are the best? That’s where the website SeatGuru comes in handy. It has reviews for every seat on every plane of every airline. All you need to do is check which aircraft you’ll be flying in, look it up on SeatGuru, and find the seats that are highly rated.

Prepare to be surprised. That seat with extra legroom? Right next to the toilets. The seat in the first row in economy class? On top of an electrical transformer and uncomfortably hot. What seems to be a good deal could very well turn out to be a disappointment. Always check before you pick a seat.

You can make your flight even more comfortable by getting a seat upgrade. Certain seats are only available if you pay extra. They are usually at the front, in the first row in Economy class, or in a row of 2 at the back of the plane.

For our recent flight to San Francisco I upgraded our seats to a row of 2 at the back of the plane. The big advantage of a 2-seat row is that we had no neighbours, it was just me and my wife, with lots of extra legroom in the aisle.

And if you have some award miles lying around, this is the time to put them to good use. Many airlines have an Economy Premium section with great seats wedged between Economy and Business class. Use your miles to get a seat upgrade and get yourself into Economy Premium. It’s worth it.

4. Get a meal upgrade

Meals in Economy are pretty much all the same: something with pasta and beef, and something with rice and chicken. Simple greasy fare, easy to store, heat up and serve. Business class and First class passengers have it much better, with a large selection of 3-course meals to choose from.

But did you know you can get a Business class meal in Economy? Simply opt for a meal upgrade during your online check-in. This will cost you something between $15 and $25, but it has a number of advantages:

  • You get served a Business class-quality meal. On our recent flight to San Francisco I upgraded to a shrimp salad starter, steamed salmon main course, and a nice lemon pastry for desert.
  • You get metal cutlery, a glass made from actual glass, and a cotton napkin. It may not sound like much, but these little things make all the difference on a long flight.
  • Upgraded meals get served first, so you get to eat in peace while everybody else is still waiting for their food to arrive.

Always go for the meal upgrade, it’s totally worth it.

In summary

For our recent flight to San Francisco I spent $50 on two seat upgrades, and $15 for a meal upgrade. A total of only $65, and I was very surprised how much more comfortable it made our flight. We also enrolled in the airline loyalty program and together we collected 7068 award miles. A humble beginning, but eventually there will be enough points to upgrade to Economy Premium or even Business class.

So when you book a long-haul flight, don’t stop after you’ve booked the flight. Put in a little extra effort and money, and upgrade your seats and meal to make the flight much more comfortable.