Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Flying to the UK in business is never cheap at Christmas, unless . . .


Not quite 'boughs of holly', but the halls were decked.

Travelling overseas - especially to Europe at Christmas is rarely a cheap option. It's one of the reasons, I usually stay on home turf at this time of year. So I knew it was going to be a challenge to find a business class airfare that was reasonable.

Low cost 'business' options
I looked at a few options, some of which we would have needed to piece together - say get to Singapore on SCOOT and then find a cheap option to London, or Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur, and then a cheap option from there. Unfortunately, this kind of compromise rarely saves you much money.

Itinerary essentials
The essentials of our trip, were spending time in London, and preferably somewhere warm for a few days of flop-and-drop on the way home. That probably meant via Asia, but whether it was Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia etc, didn't really bother us.

Flight Research
In my research - and we are talking April/May 2015 - I happened across an article about Vietnam Airlines planning to introduce 787-9 flights mid-year. Now, with new plane deliveries, sometimes advertised schedules have a habit of slipping by months or even years, so I was a bit cautious about locking in this option. If the new 787's were not introduced, or reassigned to a different route, we would be stuck on some old 777, which reviewers on flight opinion websites agree are outdated and not a well maintained product.

I had a quick email exchange with our travel agent at Out and About who assured me that it was bookable in their system, and so almost certainly would be going ahead. He warned that the A330's they run between Sydney and Saigon only had lie flat seats, but since essentially it was a daytime flight, no biggie. Here is out potential schedule in late April 2015:

VN  772   08DEC SYD SGN 11.50   16.35
VN   51     09DEC SGN LHR   01.05   07.40 
VN   50    02JAN LHR SGN   14.45  #08.25
VN  773   08JAN SGN SYD   21.10  #09.50


Vietnam Airlines A330, Kingsford Smith Airport, from the Skyteam Lounge


The Price
. . . and the price for Business Class return - $4,379 - the closest other fare was a KLM codeshare with Etihad and Malaysian or Garuda for $6,287. So on Vietnam Airlines, we could sample a new product (the 787), pay a third less, and get a warm weather flop-and-drop. What's not to like? Well - the 9 hour layover in Saigon on the way over for a start. Although Vietnam airlines deals with this by giving you a city tour, and by some reports, the use of a hotel room, we decided that we might as well break the trip with an overnight in Saigon and the Intercontinental Asiana, and take advantage of the 4pm late check-out guaranteed by my IHG Ambassador Club membership. 

As well as being the trip for my first northern hemisphere Christmas, this was also a reward for my partner Mickaeli, who had just completed a huge multi year project involving a great deal of work and even more stress. So the idea of catching a plane, and then stopping somewhere overnight for a bit of luxury and a good nights sleep, not to mention a day by the pool, and thereby declaring this a holiday officially, before embarking on our European Christmas adventure, seemed like a good idea. 

2PAX Wisdom
Low cost 'business class' is not always the most cost efficient way to fly. Look for combination products, where the important overnight legs give you the comfort you need (flat beds), and other legs give you a step up from economy. If you can trade time for money, then don't reject a long layover out of hand. A $300 five star hotel night, is a lot cheaper than $2,000 for the next cheapest business class airfare without a long layover.

More stories from this trip


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