Hi Frugalistas! You know how I wrote recently about my ambivalence towards resort vacations? Well, I’ve been outvoted by Mr Frugalfirstclass and MissG, so it’s off to Phuket for our summer holiday next January. But the rules of the game are a little different. MissG is now too big for the extra bed in a double room. She also falls outside the “kids eat free” age group. So, our accommodation costs are going to go up – a lot. But, we still don’t want to fly cattle class. Yes, we want it all: premium flights, plus upgraded accommodation, but we don’t want to spend extra money. It’s going to take every one of the best airline hacks I know to pull this one off!
Step 1: Start early
No, you did not read it wrong when I said we are going in January 2016. So yes, I’m starting now. Firstly, to make sure I’ve got plenty of time to research options. Secondly, to get a good feel for prices, so I know a good deal when I see one. But thirdly, and most importantly, so I can take advantage of whatever frequent flyer redemptions or other competitive products I can access – it’s school holidays in Australia in January, so there’s hot competition to redeem those mileage points.
Step 2: Study my Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer benefits
I hold Platinum Status with Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme. That buys me a lot perks. It’s easier to access mileage redemptions. I’ve also got access to two benefits that I think could come in handy: I can access free upgrades from a flexi Economy ticket to Business Class, and I can also use points to upgrade from a flexi Economy ticket to Business on international flights. I’ll need both, since flights from Sydney go via Perth on separate flight numbers. I also check what points I’ll need to redeem a flight in Business Class and their availability.
Step 3: Start costing
Next, it’s time to hit Skyscanner, my favourite price comparison website. Apart from Jetstar (that we don’t like) it’s pretty slim pickings. In fact the Virgin Australia Business Class flights are actually cheaper on the Virgin Australia website than on Skyscanner’s partners.
I’ve heard Scoot are about to start offering a Business Class offering between Sydney and Singapore. Because we need to do a transfer on Virgin Australia, and because the International Virgin Australia leg is not lie flat, I think Scoot is worth a look. And yes, indeed it is. At just over AUD600 per ticket it’s about half the price of a one way Virgin Australia Business Class ticket. There’s just one problem. That’s just to Singapore. And on the way over, there’s no connecting flight that evening, so a night’s accommodation in Singapore needs to be factored in.
Step 4: Compare the options
At this point, I’m coming to the view that going to Phuket on Virgin Australia, and coming back on Scoot Biz may be the best option. Now it’s time to put my best airline hacks and knowledge to work to get the best overall combination and deal.
Off the Virgin Australia first. I’ve got enough mileage points to buy one redemption to Phuket (but that will clear me out). Buying three flexi Economy tickets and then doing the upgrades costs about $500 more than buying 2 Business Class tickets and doing one redemption. So that’s the solution to get there. I’ve got Platinum Status with Virgin and Mr Frugalfirstclass holds Gold, so it makes sense that we pay for our tickets. We buy MissG’s with the mileage redemption to maximise the points we are going to earn on those paid flights.
I do the sums, so I know how much the return trip will cost on Virgin Australia before I head to Scoot.
Over at Scoot I book our three seats, with meals and luggage included. That’s from Singapore to Sydney direct. The best option for Phuket to Singapore looks like Silk Air, the Singapore Airlines regional carrier. Because it’s only a short flight we agree that Business Class is a waste of money. Now to get the best deal on those flights. This is where my trusty Amex card comes in handy. There’s enough Membership Rewards points to pay for all three Economy tickets. Those flights are free. There are plenty of flights from Phuket to Singapore, so we can get good connections at the huge Changi Airport.
Step 5: Compare the savings
The best I could do going all Virgin Australia Business Class was in excess of AUD6000. Because we made our decisions much earlier than last year, that’s still over AUD1000 less than we paid last year.
But I could do better than that. I took over a thousand off by buying a redemption for one ticket. Then saved over a thousand again by booking Scoot Biz and using Amex Membership Rewards to pay for our tickets home.
Step 6: Lessons learned
Start planning early. I got the Virgin Australia seats we paid for much cheaper by booking much earlier. And who knows how long that mileage redemption seat would have been available?
Understand the rules of your mileage program. I researched all my options so I knew exactly what was possible before I started pricing.
Compare prices. What looked like an obviously good deal to use upgrades was actually more expensive than buying 2 business class tickets and using points for the other.
Take a risk. I’ve never flown Scoot. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I know it’s not going to be the lie flat luxury of Singapore Airlines, but then I know the overnight flight on Virgin Australia from Phuket isn’t either.
Don’t put all your points eggs in one basket. By having those Amex Membership Rewards points sitting on my card I could get maximum value out of them. You can’t get much better than three free flights, can you?
It’s taken me all the best airline hacks I know, but I’ve booked our flights for just over half what I did for the same trip this January. That gives us a great nest egg to put towards the upgraded accommodation our family needs, and to pay for meals for our growing up fast MissG. I’m sure we’ll have a great time, without missing out on any comfort – exactly what frugal first class travel is all about!