The best of business travel

By at home

There’s nothing like a touch of class to kick off your business trip or even – as an extra special treat – your holiday. But how are you going to get the best deal for your money? NICKY HOLFORD looks at the ins and outs of flying business class.

Concorde put the class into business travel. It may not have had the maximum legroom some business class services offer these days but flying supersonic and watching the curvature of the earth from the window took some beating. It was also partly responsible for the rife competition that now exists between airlines to fill up first class and business class seats.

These days it’s not just turning left when you get on to a plane that counts – it’s the number of extras that happen even before you get on board.

One of the great plusses of Virgin Atlantic’s First Class service to New York is the limo that picks you up and checks you in on the way. Your chauffeur checks in your bags at the drive-in check-in so you don’t even have to go to a check-in area. Once delivered at the airport, all you have to do is make your way to the lounge where the redesigned London Heathrow Clubhouse even has a poolside lounge and spa pool with beauty treatments and all mod cons. Then you simply wait for your flight to be called. The same chauffeur service will be at the other end to meet you – or you can dip into the lounge and take advantage of the facilities while you have your suit pressed.

When flying long haul, particularly to destinations over 12 hours away, what counts is being able to sleep. Fully reclining seats vary within airlines, so compare the quality and privacy of in-flight beds before you book. Also, check and compare the major airlines for the service you get before, during and after long-haul flights.

Qantas, for example, offers luxurious skybeds in Business Class with numerous seat adjustments, but they do not lie completely flat. Virgin Atlantic has the Upper Class Suite offering a fully flat bed in Business Class.

British Airways has the Sleeper Service in Club World on several overnight services from the East Coast of North America and the Middle East to London. The bed is completely flat and has cotton-lined blankets. It is possible to have a pre-flight supper in the lounge before you board so you can get ready for bed the minute you get on the aircraft. There is even reduced trolley movement and low-volume announcements so as not to disturb passengers who are wishing to get a good night’s sleep. Other perks include a complimentary Molton Brown spa at selected airports with treatments, and facilities such as showers and massages for stressed-out travellers. There is also a valet service to press your wrinkled clothes when you land.

Other tips to watch out for are often simply down to common sense. Pay attention to scheduling. Save time flying at night and if you have to stop over and kill a few hours, make sure you have an airport lounge facility that has showers, massage and somewhere to pass the time in a relaxing way.

Emirates’ latest service for First and Business Class passengers flying to London on overnight flights from Dubai has complimentary showers and Continental breakfast on arrival plus a first class, one-way rail ticket from Gatwick to London Victoria station – including English newspapers. If you want to get straight to that business meeting, you can use Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur drive service, as long as you book it at the same time as making your reservation. Another recent perk for members of the Emirates club, Skywards, was a giveaway of 50 pairs of 2006 FIFA World Cup tickets.

Top service
In the recent Conde Nast Traveller’s readers’ travel awards, Emirates took first place as the top business carrier, with Singapore Airlines in second place and British Airways in third. The top airport, which makes a difference when it comes to checking in and luggage retrieval, is Changi, Singapore. Changi also won the Telegraph Travel Awards as best airport.

Collecting air miles provides all sorts of upgrades and special offers. It is worth joining the executive club of an airline if you fly frequently, as they will email you newsletters of special offers. Did you know that you could even buy air miles on eBay? Recently, 1,000 air miles went for £92.

New routes
Check if an airline is offering a new route – this is usually a reason for all sorts of incentives to club members, including increased air miles. For example, BA recently increased its flights to India and had offers to Executive Club members of up to 12,000 air miles for bookings on flights to Bangalore.

A new airline to check out is the all-business class carrier Maxjet that has recently launched a transatlantic service. The US carrier has a six times weekly service between London Stansted and New York JFK which began at the end of last year, in November 2005. The low starting price of £854 return is aimed to appeal to the small to medium-sized firms located within the Stansted area. Maxjet planes are 102-seater wide-bodied B767s with six seats across in a row in configurations of two, and each seat with a generous 60 inches of legroom. Passengers get the use of Fast Track and the SAS lounge.

Passengers leaving JFK will have access to the Korean Air lounge. When they arrive at Stansted they will have use of the arrivals lounge at the adjacent Radisson/SAS hotel.

Leg room
If flying Business Class is out of the budget but legroom on shorter flights would make a difference to you, it is worth looking at other options. For example, at Flybe you can now pre-book a seat, including seats with extra legroom, for a charge. The cost of pre-booking a normal seat is £5, while reserving one with extra legroom costs £15. Book both through www.flybe.com. Passengers travelling in Flybe’s premium economy class can pre-book their seat online at no extra cost but Flybe is not the first carrier to enable passengers to secure an emergency exit seat, and the extra legroom that goes with it. Bmibaby customers can book the extra legroom seats for £10 online on a first-come-first-served basis through www.bmibaby.com.

Other carriers offering extra legroom seats for a fee are Monarch Scheduled and Thomsonfly, which charge £15 per flight to reserve the seats online. Both also charge £5 to book standard seats online. Go to www.thomsonfly.com or www.flymonarch.com. Virgin Atlantic also offers extra legroom seats for £50 per passenger, but this can only be done at airport check-in.

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