Paris! London! Rome! International travel—how glamorous—except for the getting-there part. Paying full fare for business or first class, with their blessed fully-reclining seats and attentive cabin service, is not in everyone’s budget—or not an option strictly based on the principle of paying thousands of dollars for 8 hours of relative comfort. Yes, there are the occasional sales or, if you can manage it, travel points that can get you there in style, but you can’t count on them.

Whether you swing an upgrade to business class or find yourself in grin-and-bear-it economy class, it’s not that difficult to make your journey worthy of the destination.

Baby bump

  • Several airlines, including Air Canada, auction off upgrades. Once your ticket is booked, you submit a price you’d be willing to pay to move up to premium economy or business. If no one outbids you, you win the auction, pay the difference and enjoy bubbly before take-off. Alternatively, when checking-in online, there’s often the chance to upgrade for a lower fee than the one quoted at the time you booked.
  • At check-in, ask about availability in business or premium economy. Best case, you’re upgraded. Worst case, they suggest a price. And yes, you’ll be judged on how you’re dressed. Our secret airline sources say open-toed shoes are frowned upon, jeans are okay if paired with a blazer and a cashmere wrap never hurt anyone.
  • Boutique airlines offer a range of lower costs or posher services and if you play your cards right, you could get both. Fares with LOT Polish, Aer Lingus or WOW Air aim to undercut the big airlines with cheap and cheerful service. If you fancy a flight from New York to Paris, La Compagnie provides nothing but business class at economy rates.

Making the best of economy or a no-frills flight

  • Check seat maps and splurge on roomy bulkheads. Lots of legroom, your own screen and no one tilting their seat into your lap. Expect to pay around $100 per person extra.
  • Stock your carry-on bag with your favourite luxury brand cleansers and creams in travel sizes. Invest in noise-cancelling ear buds, a sleeping mask and aromatherapy roll-ons. A cozy cashmere wrap will leave economy-class synthetic fleece blankets in the dust.
  • Meals on board are always bad and snacks for purchase are overpriced, over-salted and overrated. Before you head to the airport, grab a sandwich or salad that travels well from your favourite takeout spot to slip it into your carry-on. Or pack your own in a disposable container. On red-eye flights to Europe, think about packing something for breakfast too since stone-cold rolls and sugary yoghurt are not the best way to greet the day. Reserve your onboard purchases for a much-deserved mini-bottle of wine or cocktail.