I understand why travel advertisements often feature pictures of beautiful young people frolicking about in exotic destinations or relaxing in impossibly large airline seats. It’s because young people do travel a lot and airlines and hotels want their business. But these pictures don’t reflect reality.
The real money in the tourism industry isn’t made from beautiful young people, because beautiful young people generally travel on the cheap.
As much as they are keen to fill up the cheap seats and discounted rooms, airlines and hotels and cruise lines and everyone else selling holiday-related products are really interested in the premium travellers — those who will pay over the odds for a more comfortable experience.
So those advertising pictures may be enticing, but they are somewhat misleading. For example, give or take the odd rock star or famous actor, most of the people up the pointy, expensive end of the plane are not beautiful people.
In general, they look less like Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman (who have recently featured in ads, respectively, for Emirates and Etihad Airlines) and more like, well, me.
Yes, I confess that in recent years I have become no stranger to business class (and even, thanks to two recent upgrades, first class).
This by no means means I’m rich. It means I’ve done a bit of work-related travel in my time and I’ve been lucky enough to have scored a few freebies and upgrades.
And now that I’m hooked — once you’ve turned left when you get on a plane, it is very difficult to turn right again — I’ve decided to allocate more of what I earn to travelling in style.
So, when it came to booking my next trip back to Australia, which happens next week, I decided that premium economy was the minimum starting point.
I looked at a lot of options across many airlines — including a very nice deal from Cathay Pacific which, unfortunately, involved a stopover of inconvenient length in Hong Kong. (I love Hong Kong, but the point of this trip is to spend time with family and friends in Brisbane.)
I settled on a business-class flight with Etihad Airways. Etihad is my default choice since I live in Abu Dhabi, the airline’s hub, but it also happens to be one of the best airlines in the world.
I also employed a technique much loved by frequent travellers that saved me a lot of money and helped fund two additional holidays in Europe.
Rather than book a return flight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane, my itinerary is Munich-Abu Dhabi-Brisbane-Abu Dhabi-Munich.
I’ve already completed the Munich-Abu Dhabi leg and I’m officially on a stopover. Since I flew to Germany on a frequent-flyer reward flight, the airfares for that trip could be considered free. There will also be a stopover in Abu Dhabi on the return leg, and I will fly back to Munich in March for another European break. Chances are I will start another long-haul flight from there.
If this sounds a bit crazy, I should point out that the total cost for the four flights (actually five, as it includes a domestic connection in Australia) was three-quarters of the Abu Dhabi-Brisbane return fare. Yes, you read that correctly.
How so? Because, in common with many airlines, Etihad charges lower fares for passengers who start their journeys outside of their home market.
For them, it’s away to build business in foreign markets. For me, in terms of airfares, it’s two-and-a-half holidays (I still have to pay to get back to Abu Dhabi from Munich) for less than the price of one.