Business Travel: Some handy hints for haggling with the airlines

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The Independent Online
Plenty of books claim to offer the secret of cut-price air travel. But until he read Hugo van Reijen's book, Simon Calder treated them all with disdain. Now he's first in the check-in queue for Karachi.

Declaration of interest: I have met Hugo van Reijen, author of Why Not Fly Cheaper? In fact, I very recently bought him a drink. But that was mainly to thank him for writing the closest that the business traveller will get to a Bible (besides the Gideon edition that still appears in many hotel rooms).

You may think that Why Not Fly Cheaper? is a book or article, or much- faxed document that you have already read. But Mr van Reijen's paperback is brand new and anything but trivial. It is not a book for amateurs, but a manual for people who have found themselves in the wrong departure lounge, or on the wrong flight, or in the wrong class, once too often.

"If you request a fare quote from five different employees in the same airline office, you will most of the time get five different fare quotes, especially if the journey is slightly complicated", says Mr van Reijen. The secret is to know how to interpret the extraordinary complexity of air fare regulations to your maximum advantage, and that is where the book can help.

Take note, though: if all you want is the cheapest return trip from Manchester to Madrid or Stansted to Stockholm, then just phone around. Why Not Fly Cheaper? is intended to exploit the official rules that the airlines have established for themselves on multi-sector itineraries.

The basic rule is that anyone paying full fare is entitled to a great deal more than just transportation from A to B. Take a simple trip like Edinburgh-London, with a fare of pounds 134. For the same amount you can stop off for the day in Manchester, attending additional meetings and piling up extra Air Miles for zero cost.

Once you look beyond Britain and take into account currency fluctuations, the savings become much more dramatic. A particular favourite of Mr van Reijen is the "Navigator" pass, price pounds 1,199 off-season, which allows 28,500 miles of travel so long as you touch a point in the South Pacific.

The book explains the theories of "maximum permitted mileage" and "directional minimum check", and how best to deal with them. The current best buys are to be found in Pakistan, where official fares to all manner of destinations are much lower than in Britain. Islamabad-London-Buenos Aires in business class, for example, is about half the rate for the ticket between the UK and Argentinian capitals alone.

"I got last week a letter from a couple of honeymooners. They had flown to Pakistan specifically to buy intercontinental tickets", Mr van Reijen recalls. Half an hour later, I booked my ticket to Karachi.

Why Not Fly Cheaper? by Hugo van Reijen is published by Airlife Publishing, 101 Longden Road, Shrewsbury SY3 9EB.