How to go first class on a budget

Fancy a taste of the high life? Believe it or not, it is possible for us all to travel in style, just like the rich and famous. Ian McCurrach gives you the inside track on the tricks of the faux-VIP trade. Here's how to get beyond the velvet rope

You don't need to have millions to live the life of the jet set. Instead of buying a pile in the sun, rent the houses of the famous. The Jamaican former home of Noël Coward is often available to rent through local agents. Similarly, stay at John Paul Getty's villa La Posta Vecchia (www.lapostavecchia.com) in Italy and George Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate (www.biltmoreestate.com) in North Carolina. Landfall, tennis star David Lloyd's exclusive private villa on Barbados, has six en-suite bedrooms, five staff (including cook, maid and butler), a private beach and pool. It is available for one-week hire through ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk) from £14,352, or £1,721 per person, based on 12 adults sharing, including flights and transfers.

2. Get driven to the airport

Holiday Extras (0870 844 4186; www.holidayextras.co.uk) offers chauffeur services from your front door to the terminal. Or if you take your own motor, opt for their valet-parking service. With Personal Parking, you just hand over your car to a uniformed chauffeur outside the terminal and deliver your car back there when you return. Book a plush airport lounge so that if your plane is delayed you can hang out in style. Eat first-class fare even in economy with new deluxe takeaway in-flight meals from Caviar House & Prunier's Seafood Bars.

3. Luxury laundry

You wouldn't find Joan Collins unpacking or washing her smalls when she returns from a trip, so why should you? Get star treatment from Blossom & Browne's unique Luggage-to-Laundry Jetset service (020-7727 2635; www.blossomandbrowne.co.uk).

4. Upper-class dealing

Look for offers posted on airline websites and subscribe for offers. British Airways (0870-850 9 850; www.ba.com) frequently offers deals such as "travel out in Club World and return in First" for the price of a Club World return ticket. It also offers deals such as gaining triple BA miles on certain routes, allowing you to accrue your loyalty points quickly. It also pays to prioritise and manipulate your miles. It costs about £350 or 40,000 Virgin miles to fly London-Los Angeles in economy, compared with about £5,000 or 80,000 miles in Upper Class. Using your miles to book an Upper Class return here looks like a very good deal. It also pays to look at how much it would cost to upgrade at the time of making an online booking. On some BA routes to Europe it can cost as little as £40 to upgrade to Club Europe each way. If you fly first or business class with lower-profile airlines such as Gulf or Air India, you can make considerable savings. When flying from London to the US it is generally cheaper to fly via Europe with carriers such as Air France.

5. Great rail journeys

On GNER's east coast route a first-class open return from London to Edinburgh costs £287. A first class off-peak return ticket on the same route costs from just £59 and is cheaper than the regular £90.60 " saver" return in standard class. You could pay £288 for a first-class return on Virgin trains between London and Manchester. But if you combine two "first advance" singles you could pay as little as £54. On most train routes you can pay the conductor for a "weekend first" upgrade for £10-£15 each way on Saturday and Sunday. Eurostar standard tickets to Paris and Brussels start from £59 return, but when those sell out, the fare quickly rises to £99. If you book ahead and buy a " leisure select" ticket (when tickets start selling) at £139 return - for which you get welcome glass of champagne, three-course meal with wine, newspapers, pillows and reclining seats with tables - the price difference begins to look like a bargain.

6. Time it right

Choose your travel times: flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday is cheaper than going on a Friday or Sunday, and try to travel to business destinations during school holidays. On Monday and Saturday travel late in the day; on Sundays and Thursdays leave early. For travel at peak times book as far ahead as possible. When booking two or more seats, always check the fare for a single traveller first. You may be able to get the first seat in a lower price category.

When booking hotels ask for their best available price and be prepared to haggle or ask if an upgrade is available. And it's worth keeping an eye on new openings; many properties offer introductory discounts. If you go for the villa option, share the cost with a group. A swish villa can be had for a surprisingly low price per headand don't forget the bargains often to be had when booking at the last minute on websites such as www.lastminute.com.

7. Loyalty schemes

Earn miles through flights and on your general spend on an airline credit card. Both BA's American Express card and Virgin's credit card are good examples, earning you one mile for every £1 spent on the card. If you spend more than £15,000 on the Virgin card (£20,000 on the BA Amex card) you get a free companion ticket to anywhere in the world when you book a qualifying flight. You can upgrade your card by paying an annual fee (£80 Virgin, £120 BA Premium Plus) to receive a higher rate of miles and better deals. Miles seats are first released about 10 months prior to departure and the amount on any one flight depends on the popularity of the route. Combine a miles booking with a companion flight, and you and your companion can fly for the cost of the tax and charges

8. Fly first for less

First-class airfares are rarely offered at a discount, but on multi-legged international flights you can spend much less on a round-the-world first-class ticket from any of the major airlines than if you bought a series of one-way individual first-class tickets. You can book through business or first-class discount specialists like Trailfinders (020-7938 3444; www.trailfinders.com). Far East Travel Centre (020-7440 2600; www.fetc.co.uk), STA Travel (020-7361 6262; www.statravel.com) and Bridge the World (020-7911 0900; www.bridge-theworld.com

9. A passport to the high life

You can hang out with the jet set by joining global private members' club Quintessentially ( www.quintessentially.com), which offers only the best things in life. With offices in London, New York, LA, Miami, Hong Kong, Beijing, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Istanbul and Dubai, Quintessentially acts as your global guide. Membership gives you smooth access to all the best places in town, no matter which one you may happen to find yourself in. From top restaurants to nightclubs, shops and bars, you are guaranteed entry to all the hot spots. Quintessentially is your passport to all that is hip and stylish. Membership costs from £750 per year.

10. Join the club

Sit back and relax. Have all your travel needs taken care of with gold membership of exclusive travel club Wexas (020-7838 5980; www.wexas.com). Its experts organise your entire trip and itinerary and you get complimentary VIP access to UK airport lounges.

The best night on the town

West End wonders

Through Transport for London's Everyone's London scheme (www.tfl.gov.uk) you can save up to 60 per cent on West End theatre tickets simply by taking public transport to the venue. Current offers include The Woman in White . The scheme also offers discounts at restaurants for pre-or post-theatre meals. Another way of paying less for theatre tickets is going to www.lastminute.com which offers savings of up to 50 per cent.

The best table

Fine dining for little fuss

Restaurant bookings have been made easy with a new service called www.opentable.co.uk. You can book a table directly, in real time, in the restaurant's reservation book. The service is great for the US where it is well established and includes the French Laundry in California and Union Square Café in New York. Restaurants in the UK covered by the scheme include many that are hard to get into, such as St John, Al Duca and Shanghai Blues .

The best shopping

Stock up on designer bargains

Home-grown designer talent in continental Europe is up to a third cheaper than in the UK. In the US, British buyers can roughly expect the dollar prices of American labels to match sterling costs, so a Polo Ralph Lauren shirt costing £90 in London costs $90 (£51) in the US. Discount stores include Century 21 ( www.c21stores.com) in Manhattan and Woodbury Common (www.premiumoutlets.com). Italian designer factory outlets such as The Mall, via Europa 8, near Leccio, sell Dolce & Gabbana (left) and Gucci etc ( www.outlet-firenze.com). In the Far East, try tailors Kawa (00 852 2552 8280) and A-Man Hing Cheong (00 852 2522 3336) at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong.

The best express service

Sail past those queues at the carousel

Do you ever see Elizabeth Hurley or Jude Law lugging their Louis Vuitton through Heathrow? I don't think so. Even if you are not flying BA First, look as if you are by having your luggage couriered ahead. With more than 20 million bags going missing each year, it also prevents your luggage from going astray. First Luggage (0845 270 0670; www.firstluggage.com) costs from £149 return for a suitcase to Europe. Other couriers include Flymycase (www. flymycase.com). It's the way to bypass the nasty queues at the carousel.

Comments