Moving up without paying too much

Water park lovers will find that this Midwestern getaway has it all: plenty of outdoor thrill slides in the summer and an ideal theme park-style escape during cold winter months. Intertwined body slides, multiple funnel slides and tandem tube rides are among the dozens of attractions enticing both hotel guests and day visitors to the 125,000 square foot indoor-outdoor water park. But the highlight comes by way of Master Blaster, an indoor water roller coaster that dips down and shoots back up for a fast-paced thrill. Once you dry off, you can board a six-story Ferris wheel, ride go-karts, or even test your skills on a ropes course or enjoy some upside-down thrill rides fit for kids young and old—all without having to step off-property.
Foxwoods Resort and Casino offers guests a dose of adrenalin away from the blackjack table. The mile-long HighFlyer zip line lets riders glide over Connecticut's Mashantucket woodland at a height of 350 feet. You'll be propelled from the resort's own Fox Tower, and finish up at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, drinking in tree-top vistas as you go. Brave it in fall for the best views.
a group of people standing in a room: Travelers wait at the Delta Airlines counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

Moving from coach/economy to business or first class is like moving from a slum to a penthouse. In the “main” cabin these days, you don’t enjoy a flight; at best, you endure it. In a forward cabin, on the other hand, you really can enjoy even a long trip — you get meals about as “gourmet” as you could expect at 39,000 feet, a steady stream of whatever drinks you prefer, close personal attention, various forms of entertainment and on an international overnight flight, a seat that lowers flat, with a pillow and blanket.

Needless to say, the good stuff comes at a cost. On all but the longest flights, a jet’s capacity is limited by space, not weight. In typical installations an international business-class seat takes up about three to four times as much space as an economy seat; a domestic first-class seat or international premium-economy seat takes up a bit less than twice as much space as a coach seat. Clearly, those premium products will always command a premium price.

After a previous column on upgrading, a reader derided me by saying something like “your report is no good; everything you suggest costs extra.” Well, yeah. These days, the idea of a “free” upgrade is a myth. Maybe it was true once, but airlines now want to “monetize” just about everything, including upgrades. Even elite-level frequent flyers are finding upgrades scarcer every flight. So moving out of the cattle car will almost always cost something more — how much more depends, to a large extent, on how much more you get.

Stretch economy. Most big U.S. and Canadian airlines offer a “stretched coach” option that gives you a few inches of extra legroom, in what are otherwise ordinary, ultra-narrow coach seats. Typical prices are around $100 on a transcontinental trip, less on a short-haul flight. Elite level flyers often get this upgrade free. On some lines, all you get is the extra room, but others provide upgraded cabin service as well.

Premium economy. Most big Asian, European and Pacific airlines, plus Air Canada, have been offering true premium economy on their long-haul wide-body flights; the big U.S. lines are just now starting to add this product. Even the low-cost international lines typically offer some sort of premium service. Seating is a bit better than U.S. domestic first class, and most lines offer the usual mix of upgraded cabin service, dedicated check-in lanes at big airports and such. Prices generally range around double economy fares.

Discounted business class. On a long-haul intercontinental flight, business class is nirvana. The big three and JetBlue also offer international-style business class on key transcontinental routes. That’s where you get the flat beds, endless beverages and the rest. Big airlines often run flash sales on business-class tickets from North America to Asia or Europe. While list prices from Chicago to London, for example, start at more than $5,000 round trip, you often see prices as low as $2,000 or even less on sale. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time tracking airfares, several outfits, including firstclassflyer.com and mightytravels.com monitor premium deals ant notify you — for a stiff annual fee.

Low-fare business class? Not much. At this time, La Compagnie is the only low-fare all business-class airline around; it flies between Newark and Paris/De Gaulle. Currently, round-trip fares start at $1,500. Several startups have flopped, and I see nobody new on the horizon.

Auction. In many ways, the best way to upgrade is to enter an auction. Lots of airlines now auction off unsold premium seats for a fraction of the usual upgrade price: Emirates recently offered an upgrade from economy to business class from the U.S. to Dubai for $250, an offer I would have jumped at in a New York minute. The only problem with auctions is that if your bid is not successful, you’re stuck in the cattle car.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at [email protected] Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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