Just Go – United Airlines

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Stop saving to go overseas – just go! Travel editor Susie Boswell says there’s never been a better time to pack your bags and grab a cheap airfare.

There’s a tendency of would-be travellers to see a bargain-priced international airfare and assume there’s a catch or that it will still be available next month. Both assumptions are likely wrong.

Fares to popular destinations are so attractive right now there’s a danger the looming, inevitable return to normal fares could eat up much of the extra cash you might accumulate by waiting to travel later and continuing to save. Current return fares to London and the US are way lower in today’s dollars than they were when I made my first trip abroad many years ago. My family travelled recently to Los Angeles for just over $900 return; some mates also made the journey in economy with change from $1000. As well, the $A is on the rise again, its purchasing power a healthy US85c and climbing.

Many travellers resent the cost of travel. We want to spend our money on our holiday, not on getting there. Yet Australia’s so distant, it’s a cost we have to be prepared to wear. And it’s one that’s never been more reasonable. Close-lying magnets like Fiji, Singapore and Bali will always be there and special fares to these neighbouring spots offered as seasonal, or geopolitical, factors dictate. The flavour of the month depends on influences as varied as tsunamis, military coups, new airlines entering the route (Tiger’s single-digit specials) or, sadly, terrorist acts.

Long haul, there’s a lot to be said for choosing a national carrier of the country you’re visiting. My mates flew United Air (America’s biggest) to west-coast US and loved the connecting-flight options, avoiding the need to collect, lug and re-check their baggage, especially after a lengthy flight. Their hefty bags sailed straight from Sydney through LAX to their first stopover in Denver without a hitch: quite a bonus when you have to contend with transiting the maddening maze of LA International Airport!

My friends, frequent overseas travellers, found United’s seats very comfortable: “United’s got Emirates and Qantas beaten for comfy seats,” was their verdict. What’s more, they complimented United in regard to one of the critical elements of overseas air travel: “Very friendly, nice stewards!” they said of the flight attendants: a rare accolade for cabin crew, particularly in economy. Personally, I rate flight attendants’ attitudes second only to safe aircraft maintenance in choosing an airline.

I must say my mates, however, have some criteria of their own I don’t share: big on in-flight activity and accustomed to enjoying free drinks and video entertainment options, they were disappointed there was no free booze nor personal TV screens (so, no on-demand movies), despite the fact they’d been lucky enough to have been upgraded to Economy Plus.* Yet these drawbacks ended up a bonus: the absence of personal video meant no equipment boxes under the seats cramping the leg room that’s so important on a long flight and: “No free alcohol meant I slept like a baby on the flight!” said the husband of the pair. “For the first time I arrived well-rested, quite a handy novelty.” On the minus side, the couple weren’t crazy about the airline food (know anyone who is?). For mine, while I’ve had some great food in the plane’s pointy end, flying’s not an occasion to expect anything more than basic sustenance. Planes for flying; restaurants for dining. My friends found toilet-maintenance lax towards the end of the flight, a daunting aspect and a big no-no, especially when we like to freshen up before landing. But this and other lapses occur across most airlines; it’s the luck of the draw on the day, especially when flying in sale-fare seats. My tip’s to always hold good travel insurance against important negative events: well worth it if you need use it, a blessing when you don’t. As in many key life crises, most infuriating-at-the-time discomforts are soon forgotten. My friends’ verdict on flying United: “It was so cheap, terrific! We had the kind of experience we expected for what we paid. And we had an extra $2000-plus to spend on our holiday.”

* Visit www.united.comfor info on bargain-priced 12cm extra legroom in Economy Plus. Cut-throat competition on long-haul routes means sale fares aren’t signalled long ahead, and don’t last long. Check sites, and with travel agents, frequently.

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