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Guide: Fly First Class Cheaper by Going Ex-EU

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I am currently sat in the British Airways Galleries Lounge South in Heathrow Terminal 5, waiting for my flight to Stockholm. I’m not holidaying in Stockholm, I’m just going there for a night so that tomorrow I can fly Etihad First Class for less than half the price I would have paid going from London. And that brings me to this guide – making First Class more attainable by flying ‘Ex-EU’.

The Facts

What: ‘Ex-EU’ is starting an itinerary from a European country outside of the UK.

Why: The UK has much higher departure taxes than many EU countries. Ex-EU flights also often form a less than desirable itinerary, even routing back through London. For example, on this itinerary I’ll be flying London to Stockholm on BA then onward to, Munich, Abu Dhabi and Seoul, coming back through Abu Dhabi, London, Stockholm and back again to London! But this combination of lower taxes and slightly less marketable routings means big savings! I’m flying four First Class Etihad flights and two short-haul flights in Business for just over £2,300. Flying Etihad First Class London to Seoul would have cost me £5,600.

I’ll also get more miles for my complicated itinerary because I’m coving more distance/legs. This means you earn airline miles at a faster rate and attaining reward flights becomes more achievable.

The How

Finding an Ex-EU

I find Ex-EU departures using Google Flights, entering destinations that I know are often cheaper for certain airlines and destinations. Google allows you to enter up to five departure cities at once. You can also search for flexible destinations, like “Asia”.

Google Flights lets you search from multiple different cities in various countries, or to flexible destinations. It’s the fastest way to find Ex-EU!

The following are my list of favourites cities to search with. The list is not exhaustive of Ex-EU departure points but is certainly a good start.

Weigh up the Cost versus Inconvenience

An Ex-EU departure may present a saving, but you need to factor in the cost of a positioning flight and possibly a hotel if you need to travel out the night before. For my Etihad itinerary, the cost of flying to and staying in Stockholm was nothing against the £3,300 saving. But sometimes, for example, flying from Inverness to Nashville instead of direct from London in August, a net saving of a couple of hundred quid was not worth it.

Book a Positioning Flight

You will, of course, need to get to the city of your Ex-EU departure. This will be booked as a separate ticker and often under a separate airline. You, therefore, need to make sure you are not risking your main itinerary in any way:

Leave plenty of time: I even like to stopover in the city the night before to be extra sure I will not lose my main ticket as a result of any disruption. If your positioning flight is delayed and you miss your Ex-EU departure, the airline is under no obligation to (and probably won’t) put you on a different flight.

Compare baggage rules: There is no use booking a First Class flight and using your full two or three checked 32kg bags if your positioning flight is hand luggage only. Do not get stung with excess baggage fees at the airport.

Consider a back to back: In some cases it is possible to fly to your Ex-EU destination, then get off and back on the plane straight away, commencing your main itinerary. This will be when everything is under the same airline. It can speed up the whole process and inconvenience, but you will still need to get off and clear security, even potentially collecting your bags.

Paying for your Ex-EU Itinerary

Many airlines have the policy that they must charge the customer in the currency of the originating city. This can add on a hefty surcharge to your booking, due to foreign transaction fees. Ways around this include getting a credit card which converts at a near-perfect foreign exchange rate with no fees. I personally use the Halifax Clarity Mastercard. Alternatively, you can look to book through an online travel agent, such as Expedia, who will charge in your own currency. But sometimes there is still a price difference between what Expedia.co.uk will charge you, versus going to the Expedia website of the departure country.

Completing you Itinerary

If like me, you are passing through London on your way back home, but completing in a European city, it is very VERY tempting to just get off in London. Although not illegal, this is highly frowned on by airlines. If you have checked bags, forget it, because your checked bags will be checked through to the end destination. As a best case, you will lose the miles you would have earnt from that leg, but the airline could void your miles, make you pay the fare difference for what it would have cost to end in the UK, or freeze your frequent flyer account. That said, I will always ask at the check-in desk if I can collect by bags early due to a change of plans, but don’t get your hopes up!

The Conclusion

Ex-EU departures are not for everyone, but in my opinion, it is the Number 1 way to making luxury travel attainable. Some people will prioritise ease and speed to their end destination, which Ex-EU rarely offers. But it can also take you places you may not otherwise see. I’ve now got a day exploring Stockholm that I wouldn’t have otherwise planned!

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