When I got engaged, after saying ‘yes!’ and calling my mum, one of the first things I started considering was our honeymoon. I’m well known for my love of a freebie (I mean, who doesn’t enjoy getting something for nothing?) and I was particularly excited at the thought of the upgrades and super-star treatment I imagined we’d get. I could practically smell the lemon-scented hand towels in the first class lounge.
However, after speaking to many of my married friends, I came back down to economy class with a bump. There were a handful of upgrades, the odd glass of fizz and a few nice meals put together by hotel staff, between them.
So what is it reasonable to expect as travelling newly-weds? How can you ask for a bit of special fuss without winding up staff? And do you have any chance of making it beyond the elusive ‘First Class’ curtains on the plane?
When to mention the ‘H’ word
I would never mention the word honeymoon when you’re booking your travel,' advises Olivia. 'The only incentive is for companies to put their prices up, not down. But on arrival, make sure to tell them. Bringing a copy of your marriage certificate isn’t a bad idea, although people usually take it in good faith.'
Where to go
If you’re after freebie extras, it pays to plan your destination accordingly.
'Not only are the clichéd honeymoon destinations expensive by design, but everyone there will also be on honeymoon so you’re not going to get special treatment,' warns Olivia. 'Go for up-and-coming destinations that are trying to prove themselves worthy of honeymooners, that appreciate your custom. Plus these places are generally less expensive, so you’ll also be able to afford pampering even if you have to pay full price.'
The Lonely Planet Honeymoon Handbook has a list of alternative destinations, including:
• The Andaman Islands rather than the Maldives
• The Croatian coast rather than Tuscany
• Nepal rather than Bhutan
• Namibia rather than Botswana
• Ecuador rather than the Galapagos
I spoke to several leading airlines, and the news – I hate to say it – isn’t good. British Airways promised that if you let the cabin crew know you’re jetting off on honeymoon they will ‘do their best’ to look after you, but they made it clear that it would be incredibly optimistic to expect an upgrade. Meanwhile, Virgin Airlines refused to comment and United Airlines recommended buying an upgrade on the day if seats were available… not quite living the A-list dream.
It seems this is the general trend. 'Spontaneous flight upgrades are reportedly more difficult these days for regular passengers for three reasons,' says Olivia. 'Firstly airlines strategically reward their frequent flyers who have air miles or co-branded credit cards with upgrades, rather than random lovebirds with no brand loyalty.
'Secondly airlines often auction off premium seats a week before the flight (something worth looking at if you have any spare honeymoon budget.)
'Thirdly, modern planes are made with more room for coach passengers, so there’s now more competition for premium seats.'
That said – don’t give up hope entirely! 'Airport staff are generally nice people, and on a dull day at work, upgrading a grateful newly-wed couple will lift their day almost as much as yours,' says Olivia. 'But you need to make it easy for them. Be smart, friendly, subtle and sober. Treating yourself to some luxury carry-on luggage is not only a lovely wedding gift to yourselves that will last a lifetime, it will also ensure you start your honeymoon in style and look upgrade-ready when you arrive at the desk.'
How to get hotel upgrades
Hotels have been hit hard by the likes of Airbnb – and their loss could be your gain! 'Many honeymooning couples are now seeking out luxurious apartments rather than honeymoon suites, so if you do want to book a hotel you have better bargaining powers than ever,' says Olivia, 'you might even find an empty Penthouse on arrival – it’s worth asking!'
Which companies should you book through?
'It sounds counterintuitive, but I’d avoid Googling companies that are promoting ‘honeymoon deals’,' says Olivia. 'You don’t want your honeymoon experience to end up a disastrous deal that doesn’t live up to the sales pitch. If it’s sold on being cheap there’s a real danger it’s going to be underwhelming. Just do your research and book with a company that has a good reputation, offers a quality service and offers a honeymoon experience that suits you.'
If you’re set on an American adventure, consider Bon Voyage who offer tailor-made trips. They work closely with hotels in the USA and let them know when honeymooners are on their way, so they can surprise them with small gifts or upgrades.
If you’re treating yourself to a swanky suite, try Suiteness a company which offers luxury hotel suites across the USA and London (with a view to expand in the next future) at good prices. Honeymooners get a personal concierge to sort out any requests and reservations, plus upgrades wherever possible.
Alternatively, no matter where you’re headed, Mr and Mrs Smith always know the importance of a freebie (whether it’s a free massage, gifts or even a bottle of fizz) for anyone who books through them – not just honeymooners. They also have a Smith24 team who specialise in honeymoons and can help you build your ideal trip.
Hayes and Jarvis offers tailor made and package holidays to Hawai‘i for honeymooners which includes complimentary glasses of champagne and complimentary room upgrade at check-in. As there are no direct flights, this is also the perfect opportunity to stop off in Los Angeles or San Francisco on your way over.
How to get extras added
The best way to get honeymoon perks is simple – just ask!
'Although British people often find it hard to ask for things upfront, it’s definitely the best way,' says Olivia. 'Get chatting to your waiter, hotel manager or the owners of attractions you want to visit, tell them it’s your honeymoon and ask if there’s anything they can do. They are very likely to throw in a glass of champagne, an upgrade or a discount.
'Face to face people are generally more open and generous. It might not always work, but if you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get.'