Looking for a cheap but sure-to-please gift to bring back from your next trip? Skip fridge magnets and other bits of travel tchotchke.
That simple amenity kit from business class, or better yet first class, is a perennial fave among frequent flyers.
Those stylish yet practical bags packed with moisturisers, lip balms and other goodies are like a showbag for the more earth-bound friends, family and colleagues who, when they do fly, have to rough it in the cheap seats.
And as airlines continue to chase well-heeled high flyers, they continue to reach for top-shelf brands to keep ahead of the competition.
Qantas dishes out luxe SK-II cosmetics including cleansers and moisturisers to first class passengers, with the ladies’ kit offered in an attractive red clutch-style bag (blokes get male-oriented SK-II products in a black twin-pocket kit).
The Flying Kangaroo’s business class amenity kits are lotions from Malin+Goetz New York in a Kate Spade bag which happens to be the perfect size for holding your smartphone, Kindle ebook reader or a small (7-inch) tablet.
Emirates matches Bulgari bags with Bulgari products, including fragrances and body lotion.
British Airways serves up skincare products from Aromatherapy Associates in the women’s first class kit and London grooming specialist The Refinery for the mens’ version, and includes useful items such as a small deodorant stick.
Singapore Airlines' first class kit is a super-stylish Salvatore Ferragamo bag which was judged Best Female First Class Bag in this year’s international Airline Amenity Bag Awards (we kid you not, those awards exist – although they rate the bags themselves rather than their contents). Inside are high-class skin care products from Sothys.
Cathay Pacific is another airline that’s gone for the name route for its bags. Ladies flying in first class get a Trussardi clutch with products from Australia’s own Aesop, while the gents' Ermenegildo Zegna kit contains salves from Acca Kappa.
Even in business class you’ll score an amenity kit in a pouch designed by agnès b, Cathay's partner since 2007 and one reason why cast-off CX amenity kit bags are a hit with many young women.
If you miss out
And if you’re missing out in economy, keep an eye open for discarded amenity kits if you walk through the business class cabin to leave the plane.
This is not just to treat yourself, because even an empty bag is highly practical. It’s ideal as a gadget bag to stow your smartphone power cable, USB memory keys and other digital doodads.
Or, of course, it can be pressed into service as your own compact toiletries kit.
Which brings us to the DIY amenity kit – because few travellers’ needs are fully served by even the first class toiletries bag.
Do it yourself, do it better
No matter which end of the plane I fly in, I always bring a customised amenity kit.
It’s got a few of the essentials, such as the mandatory toothbrush and toothpaste, plus moisturiser lifted from the amenity kits of earlier flights. (At the moment I’m on the last of the Payot men’s range from the previous Qantas first class kit).
I’ve also added small travel-friendly sized tubes of Kiehl's eye firming gel and Aveda hair product to help me look a little more human at the end of the flight.
The final ingredients: some herbal valerian sleeping pills to help nudge me off to sleep, and a tube of Berocca for a pre-landing pick-me-up.
Of course, it should all fit into a single zip-lock plastic bag with no liquid or gel more than 100ml, for passing through pre-flight scanning.
What do other regular travellers pack in their BYO bag?
I put the question to members of the Facebook group Frequent Flyers Australia and found some great suggestions worth sharing.
Eyeshades are very popular, both from airline first class kits as well as the Magellans’ eye mask.
Lip balm (Burt’s Bees wax was popular), breath mints, eyedrops and roll-on deodorant are common items among regular travellers.
A nasal decongestant spray or Vicks inhaler can help defray the drying effects of air conditioning, while a small fragrance sampler can also help freshen you up on arrival.
A shoehorn can be handy to wedge yourself back into your shoes when your feet have swollen at the end of a long flight, although I find slip-ons avoid this as well as being easier to take off for airport security checks.
One traveller puts a small ziplock bag containing an eyeshade, gel earplugs and sleeping tablets into his pants pocket so that he doesn’t need to dig around in his carry-on bag to find them.
The essential ingredients for any amenity kit were “Valium and a sense of humour!” suggested one frequent flyer, while another said the sole contents of his kit was four 50ml bottles of Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky.
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.