Business Class vs. Coach Class

It’s a tug-of-war between the “bean counters” and the “been counted (unworthy of an upgrade)”. If you’re not on your company’s VIP list, good luck with getting business class to Singapore…

Cheaper business airfares still a tough sell in today’s economy –

Trying to lure business travelers back into more expensive seats, airlines have slashed business-class fares to foreign cities. Many business-class airfares to Europe this fall are 33% to 66% cheaper than a year ago, an analysis by finds.

While the cheaper fares are more attractive to cost-conscious companies, they are still a tough sell in this economy. In fact, some companies are requiring employees to buy only coach tickets, which traditionally are one-fourth to one-eighth the price of business class.

Delta Air Lines’ cheapest round trip, a non-stop New York-London coach ticket on Oct. 7, for example, was $716 for an Oct. 23 departure and an Oct. 30 return. The least-expensive business-class fare for the same flight was $4,634.

“The real question is: Will business travelers pay substantially more for a more comfy ride as companies move toward increased austerity?” asks CEO Rick Seaney.

From what I can see, booking a lot of international travel for one major multinational client, the old days of expecting to fly business class are over unless you’re either a Vice President or other VIP with your corporation, or you luck into a free upgrade. It’s true that in some markets there are now heavily discounted, nonrefundable round-trip business class fares in the most competitive markets, but even then, they’re 4 or 8 times the cost of a discount, nonrefundable coach fare. AND they have bigger change penalties, in some cases approaching $300.00-$400.00 plus difference in fares. In the case of the company I’m currently “tied” to, there are now directives in place that state that a manager or higher must approve the purchase of a business class fare, via email in most cases. However, it’s a lot easier to get a “yes” if it’s a nonrefundable fare of, say, $3500 versus a refundable fare of $7,000-$8,500.

That said, the upgrade certificates that many corporate agencies administer on behalf of their accounts are now worth their weight in gold. They’re often given out in packs to companies that have corporate discount deals with international carriers, as a way to sweeten the deal.

As for domestic travel, some airlines are really good about offering either “free upgrade” coach fares that automatically get rebooked into the forward cabin when priced (typically they are booked in the last 2 or 3 pricing categories to sell out). Others are really good about upgrading frequent flyers as soon as they detect a new booking by a high-mileage traveler has been ticketed. Yet others don’t give out a lot of upgrades unless your mileage is stratospheric… but they do hand out a fair number of tightly controlled “free” tickets. As you might think, profitability is a problem for a couple of the examples I have in mind.

Still other airlines are operated like airborne cattle cars, yet continue to be profitable without any forward cabin at all. Why? Because they provide reliable, reasonably priced, friendly service (well, Southwest/WN, anyway).

Hmm… ironically, they’re getting the business without bothering about the class.

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