Business class seats are impossible to book because of the new type of travelers

Business class seats are impossible to book because of the new type of travelers
Business class seats are impossible to book because of the new type of travelers

The rise of mass travel to the U.S. and Europe this summer, after two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and border restrictions, has given rise to a whole new class of flight travelers — those who are splurging on plane tickets like no one else is footing the bill.

“We’re seeing a strong new type of customer, what we call the ‘luxury leisure’ customer,” Air France CEO Ben Smith told Fortune and other reporters at a breakfast in Paris earlier this summer. The trend was impossible to miss: The business class cabins on Smith’s plane were full, as they were on most airlines. Yet there wasn’t a business suit or briefcase in sight in the high-priced seats. Those passengers, Smith said, “are not flying business.”

While some fliers in business class cabins are certainly charging corporate credit cards for upgrades, many are snapping up tickets by redeeming rewards points or spending their savings—both of which have piled up to unusual levels during the pandemic, as restaurants are closed and remote. The holiday has been postponed.

“You have this huge pool of savings among rich people, who will be spread over business class or even first class,” says Alexander Irving, European airline analyst at Bernstein. “If you can’t go on vacation for two years, you say, ‘I’m going to treat myself to a trip of a lifetime.’”

Most popular travel tickets

Summer “luxury leisure” travelers complicate matters for genuine business travelers With cushy seats suddenly the hottest ticket in travel, businesspeople were forced to reroute, reschedule meetings or—horror—fly economy.

“It was like a Hunger Games scramble if you wanted to make a last-minute trip,” said Henry Hartvelt, an industry analyst at global travel market research firm Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. “You couldn’t get a last-minute ticket in business class, even if you were a businessman and not worried about fares,” he says. “There were no seats available.”

After two years of being crippled by the pandemic, the competition for top-priced seats has been a huge boost across the industry. Data on how much business and first class cabin bookings have grown is scarce, as most airlines keep such specifics secret. But in June, Delta said that emerging from the pandemic recession, “premium product revenue recovery has advanced [the] Main cabin across all markets.” Like other airlines, Delta benefits fliers by redeeming their mileage points, while banks and credit card companies pay the carrier that issues the rewards. The airline said in June that it earned $1.4 billion from American Express in the previous quarter.

Most surprising, Hartvelt said, was the demand for business class seats in destinations more for tourism than business. “You can always sell a business class seat between New York and London or Frankfurt,” he says. “But the airlines were surprised by the demand for leisure cities.”

Racking up airline miles

Christopher Leung, a 36-year-old freelancer who lives in Vancouver, was a regular at a business class this summer, despite his average annual income of $70,000. He circumnavigated the globe on seven different flights—all in luxurious business class cabins, all booked with travel points. Covid put a stop to his busy travel schedule in 2020 and 2021, so he spent that time perfecting his point collecting skills.

By early 2022, Leung had 2 million rewards points across 20 credit cards, and decided it was time to spend big. He carefully planned this summer’s world tour. His flight itinerary, entirely in business class, was: Vancouver-Mexico City-Istanbul-Singapore-Doha-Stockholm-Seattle-Vancouver. He used about 260,000 mileage points for seven flights and another 200,000 or so in luxury hotel stays along the way.

The Covid-19 disruption was great news for people like Leung. “Retention bonuses and sign-up bonuses were huge during the pandemic,” said Gilbert Ott, 35, head of God Save the Points, a site dedicated to helping people earn and spend airline miles, which he launched in 2012. did “When the economy is great and the planes are full, loyalties are terrible.”

Winter pain ahead

But now that summer is over, airlines fear the leisure-luxury trend could prove as fleeting as that dream vacation. Many small-business owners and government officials are back at a premium, according to the travel data firm, but they estimate that business travel is still about 30% below pre-pandemic levels. This is mainly because Zoom meetings and virtual meetings and conferences have become the norm for large companies.

“A critical number of business people are not traveling, and many of them are not authorized to travel in business class,” Hartvelt said. “This leaves airlines lacking a very important source of revenue.”

The Global Business Travel Association estimated last month that it could take until 2026 for business travel spending to fully return to 2019 levels of more than $1.4 trillion.

“Our biggest corporates are lagging behind, especially banking, consulting and technology,” Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Watterson told the AP this week.

As winter approaches, “the picture is not great,” Irving says. “You go in the summer, because that’s what you do. But would you visit Budapest for a long weekend in November, just for a change of scenery? The answer is probably no, given rising food and electricity costs and an outright recession in Europe. “The winter looks quite challenging,” Irving said, adding that he expects some smaller European airlines to go out of business in the coming months.

Leung is perhaps an outlier among the luxury retirement set. He will return to the air this winter. Of his remaining 1.5 million or so points, he has already pledged 65,000 mileage points for a ticket from Tokyo’s Narita Airport to New York’s JFK next January on Japan’s ANA Airlines. “I saw that offer, and knew I wanted it,” he says. On that flight, he will fly first class.

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews and investigations.

The article is in Bengali

Tags: Business class seats impossible book type travelers

PREV Rush back to rezone farm land for business park – Daily Gazette
NEXT What Papon said about Mahmudullah’s retirement