The Big Business of Business Class Cabins

by on August 3, 2013 · 8 comments

in British Airways, Lufthansa, New York Times, Travel Industry

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I just read a pretty interesting article in the NYT about the fierce competition between airlines to build the perfect business class seat- one that maximizes both passenger comfort and airline revenue. The piece interviews a bunch of industry execs who offer unique insight to the behind the scenes “arms race” that is going on to woo premium passengers. If you enjoy flying up front, it offers a great snapshot of what airlines have been doing to research the passenger experience and also what’s to come.

New Lufthansa business class is lie-flat, but not private

New Lufthansa business class is lie-flat, but not private

Business Class Economics
Thanks to my miles and points hobby/addiction, I’ve become accustomed to flying in business and first class at affordable prices. Even as airlines pump out more miles and credit cards offer mega-bonuses, I still take for granted the ability to go pretty much anywhere in the world in comfort. This is especially important for me as a 6’7″ traveler- coach simply wasn’t made for “people of height”. I have to imagine that if miles/points didn’t exist I would travel much less.

However, I rarely think about the economics of the business and first class cabin since I rarely pay full price for those seats. I often check the prices of the flights I take and my eyes frequently attempt to leave their sockets when I see how much airlines charge for premium seats. Let’s say you live in Boston and needed to be in London for last minute meetings this week. Paid business class flights on British Airways are going for $8,154.46!
BA Paid BOS LONThat same exact flight can be “purchased” with 80,000 Avios and $1,153.46. Paying over a grand for taxes and fees on an award ticket is a hard pill to swallow for many in the miles/points world, but it is still amazing to see how each Avios saves you 8.7 cents, or $7,000 in total.
BA Business Award BOS LON
The value here could be multiplied as well if you have the British Airways Visa and the Travel Together award that comes along with $30,000 in spend- you could get two of these tickets for the same 80,000 Avios and double the taxes/fees ($2,306), so $16,308 in travel for 80,000 Avios and $2,306, each Avios saving over 17.5 cents!

Clearly the downside is that there needs to be award availability and that won’t always align with your trip, but still, business owners should get in on the points game because maximizing points for premium travel can save huge amounts on the bottom line. I know many small business owners with millions of points, but they don’t know how to use them to save on travel and often redeem for gift cards for employee incentives. I think a lot of people assume that there won’t be award inventory at the last minute, but that couldn’t be further from the truth as many airlines unload saver level awards in the weeks/days leading up until departure.

The bottom line is that premium cabins are focus areas for the airlines and we should expect to see improvements increase over the next couple years, even on US carriers who have historically lagged behind many international carriers. That being said, airlines want to see a return on this investment so I anticipate the cost to sit in these seats will increase, even for those redeeming miles and points. In the meantime, take advantage of amazing business class redemptions before they’re gone!

5 of My Favorite Rounds Trip Business Class Awards
1) 90,000 US Airways miles for North America to North Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, S. Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.) Even though US Airways doesn’t fly to Asia you can redeem on any Star Alliance partner, including Taipei-based Eva Air which serves Dom Perignon in business class. You can buy 90,000 US miles for ~$1,700 through their current 100% Buy Miles promotion.
2) 62,500 mile Flying Blue Promo Awards US to Europe. Taxes are high, but the cent per mile can be a great value when comparing the cost of purchasing business class. Flying Blue also includes Israel as a part of Europe, making
3) 280,000 Delta SkyMiles for a Round the World award with up to 6 stopovers.
4) 110,000 US Airways miles  North America to Australia/South Pacific. Even though US Airways doesn’t fly to Asia you can redeem on any Star Alliance partner and include a stopover in Asia.
5) 50,000 British Airways Avios for Boston to Dublin on partner Aer Lingus roundtrip with only ~$40 in fees. British Airways charges ~$1,000 in fees for business class awards when you fly on their planes or most of their Oneworld partners, but not when you fly Aer Lingus or Air Berlin. Their awards are based on distances and Boston-Dublin comes in right under the threshold for 80,000 mile roundtrip awards so you can get the roundtrip for just 50,000 Avios.

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  • Daniel

    New to the “points world” and I was wondering your opinion of these economy plus seats on United. I was able to purchase two tickets from Birmingham, AL to Honolulu using my US Air bonus miles. I know they are no business or first class seats but have you even flown in the Economy Plus “area”. Thanks! I really find your website enjoyable and helpful.

  • RakSiam

    That is a good article. I just rode the 747-8 a few weeks ago. Since I had a pair of seats to myself it was nice. And upstairs we were only about half full. But with it seatmate it would have felt a bit more cramped I think. Flew OS’s new business class on the 767 on the way home. Liked the privacy of the 1-2-1 layout. I think LH missed the boat as the article mentioned by not having aisle access for all.

  • joeypore

    Just flew on AA’s new 777-300ER in F from DFW / LHR… I was going to just stick with J, but the upgrade was available.. so I figured why not? Honestly…wasn’t all that better than the old F, and the new remote was frustrating to me. Really looking forward to trying out the new J class.

    But J class obviously makes the most sense these days. Very few people that don’t get mounds of miles (I include myself in that as I’m primarily earning from CC sign ups and manufactured spend) don’t want to splurge for F when they just want to be comfortable. Very tall people like yourself excluded, 99% of the population are completely satisfied with J, and I think that’s where the industry is headed. I, for one, am excited to see AA retrofit all of their 772s with the new business seats, removing F altogether. But I think the majority of consumers and the airline industry agrees:

    Business is the new First class.

  • Jasmine

    Don’t bother……..they may have a little extra legroom but thats it. Treated just like a regular coach. Not worth the price IMO. Especially on a domestic flight I know I get upgraded on united for free to economy + due to status a lot and it only benefit for me is being closer to the front.

  • Andy

    As a 6’5 traveler without anywhere near enough points to travel business class, economy plus is huge for me. It’s the difference between a tolerable overseas flight versus a miserable one. I get it on every flight I can, including domestic.

  • infomofo

    Do you have any updated advice on the delta round the world business class award? My fiance and I both have over 280k skymiles and it looks like an amazing deal- we’d love to do it for our honeymoon next August. A few questions:

    1) How early in advance should we book it to guarantee business class seats on all the flight legs we want?

    2) Given the announced skymiles changes early next year should I just go ahead and book that this year?

  • martin

    Hi, number 2 at the end got cut off making…
    Which kind of points do I need to travel to Israel with flying blue and which airline can I go for only 62500?

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