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Basic business: Your next flight up front might be purchased a la carte

June 19, 2021
5 min read
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Travelers on a budget have a new way to fly business class with the introduction of restrictive "basic business," fares. Only a few airlines have introduced it so far — but could it be part of a growing trend toward a no-frills fare for premium cabins?

The latest airline to unveil a so-called basic business class comes from Finnair, which rolled out a new 'Business Light' fare this week. Travelers get a seat up front and carry-on bags, but that’s it. They’ll lose the premium airport experience and most other extras.

Finnair says its Business Light fares will give more options to customers who want a better in-flight experience without a hefty price tag. Business Light is being offered "for all short-haul and most intercontinental journeys."

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Finnair’s announcement of Business Light follows similar developments from several other airlines. In 2019, Emirates created a business-class fare type called "Special." Likened to basic economy, the Emirates Special fare only includes a business-class seat, inflight service and checked bags while excluding key amenities like chauffeur service and lounge access. Even complimentary seat selection is excluded from the Special fare.

Qatar Airways followed with its own version of a no-frills premium fare in late 2020, rolling out what is called the "Classic" business fare. Similar to Emirates, Qatar's Classic business only comes with the inflight business-class experience and checked bags.

Japanese airline ZIPAIR also recently began offering an unbundled business-class fare, as originally reported by PaxEx.aero in October 2020. Called the "Customize on your own" option, this base business fare does not even include meals or amenity kits -- everything must be purchased a-la-carte.

Finnair's announcement could signal a continuation of this trend. Just like how basic economy in the United States has become the norm after just a few years, it's left us wondering if basic business could become just as common.

Read More: Reconsidering Basic Economy

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These new fare types have mixed implications. On one hand, the added option of unbundled fares gives travelers more flexibility in choosing the best fare type for their situation. On the other hand, these new fares can be so restrictive that they might not be worth the savings. Further, some critics contend that these fare types are a backdoor way for airlines to raise overall prices.

As for Finnair, let's look at the specifics of its basic business fare and see if it is worth the savings.

Just how restrictive is Business Light?

You'll still have the full business-class experience once you're onboard. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Here’s how Finnair’s Business Light ticket type compares to its traditional business-class experience:

What’s the same?

  • Business-class seat and inflight service (including meals)
  • Carry-on and personal item allowance

What’s different?

  • No complimentary lounge access
  • No complimentary checked bags
  • No priority check-in, baggage, boarding or security.
  • Seat selection for a fee
  • Fewer miles: a 150% multiplier on award and tier points compared to 200% or 250% for a standard business-class ticket
  • No complimentary WiFi
  • Changes not allowed (not currently applicable due to pandemic)

Potential savings

Let’s see how much money a Business Light fare could save on a short-haul flight:

On a Finnair flight in August from Helsinki (HEL) to London Heathrow (LHR), purchasing a Business Light fare equates to 65 Euros ($79) in savings.

(Screenshot Courtesy of Finnair)

While Business Light could be worth it for a traveler with just a carry-on bag, travelers with multiple checked bags should consider other fare options. On an intra-Europe flight, each checked bag costs 25 euros ($30) on Finnair. This means that a Business Light traveler with two checked bags would pay 50 euros ($60) of checked bag fees and would have their fare savings nearly canceled out on a short-haul flight.

The savings are higher on long-haul flights such as Helsinki to New York or Tokyo. However, note that Business Light is not available on every long-haul flight. A TPG search for Finnair flights on various dates in the summer and fall did not return basic business fares on any flight originating in the U.S. — though it was an option on round-trip flights from Finland to the U.S.

Here's what a "light" fare would look like on a HEL to JFK routing in October.

(Screenshot courtesy Finnair)

Read a review of Finnair's long-haul business product here.

Bottom Line

Though not every traveler will benefit from this new type of fare, basic business could be the perfect option for someone simply wanting a premium experience onboard their next flight at a more affordable price — and the option could be coming to more airlines soon.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more