It is impossible to reserve business class seats due to the new type of traveler

The massive uptick in travel this summer in the US and Europe, two years after COVID-19 closures and border restrictions, has given rise to an entirely new class of onboard passengers — those who feast on airline tickets as if someone else was paying the bill.

“We’re seeing a strong new type of customer, which we’re calling the ‘luxury entertainment’ customer,” said Ben Smith, CEO of Air France. luck And other journalists over breakfast in Paris earlier this summer. It was impossible to miss this trend: the business class cabins of Smith’s planes were full, as they were on most airlines. However, there was hardly a business suit or bag in sight in the expensive seats. Smith said these passengers are “not traveling for business purposes.”

While some flyers in business class booths certainly charge fees for upgrading to corporate credit cards, many are snagging tickets by redeeming reward points or spending their savings — both of which have accumulated to an unusual degree during the pandemic, as restaurants have closed and holidays have been postponed.

“You have this huge amount of savings among the richest people, who are going to spend on business class, or even first class,” says Alexander Irving, European Airlines analyst at Bernstein. “If you can’t go on vacation for two years, you say, ‘I’ll give myself the trip of a lifetime. “

The hottest ticket

Summer “luxury leisure” travelers complicate matters for those on real business trips. With comfortable seats suddenly becoming the hottest airline ticket, businessmen have had to change route, reschedule meetings, or – horror – budget flying.

“It was like a hunger Games “Stand up if you need to take a last-minute flight,” says Henry Hartfeldt, industry analyst at global travel market research firm Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. “You can’t get a last minute ticket in business class, even if you’re a businessman and you’re not worried about the fare,” he says. “There were no seats available.”

The race for the highest priced seats has been a huge boost across the industry, after it has been hit by the two-year pandemic. Data on the size of the increase in bookings for First Class and Business Class cabins is rare, as most airlines keep these details secret. But in June, Delta said that out From the pandemic recession, “premium product revenue recovery outpaced [the] Main compartment in all markets. Like other airlines, Delta benefits from publications that redeem its mileage points, as banks and credit card companies issue payments to airlines that distribute rewards. The company said in June it had received $1.4 billion from them. American Express in the previous quarter.

Even more surprising, Harteveldt says, is the demand for business-class seats in destinations oriented more toward business than tourism. “You can always sell a business class seat between New York and London or Frankfurt,” he says. “But airlines have been surprised to see the demand for theme parks.”

Increase airline miles

Christopher Leung, 36, who works as a freelancer and lives in Vancouver, has been a regular at a business degree this summer, despite his average income of just $70,000 a year. Fly around the world on seven different flights – all in luxurious Business Class cabins, all booked with travel points. COVID interrupted his hectic 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 has carefully planned global travel this summer. His itinerary was entirely business class: Vancouver – Mexico City – Istanbul – Singapore – Doha – Stockholm – Seattle – Vancouver. He used about 260,000 miles for all seven trips, and 200,000 or so stayed in luxury hotels along the way.

The COVID-19 disruption has been great news for people like Leung. says Gilbert Ott, 35, president of God save the pointsa website dedicated to helping people earn and spend flying miles, which he launched in 2012. “When the economy is great and planes are full, loyalty is terrible.”

Winter pain is coming

But with summer now over, airlines fear the leisure trend may be as fleeting as dream vacations. Many small business owners and government officials are returning travel premiums, according to travel data companies, but appreciate that business travel is. Still almost 30% below pre-pandemic levels. This is largely because of Zoom Virtual meetings, conferences and conferences have become the norm for large corporations.

“A large number of business people do not travel, and many are not authorized to travel in business class,” Hartfeldt says. “This leaves the airlines lacking a critical source of revenue.”

World Business Travel Association Estimated last month It could take until 2026 for business travel spending to fully return to its 2019 level of more than $1.4 trillion.

“Our biggest companies are lagging companies, particularly banking, consulting and technology,” Andrew Watterson, Commercial Director of Southwest AirlinesAnd the For the Associated Press this week.

As winter approaches, “the picture isn’t great,” says Irving. “You go away in the summer, because that’s what you do. But are you going to 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 a looming recession in Europe. “Winter looks very challenging,” Irving says, adding that he expects some smaller European airlines to be out of business over the coming months.

Leung is perhaps a place away from the luxury entertainment group. It will be back in the air this winter. Of the remaining 1.5 million points or so, he’s already allotted 65,000 miles for a ticket on Japan’s ANA airline next January, from Tokyo’s Narita Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. “I saw that show, and knew I wanted it,” he says. On that flight, he will fly First grade.

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