Rich getting richer, even at 30,00 feet

25 Dec

Associated Press airlines writer Scott Mayerowitz recently reported that while first- and business-class passengers combined comprise about 8 percent of international travelers, they generate about 27 percent of airline revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association. As a result, airlines are vying to attract the most profitable passengers by upgrading amenities for them to the tune of $2 billion.

Even with increased international travel, the number of first-class seats has been declining for at least two reasons: First, some airlines are finding it more profitable to expand international business class as opposed to first class. Second, there has been a rapid proliferation of lower-cost airlines with fewer premium-priced seats.

United is currently the only US domestic carrier that offers lie-flat seats on its Wi-Fi-enabled p.s.® Premium (first-class) service between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles and San Francisco.

TALKING DOLLARS AND SENSE

While first class has its benefits for the privileged, its cost is far out of reach for the average Joe. “On average, the cost of a first-class ticket is approximately three times more than an economy ticket on that same flight,’’ says Terri Cherolis, an American Express travel agent. Not surprisingly, most first-class travelers are business executives, celebrities, and some very frequent fliers who are able to take advantage of free upgrades.

A simple search on TripAdvisor.com/Flights from New York to London between January 11-18, 2012, returned four widely discrepant fares based on class: $649 round-trip coach (economy) on US Airways; $1,177 round-trip premium economy on British Airways; $3,412 round-trip business on Continental; and $10,676 round-trip first-class on American Airlines.

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“Now that first- and business-class have true flat beds, the distinction between the two is mostly the crew to passenger ratio, food quality and presentation, exclusivity of lounges, priority treatment at the airport, and a more comfortable seat,’’ says Wong, of SeatGuru.com. The cost of a first-class seat averages between 1 to 3 times more than one in business class.

“Even if you can afford it, first-class travel probably isn’t worth it,’’ says Rick Seaney, CEO of the website FareCompare.com. “The difference in price between first class and coach can pay for a week’s worth of hotels.’’

THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

While passengers with deep pockets are flying with extreme extras, the masses in coach are being nickeled and dimed to keep fares somewhat affordable. They are being scrunched into smaller seats and spaces while simultaneously being asked to pay more surcharges for everything from food, liquor, and snacks, to checked bags.

As a result, there is a growing middle class of business and premium economy travelers. Booking in advance, premium economy is generally 85 percent more expensive than coach, but about 65 percent less expensive on average than business class. British Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and United Airlines are among the airlines offering premium economy seating and Air France is expanding such seats on its fleet, Cherolis says.

Earlier this year, Air New Zealand offered a new twist on seating. The carrier placed 11 rows of Skycouch seats (22 seats in total) in the economy cabins of its new Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft. These “cuddle class’’ seats allow a couple (or individual) to lie flat across three seats, which have retracting armrests and flip-up footrests, for about 2 1/2 times the cost of a standard economy seat. The downside: The additional space was taken from the already narrow aisles in coach.

 

If you go…

8 WAYS TO SNAG

A FIRST-CLASS AIRFARE UPGRADE

When it comes to first class, there are few bargains to be found, but here are ways to lessen the pain if you are a mere mortal but want to fly like royalty:

1. Loyalty has its rewards. If you are able to rack up mileage on the same airline, achieving elite status will entitle you to upgrades – but be forewarned: Even among the elite, competition for a first-class upgrade is keen. Continental/United, Delta, Alaska, and US Airways are among the airlines that offer first-class upgrades on a space-available basis.

2. If you are not a frequent-enough flier, you can add to your airline points by combining them with points from purchases made on co-branded credit cards.

3. American Express Platinum Card holders can obtain a complimentary companion ticket when they book qualifying business or first-class international travel on one of 23 airline partners through Platinum Travel Service. (These tickets have no blackout dates or change fees, and are fully refundable.)

4. American Express charge card holders who do not have sufficient points to upgrade their tickets through an airline frequent flier program, can transfer membership rewards points to a partner airline reward program to upgrade an existing ticket.

5. FareCompare.com suggests that travelers take advantage of “Y-Up’’ or “Q-Up’’ fare code designations. While hard to find (you might try calling the airline and asking for them), these are discounted first-class tickets offered by domestic carriers in the United States and Canada. A coast-to-coast first-class seat purchased as a Q-Up ticket, for example, can cost as little as $400-$600 each way. The FareCompare website offers some tips on finding them.

6. Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, suggests checking with consolidators, travel agents, and big corporations, who generally have an easier time negotiating first-class travel than do individuals.

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7. On rare occasions, airlines release empty first-class seats at the gate for a relatively small upgrade cost. The carriers would rather make some money on this prime real estate than have it remain empty. Check with the airline reservations agent.

8. Let the flight attendant know if it is your centennial birthday and you have never flown first class, if your seat is completely broken (perhaps, without a back or operative seat belt), or if your seatmate appears to be suffering from typhoid or pneumonia. Maybe she will have pity on you and bring you forward.

visit jettab.com for the popular JETTAB Android tablet

 http://bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2011/12/25/class-wars-sky-the-gap-between-first-class-and-coach-widens/aCQSGOv8Z3TGOaIIhxzCnI/story.html

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