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CEO Blog: Is Flying Business Class in Europe Worth It?

REDUCE YOUR TRAVEL COSTS

As the CEO of a travel management company and someone who travels regularly for work, I often get asked “Is flying business class worth it for short-haul trips?”. 

I wanted to take some time to delve into this topic and share my thoughts with fellow business travellers and clients. As a quick comparison, we looked for a weekday flight from London Heathrow to Frankfurt and found that the lowest airfare for a business class flight was £294, compared to £140 for economy. Is the cost difference worth it? Well, in my opinion the answer is not cut and dry - there are several factors to be considered.

 

Efficiency

From leaving the house to arriving at our destination, we all crave a smooth journey without delays, and business travellers especially want to land feeling refreshed and ready to focus on work.

In theory, the benefits of business class travel should ensure a seamless journey, with dedicated check-in desks and priority boarding, and many airlines offering more generous baggage allowance, priority security screenings and access to a private airport lounge – perfect for a quick and seamless journey through the airport.

But travel is not always straightforward, and unmanned check-in desks or unorganised boarding queues are not unheard of, along with busy lounges. Priority boarding sounds great on the face of it – until all passengers end up on the same coach to or from the airplane… If you are first on the bus, more often than not, you are the last off! Things don’t always work out the way they should, which can be even more frustrating if you have paid a premium specifically to take advantage of these benefits. In my many years of business travel though, I have been lucky enough to have had many positive experiences travelling within Europe and benefitting from all that comes with travelling in business class.    

 

Space and comfort

For many of our clients, it is vital for them to be able to work while they travel, which is where a business class lounge comes into its own, offering a quiet space to work away from bustling public areas, along with the benefits of having a bigger seat with space to use your laptop or read paperwork in privacy. I have had excellent experiences in BA lounges, where you can easily find a spot to settle in and prepare for the meetings ahead, or take some time to unwind before your flight. There are often varied food and drink choices readily available too. It is worth noting that the quality of lounges does vary between airlines, but in my humble opinion, the airline lounges are still better than the paid-for lounges you could gain access to as an economy or low-cost carrier traveller.

British Airways lounge in Gatwick Airport

British Airways lounge at Gatwick Airport

The same can be said once you are on the plane. The term ‘business class’ can evoke images of fully reclining lie-flat seats, but in reality, within Europe this is not normally the case. Business class passengers can certainly expect to enjoy larger seats, more legroom, privacy and adjustability, but if you have more specific requirements (like flat-bed seating for example), it is worth checking with us or your travel provider to confirm which seating options are available in advance.

 

Buyer Protection and Loyalty

Inevitably in corporate travel, plans occasionally must change. Generally speaking, business class tickets provide greater flexibility at the point of purchase and could allow for refunds and changes, perhaps more easily than economy fares. From time to time there are offers that will make business class tickets more attractive in price, but do come with higher penalties. 

Loyalty points could also help influence a traveller's decision because the points you can accrue travelling in business class far outweigh what they could flying in economy. Once accumulated, these points can help you achieve a higher status of loyalty with an airline and the subsequent benefits that brings, such as greater access to lounges.

 

Sustainability

In everything we do, we must think in terms of sustainability. Commentators have estimated that short-haul business class flights can have a carbon footprint per ticket around 50% larger than standard economy class. This is something to keep front of mind, but again, things are not always simple. For example, the amount of passengers, a plane’s weight and its fuel consumption all influence carbon emissions. Which is better; a densely packed economy flight or a more spaced-out business class flight? There are a lot of opinions on this subject, but it is hard to get to a place at the moment where one opinion is clearly more correct than another.

Some argue that for the aviation industry to become more sustainable, it will need large-scale investment from aircraft manufacturers and airlines which will, in part, need to come from the profits generated from higher value ticket sales i.e. from business and first-class travellers. Similarly, there may be some truth in the theory that revenues derived from business class ticket sales subsidise economy travellers. The only way to make a seat cheaper than its true cost for an economy traveller is to charge other passengers much higher prices – one passenger is supporting another?

As a business we continue to promote awareness around this topic and support our clients in travelling more sustainably, with help from our sustainability partner Trees4Travel. We can provide reporting at a granular level around C02 emissions on journeys taken.

 

Final thoughts

So, is European business class worth it?  From personal experience, where the cost differential has not been excessive (as a founder/owner/runner of a business, I am always conscious of how we spend our money), I have generally felt that the benefits of a short trip outweigh the negatives. I like to minimise my time at the airport, so priority at check-in and journey to the aircraft is important to me. I never seem to have enough time on short trips so being able to get some good, healthy food in a lounge is a positive, as is being able to spread out on the plane with your paperwork and laptop in privacy (even if that privacy is from your colleagues). The biggest disadvantage is when you’re first off the plane onto a bus, and then must wait for the whole plane to empty onto the same bus, which, frustratingly, could put you at the back of a passport queue!

For our clients it often boils down to two factors; the personal preference of the traveller, and the traveller’s company policy. For efficient, comfortable travel with higher levels of choice and protection, business class has its merits. Interestingly, a recent article from BTN Europe found that business travellers are now flying in premium cabins more often than they did pre-Covid. If you're cost-conscious or your company’s travel policy does not allow for flying business class, then economy will be more suitable. If the latter applies, there are still ways to elevate your experience, such as booking seats with extra legroom, choosing your seat location and pre-ordering meals. 

As a business we are well positioned to present our clients the best range of opportunities that fit their needs. For further information about flying business class or any other business travel arrangements, speak to our CT Business Travel team on 01892 673422 or contact us.

 

Mark Kempster
Founder and CEO

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