It's War! Business vs. Vacation Flyers

Which flyers have the better overall experience? Probably those who can afford Etihad Airway’s new Residence class, which can only be described as an apartment in the sky complete with shower and butler [sample fare: London-Abu Dhabi, about $42,000 round-trip].

Passenger Opponents

But let’s talk real-life, average flight experiences. Here is the match-up:

  • Leisure travelers: These are folks who mostly fly on vacation and purchase tickets in advance to save on airfare. Find them seated in coach class and occasionally in premium economy.
  • Business travelers: These folks fly on business – frequently – and typically buy more expensive tickets because they’re purchased at the last minute. Find them seated in business class and occasionally in first.

Who Gets the Good Stuff

Let’s dissect the perks and perils.

Win-Loss Column for Leisure

  • Win: Cheaper fares. Even in the peak of summer vacation season, base prices have risen on average only about 2 percent since last year.
  • Win: Hikes aren’t sticking. The airlines have not proven very successful in raising airfares overall mainly because when fares get too high, leisure travelers don’t buy.
  • Loss: Airlines like JetBlue and Virgin America are the latest to cut routes (in both cases to free up planes for more lucrative markets favored by business travelers) and this is hurting some smaller and not-so-small cities.
  • Loss: Fewer freebies and Frontier’s new Economy class is Exhibit A since it means passengers pay extra for fee for seat selection, checked and carry-on bags and even soft drinks.
  • Loss: What I call a higher convenience upcharges, meaning higher fares for preferred flights like a 8 a.m. non-stop versus the less desirable 6 a.m. flight.

Win-Loss Column for Business

  • Win: New jets with nicer and more plentiful cabin amenities. Who needs a butler when so many coast-to-coast flights offer lie-flat seats in business class?
  • Win: Better miles program benefits in more loyalty programs including American and Delta, which improves the chances of getting coveted awards flights.
  • Loss: Higher airfares, which is a given, but airlines have also targeted business fares in the last few attempted hikes.
  • Loss: Thanks to relaxed rules allowing the use of electronic devices on flights from take-off to landing  – coupled with more Wi-Fi availability on more flights – more and more employers may expect a day on a plane to be nearly as productive as a day at the office.

And the Winner Is ?

The business traveler, by a nose. He or she must pay more but they get the goodies (including miles) plus the boss usually picks up the tab for the flight. On the other hand, while they work on their spreadsheets, leisure travelers can watch the latest popcorn extravaganza from Netflix.


Published: May 13, 2014