In a serious shakeout of how business class fares are sold, Emirates has decided to unpack its business class offering on selected flights. It represents a significant shift in strategy by Emirates, an airline that has always styled itself as a full service premium carrier.
A report in One Mile At A Time has broken the news that Emirates is introducing a fourth fare tier in business class: the business ‘special’ fare class H.
Why is this significant ?
Business class fares have traditionally been bundled; that is, all inclusive. Having bundled and unbundled business class fares is traditionally the domain of low cost carriers like Jetstar.
For many passengers, especially those passengers who don’t fly all that often or when they do it’s in economy, flying business class can be a real treat. They want the full experience. You often seem them onboard. They are genuinely thrilled to be there while everyone else is overwhelmed with ennui.
This new fare type will be closely watched by other airlines and may be the beginning of the end for the all inclusive fully bundled business class experience many of us so enjoy. With this new fare type, Emirates passengers will still get the same onboard experience as every other business class passenger. In a statement to Simple Flying, Emirates said,
“Passengers booked on a Business Class ‘Special’ fare will continue to enjoy our award-winning services and products on-board, a generous baggage allowance of up to 40 kgs, and priority boarding at their convenience.”
The difference will be felt on the ground. This new fare doesn’t provide chauffeur transfers, lounge access, or points upgrades to first. There are restrictions on seat selection, cancelling the ticket, and a AED600 fee for making changes.
Emirates joins British Airways as the only two full service carriers to restrict seat selection for some of their business class passengers.
What’s the saving?
Firstly, this new fare type came online on 10th June 2019, but for the time being it is only available for selected flights from limited countries. A sample search by Simple Flying for flights to Dubai on 15 November 2019 from Johannesburg, Los Angeles, London and Sydney saw no signs of the fare being available.
Research by The Points Guy suggests that the fare is only currently available on flights originating out of Dubai and near neighbour countries. An Emirates spokesperson told Simple Flying the fares “will be offered on certain routes based on seasonal trends in travel demand”.
The savings can be small for a short haul flight, but begin to rise for a long haul trip. In a dummy booking between Dubai and New York the difference between the business saver fare and the business special fare is approximately USD$400.
Is it worth it ?
Well that depends; what price do you put on those preflight perks?
While Gold and Platinum Skywards members already have lounge access regardless of fare type, passengers travelling on the new fare without access could use Priority Pass, or buy one off lounge access. Paid access to the Emirates business class lounge in Dubai costs USD$100 if a Skywards member, or USD$130 if not a Skywards member.
Ubers are always an alternative to chauffeured services. In many cities, there are good rail links to the airport and in Dubai the local taxi service is pretty good and not that expensive. The chauffeur service is nice, but there are alternatives.
It’s great to be able to select a seat when you do the initial booking. On this new fare type you can only get your seat when you check in. But, if you are travelling long haul on aircraft types where everyone in business has direct aisle access, it shouldn’t matter so much. You won’t be climbing over anyone and no-one will be climbing over you. It’s pretty easy to check out the seating plan of the aircraft type you are booking on.
While some people might be horrified that Emirates is doing this, in reality it’s just giving passengers more choice. Emirates says it’s about choice and flexibility. If you have a fixed travel dates, insurance, are happy to take the train to the airport and use your Priority Pass card, why wouldn’t you take this cheaper option and pocket the difference?
By expanding fare types, Emirates is reaching out to more prospective business class passengers. A special business fare still means more revenue for Emirates than a full price economy fare.
Other airlines will be watching this carefully. If it works, don’t be surprised to see competitors taking the idea up. What many people might call penny pinching by Emirates may in fact turn out to be one of its more innovative ideas.