Transatlantic business travellers ‘paying 40% more’ to book premium seats

Premium cabins are in demand as transatlantic business travel makes a return.

Analysis on how newly reopened UK-US routes are performing for corporate travel shows an average ticket value increase of almost 40% when comparing a similar autumn period in pre-pandemic 2019 to 2021.

The average ticket value between these two periods has shot up for the coming few months from £2,216 to £3,094 as higher grade cabins are being booked.

However, Focus Travel Partnership found that revenue from bookings remains down by 30% and 50% in terms of the number of tickets.

Flight routes between Europe and the US routes accounted for about a third of revenue for partners of the business travel consortium before the Covid crisis.

The initial announcement that US border restrictions were to be relaxed saw a sharp spike in demand with bookings more than doubling on September 22 compared to the previous day.

Bookings month-on-month tripled for October when the reopening was finally confirmed for November 8 for fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK and Europe.

The analysis also revealed that corporate travel policies are being relaxed in many companies to encourage business travel and access to premium class cabins is being approved – both a signal that duty of care is being taken seriously and as an incentive to return to travel.

Travel by the entertainment sector is featuring highly as it did during the pandemic.

Focus Travel Partnership looked at tickets booked through GDS in 2021 and found that:

  • There are still very short windows between ticketing and departure dates. 75% of flights booked since September are for travel in November and December 2021. The majority of bookings are now being ticketed within six weeks of travel
  • 59% of seats booked for travel are for premium cabins
  • 85% of transatlantic flight revenue is for premium cabins – with 54% revenue generated from business class cabins

The top routes are:

  • London-New York (over 25%)
  • London -Los Angeles
  • London-Chicago
  • London-Miami
  • London-Boston
  • London-Dallas Fort Worth
  • London-San Francisco

Focus Travel Partnership  chief executive Abby Penston said: “The high levels of average fares from our sector will give some comfort to airlines, but it is clear that transatlantic capacity is still far below 2019 levels – so the ratio of business travellers demanding premium cabins is higher per flight.

“In addition, we believe that passengers want the perceived Covid-19 security of more space and lounge access which may well be driving demand for premium cabins.”

She described the loosening of restrictions earlier this month as a “watershed” moment.

“But even before the initial announcements in September some of our TMC partners had been reporting strong demand for flights to the US, with some even reporting that New York and London had been their busiest city pair for some time as a number of business sectors were exempt from restrictions,” Penston said.

“But there is no doubt, that with these major restrictions eased, we can look forward to a sustainable and responsible return to transatlantic business travel.

“Keeping clients up to date with the changeable Covid-19 requirements and travel restrictions is what our TMC partners have been doing ever since the outbreak of the pandemic and they will continue to offer effective and efficient processes for navigating the ongoing complex travel landscape.”

Meanwhile, the Business Travel Association revealed that the UK lost £4.15 billion in GDP in the second week of November, due to a lower level of business travel trips following Covid-19.

Since the reopening of US borders on November 8, the BTA has witnessed the lowest downturn in travel across their top ten business travel destinations since May.

The Association’s latest figures reveal UK to US travel saw an uplift of 196.53% in the second week of the month over the first.

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