When purchasing a Business Class ticket, one might expect that there would be few restrictions. Business travelers typically need to have flexibility and prefer that the price paid during booking will include everything they need for the premium travel experience. Since business travel isn’t recovering as quickly as leisure travel, more airlines are starting to offer a Basic Business Class product with stripped down amenities to lure leisure travelers to purchase “discounted” seats in premium cabins.
Airlines Offering Stripped-Down Business Class Fares
The idea of unbundling fares is nothing new to airlines. The massive expansion of Basic Economy over the past decade shows that segmenting customers has proven to be profitable for the airline industry. Each customer has different needs when traveling and, more importantly, everyone has a different budget for travel. Therefore, airlines have stripped down the lowest advertised fares to only include the basics, while incentivizing customers to purchase extras a la carte or upgrade to a bundled fare.
While this seems to be working for Economy Class, it remains to be seen whether or not this model will become widespread for Business Class tickets. A few airlines have started testing the unbundling of Business Class fares and others have mentioned plans to do so in the future. Here’s a look at what some airlines are offering in regards to a “Basic Business Class”.
Emirates hinted at unbundling Business Class fares back in 2016 but didn’t roll out the new fare structure until June 2019. While British Airways has been charging extra for seat assignments on Business Class tickets for several years, Emirates was the first major airline to introduce a “Basic” Business Class fare with such restrictions as not permitting lounge access and simply restricting access to seat assignments until check-in.
Currently, Emirates offers four types of Business Class fares; Special, Saver, Flex, and Flex Plus, all of which include two checked bags and no change fees on U.S. flights. Its most restrictive, or, in layman’s terms, “Basic”, is the “Special” fare, which you may see listed as an H fare class when booking through a travel agency.
What Are the Restrictions for Emirates’ Basic Business Class Fare?
- No seat assignment until after check-in opens
- No chauffeur or lounge access
- No upgrades to First Class
All other types of Business Class fares offer these amenities with the only other difference between the higher fare classes being the number of miles earned during the flight, miles required for an upgrade to First, and the cancellation fee.
The price difference can vary wildly by route and travel dates. In the example above, I searched for a roundtrip flight from Chicago to Dubai for a trip lasting over 30 days. For these flights, it would be $300 more each way to upgrade from a “Special” fare to a “Saver” fare that includes the amenities listed above.
However, when searching for a shorter, week-long trip from Los Angeles to Dubai, it was over $1,000 more each way for the standard Business Class Saver fare compared to the “Special” fare. This is due to the “Special” fare having a 30-day max stay rule for the lower price, while the lowest-priced “Saver” fare has a different set of rules.
Every airfare will have a different set of rules and restrictions so the price differences will vary. When I did a few test searches, it seems like the “Special” fare is only available for roundtrip purchases on flights departing or arriving in the U.S., which are marketed towards price-conscious leisure travelers. However, you may find them available on one-way flights in other markets.
I certainly wouldn’t value chauffeur service, lounge access, and advanced seat assignments at over $1,000 each way, especially since many premium credit cards give you lounge access and you can certainly find a better deal on a ride to the airport. The only possible reason I can see for booking a Saver Business Class ticket with Emirates is if you want to be able to upgrade your ticket to First Class.
Otherwise, if you’re booking a roundtrip, the cost difference just doesn’t make sense for most travelers. These “Special” fares aren’t always available in every market, but since they’ve been around for a while now, most of Emirates’ markets have the new Basic Business Class tickets for sale.
Over a year after Emirates first introduced the concept of a Basic Business Class product, Qatar came out with its own unbundled Business Class fare in November 2020. Qatar markets this fare as a “Classic” fare, which is sort of deceiving since it doesn’t include what Qatar’s Business Class used to include. For that, you’ll have to purchase one of its two other Business Class fare options, Comfort or Elite. Like Emirates, Qatar still includes the usual checked baggage allowance with its lowest “Classic”, or R class, Business Class fare, but there are similar restrictions.
What Are the Restrictions for Qatar’s Basic Business Class Fare?
- No seat assignment until check-in
- No free lounge access
You’ll also earn fewer Qmiles when purchasing a “Classic” fare compared to Comfort or Elite. As with Emirates, the price difference varies by route and travel dates and I was only able to see the “Classic” fares when searching for roundtrip flights in U.S. markets. One-way tickets were only sold as Comfort or Elite.
Although cancellation fees are currently waived for tickets issued through August 31, 2021, the “Classic” fare used to have a higher cancellation fee than a Comfort fare and this may be the case again if Qatar decides to bring this fee back in the future.
While a “Classic” fare doesn’t include lounge access, you’ll still be able to purchase access to the Al Mourjan Business Lounge in Doha separately. And if you’re a Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald member (AAdvantage Platinum or Executive Platinum), you’ll still get complimentary lounge access to Qatar’s Oneworld lounge in Doha (not the Al Mourjan lounge).
I found most leisure routes to be around a $200 difference each way between a Classic and Comfort fare, but this can be highly variable. For premium lounge access and advanced seat selection, I could see more people paying the upcharge for a Comfort Business Class ticket on Qatar Airways.
When Finnair announced its new “Business Light” fares in June 2021, it was clear that this is the most restrictive type of Basic Business Class out there. Luckily, Finnair doesn’t sell this fare on U.S.-Europe routes yet, but it’s possible these will spread to new markets eventually. Initially, Finnair is selling these restrictive fares on flights within Europe and flights between Europe and Asia. However, if you’re looking to fly Finnair between the U.S. and Asia via Helsinki, you could come across a “Business Light” fare.
What Are the Restrictions for Finnair’s Basic Business Class Fare?
- No free checked bags
- No changes less than 48 hours prior to departure*
- No free advanced seat assignments
- No free lounge access
- No priority check-in, security, or boarding
- No name changes
*On Finnair’s ticket types page, it states that changes are “temporarily possible with the updated rules.” This means there is a waiver in place for tickets purchased through August 31, 2021. Tickets purchased after this date may resort back to a “no changes allowed” policy.
The big difference between Finnair and other airlines offering Basic Business Class fares is that Finnair does not include any checked bags with its “Business Light” fare, though you can purchase them as an add-on during the booking process. And although you won’t get free advanced seat assignments, you are allowed to pay a fee to choose your seat during booking. Likewise, you can pay for lounge access, but you won’t get priority access to check-in, security, or boarding when traveling on a Basic Business Class ticket.
The next level “Business Classic” fare is a more traditional Business Class product, which includes two free checked bags, lounge access, priority treatment at the airport, and changes allowed as a standard. However, advanced seat selection will still have a fee and cancellations aren’t allowed. For those perks, you’ll need to purchase the least restrictive “Business Flex” fare. Both Classic and Flex fares also allow name changes for a fee, earn more frequent flyer miles, and give you one hour of WiFi onboard.
As always, the price difference will vary by route and travel dates. I was able to pull up a “Business Light” fare for both one-way and roundtrip itineraries. In the example given above, I searched for a roundtrip from New York to Bangkok, which showed a difference of $175 each way between the Light and Classic fares. If you simply needed to add bags to your ticket, booking a “Business Light” fare would make more sense, but the other perks that come with a standard “Business Classic” ticket may make the upcharge worthwhile in many cases.
You may have never heard of ZIPAIR, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan Airlines that planned to launch low-cost service just in time for the 2020 Olympics. Due to the pandemic, service was delayed, but the airline did launch passenger service in the fall of 2020. At the moment, ZIPAIR plans to restart one weekly service between Tokyo and Honolulu on July 21, 2021. It also flies from Tokyo to both Seoul and Bangkok.
ZIPAIR offers four different Business Class fare bundles for its ZIP Full-Flat seats.
- Simple – seat only
- Biz – seat assignment and carry-on bag
- Value – seat assignment, carry-on, checked bag, and meal
- Premium – seat assignment, carry-on, checked bag, meal, and amenity kit (pillows/blankets)
True to its low-cost form, ZIPAIR’s model is bare bones. The basic “Simple” fare only includes 7 kg of hand luggage, which is similar to a personal item. You can add on any extras you wish or bundle them together by purchasing a package.
If all you’re looking for is a lie-flat seat and don’t need the other amenities associated with Business Class flights, ZIPAIR will definitely be the cheapest way to fly. At the time of writing, I was seeing one-way ZIP-Full Flat seats from Honolulu to Tokyo as low as $574.
Lufthansa doesn’t currently offer a Basic Business Class product but had plans to introduce a la carte choices on the new Boeing 777-9 aircraft along with a new Business Class seat. However, this delivery has been delayed due to the pandemic and Lufthansa has stated that it will instead debut its new Business Class product on a different aircraft type at the end of 2022.
When discussing the topic, Harry Hohmeister, Lufthansa Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Network Airlines, told Executive Traveller in June 2019, “it’s not unbundling, it’s upgrading.”
He made it clear that the standard Business Class product would remain the same, but there will be an opportunity to pay for an upgraded product, such as a larger bed, added privacy, or more work space.
The Future of Basic Business Class
It remains to be seen if other airlines will follow in the footsteps of these airlines introducing new fare options for Business Class seats. I think we’ll definitely see more segmentation in the future but hope it will lead to more price reductions rather than just simply increasing the price for what you used to get and eliminating perks that used to come with the lowest price.
If more airlines start to offer a type of “Basic” Business Class ticket, I think we will see lower fares due to more competition, albeit for a very limited number of seats. Since Business Class passengers are a major source of revenue for the airlines, I don’t think it will be feasible to sell more than just a few discounted seats per flight. As with Basic Economy, there will surely be a lot of haters, but some people only want a lie-flat seat without requiring all the other frills of Business Class. Personally, if I can get that without spending an astronomical upcharge compared to Economy, I’m all for it.