Business Travel Is Like A Box Of Chocolates…

By Mark Williams, Partner

When it comes to first class airline seats Forrest Gump’s mama was right: sometimes you just don’t know what you’re going to get. That has been the complaint from frequent travelers and program managers in recent months regarding confusion over airline class fares. What qualifies as first class, anyway? As summarized in Scott McCartney’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “it’s complicated.”

In a world where business class may mean lie-flat seats, with individual aisle access (as in the case of new service class Delta One) and first class could mean little more than a slightly wider seat, here are a few ways travel managers can address the confusion and manage expectations for travelers.

The best way to know what kind of first class seat you’re getting is to check the seat map and count the number of first class seats available; the lie-flat seats require more space. The first class seat count on these aircrafts will be less than on the more traditional, slightly wider, more leg room, more recline seats of plain domestic first class.

When booking a seat in first class the buyer must make certain the same seat is not also available for a business class fare. There are instances where a first class fare is available, but ends up being a business class seat. The purchaser can end up with the ugly result – the business class seat at the significantly higher first class price.

What has led to the confusion? Well, that is mostly a good story…

The confusion results primarily from airline profitability, making investments in new products and services, and creating better offerings for business travelers. As aircrafts are being reconfigured there is a combination of the new and the old – sometimes on the same route. Additionally, as some international markets have softened, the airlines are moving internationally configured aircrafts to more profitable domestic routes.

What is a travel manager to do?

  1. Make certain your travel agents are aware of this issue. They must direct your traveler to the lower logical airfare in the cabin, and take the additional steps necessary to compare the first and business class offerings.
  2. Make sure your online booking tool is properly configured to guide the traveler to the same lowest cost option.
  3. Consider promoting the use of apps which provide seat map details. These can lead to better purchasing decisions.

Keep in mind the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Discuss this issue with your airline representatives. The airlines should be prepared to pay back the overcharge when a first class price is paid for a business class seat.


This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of GoldSpring Insights, the official email newsletter of GoldSpring Consulting. To sign up for our mailing list, please click here.

Back to all news