Individuals, investors, companies – we’re always looking for the next big thing. When it comes to business class this is more the case than ever: year after year a new gadget, partition or suite with some kind of ergonomic edge hits the market.
That was before 2020 pulled the ripcord on international travel.
Now, as we look to a future of more expensive flights, less intense demand, and tighter budgets, it appears airlines are doing their best to accommodate (or predict) the future.
This has involved swathes of A380s being retired, single-aisle jets being invested in (and setting new flight records), and futuristic business class seat being blasted out by media.
New seat designs – especially complex ones – require lengthy, costly approval processes to hit the market, however.
In the meantime airlines like Qatar Airways look to be adapting to this (understandably) Scared New World with unbundled pointy end offerings like the following.
No longer is Qatar Airways’ business class an inflexible ‘benefits and all’ concept. The airline has just introduced a new type of business class fare, which gives you access to a business class seat, without lounge access and advance seat selection, for a cheaper price.
The new system is three-tiered.
The cheapest fare is called Business Class Classic, which sits below the Business Class Comfort and Business Class Elite ticket options.
Booking a Business Class Classic fare means if you cancel you will be stung with a higher cancellation fee. Business Class Comfort, meanwhile, offers a little more flexibility (for about a $1,000 more than Business Class Classic, judging by early indications) and Business Class Elite (which looks to cost about $2,000 more than Business Class Classic) offers unlimited, complementary changes as well as the possibility of a full fee-free refund.
These changes come as part of a broader system of simplified fare families, replicated in economy as well.
“Across all classes, valued members of Qatar Airways Privilege Club can earn more Qmiles according to the fare family they select,” the airline announced.
Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said of the new fare system: “Our new fare families are designed to offer greater simplicity, choice, and flexibility to our passengers and further our ambition to offer a best-in-class retail experience.”
Qatar Airways are not the first airlines to introduce a tiered fare system for business class. In June 2019, Emirates introduced the Business Class Special fare, which operates under a similar premise.
Some frequent business class flyers are not sold on the changes.
Founder of Flight Hacks Immanuel Debeer told DMARGE exclusively, “I think the ‘unbundling’ is just a cost cutting exercise – but only time will tell. The price between the base fare and the one that includes lounge + seat selection doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ve tested some routes and the difference in price is around $1,000. We can assume those with status will still get lounge access so I don’t see why anyone would want to pay that amount of money just to chose a seat and have a few glasses of champers before the flight.”
“That said, QR still offers some very attractive fares, especially out of Europe to Asia so we’ll have to see if the price goes down further.”
Aviation blogger Ben Schlappig has made similar remarks on One Mile At A Time: “I’m sure Qatar Airways will no doubt try to make it sound like this is a great new option for cost conscious travelers, suggesting that fares have been lowered with the introduction of this new option.”
“Don’t fall for it. Qatar Airways is highly unlikely to actually lower fares here, but rather this is intended to get people to buy-up to a higher fare class to get what was previously included.”
“This seems like an especially strange time to make a change like this, when travel demand is way down, and airlines should be wooing travelers, rather than devaluing the experience,” he wrote further down in his piece.
One user in the Executive Traveller comments section expressed similar sentiments: “By all appearances, this is just a cut in inclusions. $7500 roundtrip to London was comparable to existing, previous business class pricing on Qatar. Now, if you want lounge access with them, the base fare is $10400.”
“So really, what this is is a cut to existing services but selling at the same price as before… This is going to catch out those that book the cheapest and then find they have to pay hundreds more to get lounge access as well at each stop.”
“That base price will still get you lounge access with competing carriers. Unless competitors also cut inclusions, I’ll be booking with them to avoid the extra cost with Qatar.”
A Qatar Airways spokesperson told DMARGE when we asked about this matter, “Qatar Airways flies a broad range of customers who have many different priorities and this initiative offers them the opportunity to select the fare that suits their specific requirements.”
“When devising the new fare families, we completed customer studies to better understand their requirements when considering their travel plans.”
The spokesperson also said: “The new fare families accommodate and cater to different needs and give customers more options and choice when planning their travel.”
“We value our loyal customers. Elite members of Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club as well as from our OneWorld partners will continue to receive their benefits across all fare family groups.”
The way the travel industry is going (as Forbes reports, in the first months of 2020 alone, more export revenue from international tourism was lost than three times the loss experienced during the entire 2009 economic crisis), we’d wager Qatar Airways is unlikely to be the last to start de-coupling aspects of its premium offerings.