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EXCLUSIVE | Malaysia Airlines is exiting the first class market and will rebrand its Airbus A380 and A350 first class cabins as an upgraded version of business class dubbed Business Suites.
This change is in name only, however – Business Suites passengers will enjoy the same meals and drinks, inflight amenities, pyjamas and Malaysia Airlines lounge access as they would in first class, although pricing will be pitched halfway between business and first.
The Oneworld member offers first class on only two jets in its fleet. The Airbus A380 superjumbo have six spacious ‘open suites’….
… while the newer Airbus A350s include a four-suite cabin with privacy doors.
Malaysia Airlines will officially launch its new Business Suites class on Wednesday December 12, and is prepared for the inevitable confusion among passengers.
“A lot of people will think this is business class” because of the new product name, admits Lau Yin May, Malaysia Airlines’ Head of Customer Experience, “but from a product perspective it’s literally the same product and service that passengers enjoy right now in first class.”
“The same seats, the same cabin, the same food and beverage, the same service… everything remains the same, it’s just that we have renamed it Business Suites.”
Why Malaysia Airlines is axing first class
Which begs the question: why change the name at all?
“We realise that with the recent economic situation a lot pf people have moved away from first class, and a lot of corporate passengers now have the limitation of not flying first class (due to) corporate policy, so we want to cater to that market and open it up,” Lau tells Australian Business Traveller.
In other words: passengers seeking a better-than-business-class experience can fly in what is ostensibly first class but book it under the more innocuous banner of Business Suites.
Lau says that Malaysia Airlines' Business Suites fares will be priced halfway between its current average business class and first class rates, which will also provide an opportunity to upsell business class passengers into first class – albeit under another name.
“We realised over the past years that there is a lot of demand for our business class and it’s always full, especially to London,” Lau says, “so why not open up that first class product and offer them that premium experience?”
At the same time, Lau rejects claims that Malaysia Airlines’ first class is not competitive with the latest first class suites of its competitors and that this has been reflected in low passenger numbers.
“I think essentially it is not that. There was more of a ‘push’ factor from business class where demand was too much and we couldn’t really meet it, especially for the London route, so we wanted to open up the product of first class to be accessible by business customers.”
Lau is also aware that ‘business suites’ is both a generic term for the new generation of business class with privacy door, such as Qatar Airways’ Qsuites and Delta Air Line’s Delta One suites, as well as Oneworld partner Qantas using Business Suites as the name for its latest Airbus A330, Boeing 787 and soon Airbus A380 business class seats.
“I think there will be some confusion within the consumer market in the beginning,” she allows, “until people experience it and realise that business class is business and Business Suites is more premium than our business class.”
How much Malaysia Airlines Business Suites will cost
Malaysia Airlines' intends to price its Business Suites halfway between the current average business class and first class rates.
Australian Business Traveller costed a one-way trip from Kuala Lumpu to London in mid-March 2019, and here's how the fares stacked up:
- Flexible Business Class – MYR12,168 (A$4,050)
- Business Suites – MYR14,747 (A$4,910)
- Flexible First Class (as available pre-Dec12) – MYR21,303 (A$7,090)
That's an appealingly small delta between business class and Business Suites when you consider the improvement in the seats alone, especially on the Airbus A380.
Interestingly, the second of Malaysia Airlines' two daily Airbus A350 Kuala Lumpur-London flights – MH2 – showed two of the four Business Suites selling markedly less than business class, at MYR16,247 (A$5,405) versus MYR19,090 (A$6,350).
Malaysia Airlines says that Business Suites fares have the same flexibility as when they were first class, as they occupy the same fare codes( A, F and P).
Malaysia Airlines Business Suites: lounge access, frequent flyer points
That premium positioning will include access to Malaysia Airlines’ first class lounges at Kuala Lumpur and London, with KL's First Class Golden Lounge being renamed as the Business Suites Golden Lounge to reflect the airline's post-first era.
However, Business Suites passengers won't be admitted to the first class lounges of Oneworld partner airlines such as Qantas when Malaysia Airlines' A350 and A380 jets fly between Sydney and Kuala Lumpur (unless of course they also hold Oneworld Emerald-grade frequent flyer status).
From a points-earning perspective, Business Suites passengers will earn the same number of Enrich Miles as did first class (again, under the same A, F and P fare categories), although how Oneworld partner airlines classify Business Suites earning rates under their own frequent flyer schemes remains to be seen.
Redeeming frequent flyer points on a Business Suites trip will require fewer points than today’s first class but more than business class, as a reflection of the revised pricing scheme.
The cost of upgrading from business class to Business Suites has also beed reduced, compared to first class: a business-to-first upgrade between Kuala Lumpur and London currently requires 85,000 or 95,000 Enrich Miles depending your ticket category, but business-to-Suites will be just 70,000 or 80,000 Enrich Miles.
Where you can fly Malaysia Airlines’ Business Suites
Malaysia Airlines rosters its six Airbus A350s onto the flagship Kuala Lumpur - London route, along with services to Tokyo/Narita and Osaka and, based on seasonal demand, Sydney.
Although the Airbus A380s are primarily used for Islamic pilgrimages to Mecca, they also appear on popular routes such as London and Sydney to satisfy increased demand during peak seasons.