Emirates is widely known for its business class chauffeur drive service and upmarket airport lounges, but in June 2019, the airline began selling a new, lower-priced type of business class ticket: offering the same seat on board, but without those extra frills on the ground.
In fact, the ability to choose which seat you’d occupy on the plane any earlier than check-in time is another perk foregone on these business class ‘Special’ fares, with the number of Skywards miles earned on these flights also pared back to match what you’d otherwise get on an economy ‘Flex Plus’ ticket.
Initially launched as a seasonal product on selected routes, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark tips that this build-your-own business class approach of buying only the seat, and separately purchasing extras like chauffeur drive and lounge access if desired, could become more popular with travellers who'd traditionally book economy.
In an exclusive interview with Executive Traveller, Clark explains that in the past, “the only reason we have not been able to deconstruct, unbundle – whatever word you want to use – is that we've never had the computing power to be able to do this.”
“But as computing power has increased in the distribution systems that we run throughout the world, we're able to deconstruct and offer a suite of products on an à la carte basis, so it has proved particularly popular.”
Supplementing, but not replacing, regular business class
Clark is quick to assure that this DIY approach won’t replace the typical, all-inclusive business class experience for most travellers: instead, positioning these lower-priced airfares as an upsell from economy, for passengers who might not have otherwise booked business class.
“What we were trying to do, is see whether there was any appetite for people to pay less (than a typical business class fare) but not get the whole range of products. Some people, all they wanted was a bed to fly from Glasgow to Brisbane on an A380 – they wanted their inflight product, but really, did they worry about the rest of it? No, they didn't.”
“Could we persuade more of this travel in the unused inventory (meaning unsold seats) at a lower price, on an à la carte basis? The answer was yes, we could. We're finding that people in economy are trading up for that, rather than business class going the other way.”
Clark sees it as “providing a range of products without degrading the core business class product … and if people want to add chauffeur drive or lounge access, or whatever it is we do, they could do that by simply going into the system,” and paying the extra charge.
Adding premium economy into the mix
The next trick will be to get premium economy right – which Emirates will launch in 2020 – being yet another experience sold as an economy upsell, rather than a business class downgrade.
Critical to its success will be how fares are priced, and how those compare to Emirates’ no-frills business class Special tickets, which offer a bed on board but lack the airline’s typical business class extras of airport transfers and lounge access, which premium economy is expected to mirror.
Clark comments that since the introduction of those cut-price business class tickets, “we're actually getting more money in the bank, and we hope the same will happen when we launch premium economy.”