What is 'unbundled' business class?

Unbundled business class fares sell for a lower price but give you fewer perks.

By David Flynn, February 5 2021
What is 'unbundled' business class?

Travelling in business class is typically an all-inclusive experience: there's pretty much nothing extra to add on or pay for, unless you've got more luggage than even the generous baggage allowances provide.

But that's changing, with some airlines already stripping out some of the standard inclusions and reducing the ticket price. Welcome to the era of unbundled business class.

And there's every reason to expect that more airlines will embrace the unbundling of business class (although we'd expect their marketing departments to spin it more as 'bespoke business class') in the post-COVID world.

For one, it'll be a lure to have people upgrade from the more crowded quarters of the economy cabin to a seat that offers more personal space, a psychological sense of 'cocooning' and greater physical separation from other passengers.

Create your own cosy business class cocoon.
Create your own cosy business class cocoon.

Depending on how much discounting is applied to unbundled business class, it could also appeal to companies whose travel budgets have been pared back due to factors such as increased use of videoconferencing or the need to recover from a virus-induced financial chasm.

This could drive many airlines to test the waters by trialling unbundled business class fares in the post-COVID market, with the aim of snaring a larger slice of the now-smaller business travel market.

At the time of writing, Emirates and Qatar Airways have each launched an unbundled business class offering: Emirates sells it as a 'Business Class Special fare, while Qatar Airways markets it as Business Class Classic.

(Lufthansa has flagged a slightly different 'up-selling' approach for its forthcoming Boeing 777-9 business class, where you start with the essentials and then pay extra for a better seat and can also purchase a 'bundle' geared to your needs.)

What don't you get with unbundled business class?

Here's some of what gets removed from an unbundled business class fare.

Chauffeur drive (Emirates): Having a hire car with a private driver pick you up from home, office or hotel, whisk you to the airport, and then repeat this process at the other end of your flight, has long been a signature element of Emirates' business class, but not if you buy a Business Class Special ticket.

However, chauffeur drive is somewhat less of a drawcard now that the likes of Uber put a wide range of cars and drivers on tap, while many companies have established their own contract arrangements with hire-car companies.

There's no chauffeur drive in Emirates' unbundled business class.
There's no chauffeur drive in Emirates' unbundled business class.

Lounge access (Emirates, Qatar Airways): This is the kicker for many business travellers, especially if the flight involves a stopover – as most Emirates and Qatar Airways trips do – where you'd really love to freshen up with a shower, grab a light bite to eat, catch up on email or just relax away from  the crowd.

Fortunately, if you have suitable frequent flyer status with that airline or a partner, in most cases you'll still havwe access to a lounge regardless of the type of ticket you're carrying.

For Emirates, this means that Emirates Skywards Gold or Platinum, and Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold, Platinum or Platinum One.

For Qatar Airways, this means Qatar Airways Privilege Club Gold or Platinum, and any other Oneworld Emerald-equivalent status (such as Qantas Gold, Platinum or Platinum One, British Airways Silver or Gold, Cathay Pacific Gold or Diamond).

Airport lounges are also off-limits with an unbundled business class ticket.
Airport lounges are also off-limits with an unbundled business class ticket.

If you lack the appropriate frequent flyer status, there's usually an option to pay for lounge access. The rates for Emirates and Qatar Airways lounges span from around US$100 to US$250 depending on what airport the lounge is in, and if it's a business class or even first class lounge.

Advance seat selection (Emirates, Qatar Airways): on an unbundled business class ticket you'll be able to choose your seat only after check-in opens online, or at the airport.

However, as with lounge access, your frequent flyer status could still let you choose your seat well ahead of your flight.

Flying with your partner? Unbundled business class means you probably won't be sitting together.
Flying with your partner? Unbundled business class means you probably won't be sitting together.

Early seat selection becomes less important in modern business class cabins where all seats have direct aisle access, but there are still a few good reasons to care if you want to make sure you're seated

  • away from the lavatories, to minimise foot traffic and disturbance when you're trying to sleep
  • away from the galleys, as these also tend to be noisy (and bright, especially when the curtain opens while you're trying to sleep)
  • nowhere near a bulkhead row where bassinets can be fitted, and crying babies assigned to those bassinets
  • not in the last row of business class, if just behind that thin wall is the first row of economy and more baby bassinets

Fewer frequent flyer miles (Emirates, Qatar Airways): Also missing from the unbundled business class formula is a full serve of frequent flyer points or miles.

Emirates' Business Class Special fares earn the same number of Skywards Miles and Tier Miles as an Economy Flex ticket.

Qatar Airways' Business Class Classic fares also earn at a reduced rate compared to the more expensive Business Class Comfort and Business Class Elite fares. For example, on a one-way trip from Sydney to London you'd pocket 13,671 Qmiles in Business Class Classic, 19,140 Qmiles in Business Class Comfort and 21,874 Qmiles in Business Class Elite.

Unbundled business class can mean no upgrades to first class.
Unbundled business class can mean no upgrades to first class.

No upgrades to first class (Emirates): passengers on an Emirates' Business Special fare can't able to use their Skywards Miles to upgrade to first class. While we'd agree this is a 'first world problem', all the same there are many regular business class travellers who use their miles for an upgrade into the first class suites of the Airbus A380 or Boeing 777.

How much do you save on unbundled business class?

While Emirates offers unbundled business class only "on certain routes based on seasonal trends in travel demand," it's a more common sight on Qatar Airways flights, as Qatar's Business Class Classic fares are one tier in a three-tier structure.

A spot-check of Qatar Airways' fares on the busy Sydney-Doha-London route showed the following rates for a return trip:

  • Business Class Classic: $8,012
  • Business Class Comfort: $10,902
  • Business Class Elite: $12,762

In that example, the unbundled Classic fare delivers a saving of almost $3,000 against choosing Comfort fares on the same flights, and a saving of almost $5,000 against the top-shelf Elite fare.

Here's how Qatar Airways presents the fares on its website (note that the pricing shown is just for the 'Sydney-Doha-London' leg of a return-trip booking):

Clearly, even if you wanted to pay for creature comforts such as chauffeur drive and lounge access, an unbundled business class fare can deliver a substantial saving.

One caveat for globetrotters who rely on a travel manager to make their bookings, especially in larger companies: that person may well book the lowest business class fare without realising it's an unbundled fare that removes lounge access and the like.

If you want your travel booker to avoid accidentally purchasing an unbundled business class fare, instruct them not to book into Emirates business class under the H ticketing code or Qatar Airways business class under the R ticketing code.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 12

Somewhat a rookie mistake in this article.

When it says "if you have suitable frequent flyer status with that airline or a partner, you'll still be able to use the lounge".

Alas, not true if you are flying on the Qatar Unbundled fare out of London.

Your Frequent Flyer Card won't get you access to the fantastic Qatar London Lounge (it is outside oneworld rules). Nor will you have access to the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge. Nope, even though you're on a Business Class ticket. 

You can't buy access to either of the lounges either, although admittedly in Qatar with a oneworld Emerald card you can get access to the frankly woeful, and tiny, Business lounge, which is just for status customers. Last time I was there, I was on the floor, and then it closed for a very long time giving no lounge access at all!

Is lounge access worth $3000AUD though, when Emirates sell access for A$370 for three hours on their unbundled fares? 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2541

Hi Dorn: barely a 'rookie mistake', in that the article can't cover every single contingency (eg LHR, although one could still use the adjacent Malaysia Airlines lounge). As for Doha, Qatar maintains its own Oneworld business class lounge, and there's also the option of paid entry to Al Mourjan (450QAR) and Al Safwa (600QAR).

28 Oct 2015

Total posts 6

I just don’t get airline ticket pricing.  To upgrade from Comfort to Elite costs nearly $1000 extra for which you get a couple thousand miles worth maybe $25 and $158 savings in the less likely event that you cancel.  

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 335

I know I am going against the flow here, most people slam unbundled business class, but when you look at the price difference in the QR example, why wouldn't you choose a 'Classic' fare and pocket $3,000? As long as you were okay with the conditions such as the higher cancellation fee, which isn't that bad and is made clear by the airline, if you have frequent flyer status then you can use any OneWorld lounge, and at Doha, well okay, you're stuck with the sub-par QR OneWorld lounges but it's not like the stopover at Doha is very long.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 210

I would not be surprised to see Qantas, Cathay and SQ all experiment with unbundled business class once the Covid recovery is in full swing. The basics seem to be dropping lounge access, unless you're a frequent flyer, plus no advance seat selection and reducing the number of points and status credits. If the discount is big enough then this will more than make up for what you don't get.

03 Oct 2011

Total posts 36

"If the discount is big enough" is the key point.  In QR's case, there is no discount.  They simply removed benefits from the old fares.  (AA did the same trick when they introduced Basic Economy fares.)

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 2

I'm intrigued as to how you can quote pre-Covid unbundled fares for Qatar, when the unbundling happened on November 8th 2020.

Another point is that the savings mentioned are illusory. In virtually all cases the amount of money that was required for the old all bells and whistles business class is now what is being quoted for Classic.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2541

Hi Shane999: good point, by 'pre-Covid' I was meaning that these fares were perhaps outside of what people might currently pay (not that many people are flying Sydney-Doha-London, or Sydney-anywhere overseas for that matter!), but I could have worded that better. As it happens, I just did a spot-check for the same route in late March and the fares are even cheaper: $5542 for Classic, $6705 for Comfort and $8775 for Elite.

26 Sep 2020

Total posts 5

Hi David, the fares are are all over the place with seemingly no logic. I am stuck with a voucher from Qatar which was originally for a old fashioned full service flight SYD-FCO-SYD. I now can't get even close to a "Classic" fare without shelling out an extra $2k plus. To make matters worse, the Classic option is often not available forcing you to take the Comfort option with the extra cost. Even when you get Classic one way you are forced into Comfort on the way back, yet if you check the one way fare for the return leg the Classic option is there at a much lower price. The point is that it's looks like, smells like and tastes like a price gouge. It got the the absurd stage where a first class trip to Europe with JAL was cheaper than full Business Class with Qatar. 

Tav
Tav

20 Oct 2020

Total posts 10

It would be amazing if unbundled business class doesn’t take off

it's been around for a long time already. At least since Sep 11.

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 2

It would be amazing if unbundled business class did take off!

It would only take off if there was a saving to be had on the pre-existing fares. In the case of Qatar you now have to pay considerably more for 'perks' that used to be included in the standard fare, so it won't take off.

Sure, most people who flew with Qatar previously will probably opt for the classic fare and rely on status to get seat allocation and lounge access, but it will leave a bad taste in the mouth. That's not what I call taking off.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 52

Easy way to beat all these unbundled rubbish is to redeem J/F class by using points.

03 Oct 2011

Total posts 36

That doesn't work if there isn't award inventory.  Further, QR has said that U inventory (business class awards) is treated the same as R and I, meaning no lounge access or advance seat selection.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 52

This is an excellent article on why this move will backfire on airlines who introduce unbundled fares :

https://www.godsavethepoints.com/basic-business-class-backfires-airlines/

nothing new about many different business class fares.

We actually particularly like Fiji Airways new A350 business class. I gather you can upgrade from any fare, on any sector, directly to business class, on a sector by sector basis, by simply bidding online. The only thing I don't like, is, it's a blind auction. If they made it transparent, I think they would get more & higher bids, as you may have thought you'd bid enough only to be outbid. Grays online auction used to have & may still have, a feature, that if any bid in last 5 mins of an auction online, the deadline would be extended 5 mins until no more bids in last 5 mins.

Have done the SYD/LAX direct, which was 6 days a week. On the other day, it was an A350 SYD/NAN & then connecting with a A332 or A333 NAN/LAX as they only had two A350s & guess you can't do daily with only tow A350s.

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 36

This seems just another way to jack up the price to receive the same level of service.   We are by no means frequent flyers, but travel overseas at least once per year, (Covid year excepted,) and always now in business class.   We have used Qatar to fly to Europe quite a few times, and have never paid more than the new "so called"  classic fare, often considerably less.  As an airline that had built a reputation for a superb level of service in business class, this seems a retrograde step to remove benefits, or dramatically increase the price.  Seat selection doesn't cost the airline anything, and I doubt the average person consumes more than a snack in the lounge.  We will now be looking at other airlines, I am sure I will have little trouble finding flights that include seat selection and lounge access for a price not much more than the classic fare, and well below their "Comfort " fare.   I will be very surprised if they retain their ranking in the Skytrax awards, and I can just imagine the response from passengers who have purchased their tickets through a travel agent and only discover when they check in they cannot access the lounge....

26 Sep 2020

Total posts 5

Cathy Pacific full service to LHR in October is only $6,600. Singapore is only $7,700. Qatar is a $9,900 and it doesn't even give the "Classic" as an option on the flights I looked up. When I changed the dates, "Classic" on SYD-LHR brings it down to $9,000. Qatar is good but not that good.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 210

"will be very surprised if they retain their ranking in the Skytrax awards, and I can just imagine the response from passengers who have purchased their tickets through a travel agent and only discover when they check in they cannot access the lounge." Skytrax ratings have nothing to do with what passengers say and everything to do with how much an airline uses Skytrax consulting services and thus how much it pays Skytrax. Have a good look at the Skytrax ratings over recent years, who goes up and who goes down, and it's very clear that the Skytrax 'awards' and 'ratings' are a commercial scam.

Tav
Tav

20 Oct 2020

Total posts 10

Agree with you Shane999 - and I realise my comment was ambiguous. Maybe to clarify - it would be awesome if unbundled business class doesn’t take off! 

Policies around “lowest fare of the day” will force the no-frills biz lite product, and different on each airline, will have to negotiate to keep the inclusions that are currently standard. Not great..

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 101

Pre-covid, I do feel these business lite fares were more of an attempt to raise prices by having a slightly cheaper product that most people wouldn't go for and have a slightly higher priced product that satisfies their customers. 

Post-covid, I see these fares being used to lure back their customers, with larger discounts offered as I do believe the global travel market will be depressed for some years to come. 

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 36

That might be correct if this new unbundled Classic fare was a discount, but it isn't.  It's the price that Qatar tickets could be purchased for quite regularly pre-Covid.   The new Comfort and Elite fares are well in excess of what was previously charged for a standard all inclusive business class ticket.  As indicated by others, SQ and CX are now cheaper than QR.  I've not flown CX business class, but have SQ, and I have minimal doubt that's who we will be flying with whenever overseas travel becomes available again.   

03 Oct 2011

Total posts 36

One quite minor point I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is that the name "Classic" is a lie.  The classic business class fare included lounge access and advance seat selection.  They should call the no-lounge fare "Light" or something less confusing.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 210

I wouldn't say that QR calling it 'Classic' is a 'lie', it's just a marketing term, but I agree that 'Business Light' would be a much better description.

26 Sep 2020

Total posts 5

I would call it out as at least deceitful. I think most people would see the word "classic" as a word to describe how things used to be. Unless there was a time when Business Class did not include longue access but not in my experience.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 210

I get where you are coming from because lounge access has always been part of the business class proposition and 'Classic' in marketing normally means 'Original'. But it's not as if nobody looking at the fare will miss the fact that lounge access is not included, they should be reading the conditions which are made clear directly under the fare in the same way that they check for change fees etc. If people can't do a bit of basic reading for themselves and just 'Business Class' and a much lower fare and then don't bother to wonder why it's lower, what they get and don't get, I don't call that deceitful on the part of the airline because they are not hiding anything or trying to mislead anybody. I call that careless on the part of the traveller. All the same I agree that Business Light or Business Basic would be better than Business Classic, for sure.

03 Oct 2011

Total posts 36

The only reason to call it "Classic" is to be misleading.  You can say that if anyone is actually fooled, shame on them for not reading the terms and conditions, but that still leaves the fact that the name "Classic" is misleading.  I'd call it a lie, another poster called it deceitful, at best it's deliberately trying to confuse.  There's no good reason for a company to use a deceitful term.

You say "If people can't do a bit of basic reading for themselves and just 'Business Class' and a much lower fare and then don't bother to wonder why it's lower..." but of course it isn't a "much lower fare" at all.  It's the same discount business class fare, just now with a new name and drastically reduced benefits.  Of course QR has every right to charge what they please and take away benefits if they please, but they should at least call it an honest name.  "Light" would be a good choice in my opinion, as it's not prejudicial, and it's a commonly used term for a product or service with reduced features.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 210

As somebody who has worked in marketing I can tell you the reason why QR called it Business Classic is because they didn't want to call it 'Business Basic' or 'Business Lite', as Basic and Lite can both be seen to have negative connotations. And sure, that's exactly what these fares are about, they take away some of what you would otherwise get in business class. But you should be able to understand why a company, especially one like QR which is incredibly proud and protective of its reputation and always wants to present itself in the very best terms, might choose to avoid Basic and Lite. So sure, Classic isn't technically the ideal term but it's a bit much to immediately jump to he conclusion that an airline is being deceptive or misleading simply by saying a fare is Business Classic when the inclusions and exclusions of that fare are made very very clear right under the fare.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 454

Not sure of the so called savings unless the current fares during this pandemic is going to be the new norm 

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 642

As I understand lounge access is included on U class or points redemption bookings. Seat selection may not available but can be accessed using other ow partner websites (in most cases)

03 Oct 2011

Total posts 36

When originally announced, U class was exempt from the restrictions on R, but later QR "clarified" this to say that U was included, and that outstation lounges would be informed to deny access to those on award tickets.  If this has changed, that would be great, but I have not seen any such indication.


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