There were some interesting nuggets to come from Sabre’s annual Corporate Travel Practices Survey this year, but the most obvious is growth in premium economy class booking by business travellers in Asia-Pacific, despite a limited number of carriers offering the ‘business class light’ product.
At the onset of this new ‘in between class’ there was a lot of speculation about how well premium economy products would do and who would use them; at the end of the last financial melt down, when airlines started looking at a more cost effective – for them and for the consumer – options that catered to business travellers with ever-slimmer travel budgets, there was a natural hesitancy – no one wanted to be ‘downgraded’ when travelling for work, especially when doing so on the company’s dime. There were worries amenities would be stripped, loyal programs even harder to conquer, and that…gulp…traditional economy would be allowed to descend into good old fashioned anarchy (and let’s face it, on some airlines it’s like Lord of the Flies). Many of us were worried we were going to be landed the house pour flying experience.
However, according to travel gurus Sabre, bookings for premium economy have jumped more than 10 percent among one-fifth of corporate travel agents surveys, with more growth predicted. Why? Well this is more about business travellers relegated to economy post 2008 finding a loop hole, rather than those accustomed to business slipping down a few rows. Many travel restrictions allow for economy class travel, with ‘premium economy’ often falling into that allowance. The flow on effect is resounding; corporate road warriors are now turning to airlines that offer premium economy products so that they can make the most of their existing allowance – and wouldn’t you?
In Asia-Pacific there aren’t many airlines in the PE game. Taiwan’s EVA was the first, introducing their Evergreen product in 1991, and were eventually followed by major airlines like Cathay, Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, and most recently Singapore Airlines (although many American and European carriers didn’t come to the party with much more than a higher price tag and a few additional inches of leg room, as we saw in one review of Finnair’s Economy Plus).
Subsequently, many corporate agents (23 percent), according to the survey, have been asked to change their clients’ regular economy class bookings to premium economy, with agents in Hong Kong and New Zealand, both served by airlines with great premium economy products, seeing the most change, followed by those in Taiwan and the Philippines, with Singapore on the rise thanks to the recent and much-anticipated launch of Singapore Airlines’ chic PE cabin.
Of course the movement towards premium economy isn’t the only insight from Sabre’s survey. Tighter controls on expenses, improved pre-trip planning, again to reduce ‘off policy’ booking costs, and an increased use of mobile travel management apps, all of which are increasingly being managed by specialist agents, the use of which, according to the survey, is also on the rise. But if there is anything we can learn, it’s that a good corporate agent will help you find wiggle room in any policy, and the airlines’ have their fingers on the spending pulse, ensuring that that fall from business class grace may not be so bad after all.
Sabre’s Corporate Travel Practices Survey 2015 was conducted from April to May 2015, and gathered responses from corporate travel managers based in Australia, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. www.sabre.com