HAVE I GOT SOME SALE FARES FOR YOU
By Joe Brancatelli
May 8, 2009 -- I admit it: I get giddy at the concept of these summer business-class sales that the airlines now freely embrace as part of their otherwise internecine yield-management strategies.
For starters, these sales make sense for us. Airlines slash--and by slash, I'm talking upwards of 80 percent--their business-class fares at the exact moment we want to take a holiday in style and comfort. And despite the drastically lower price, we almost always get the standard on-the-ground business-class perks: lounge access, bonus miles and lots of credit toward elite status.
Summer business-class sales also work for airlines: They fill empty business-class seats with paying passengers on holiday who would otherwise be sitting in coach. That, in turn, frees up additional coach seats that they can sell at their inflated summer economy-class prices.
Best of all, summer business-class sales tear the cover off the fantasy that is premium-class service. When an airline sells you a business-class seat "on sale" to Europe for two grand instead of eight or 10 grand walk-up, you know we've established something like the real price of the service. I've given up trying to establish the "actual" cost of a seat, but I assure you that a $2,000 summer-sale business-class seat to Europe or a $3,500 summer-sale business-class seat to Asia is a lot closer to objective reality than those five-digit walk-up fares.
So revel, fellow flyers, in a rare moment of all-around sanity.
That said, however, some of the business-class sales popping up this summer are notably better than others. Given the fact that business-class travel generally has tumbled about 20 percent since last year, some of the sale prices aren't quite as sharp as they could be. And the nascent Asia summer sales are, in some cases, wildly overpriced and borderline insulting in this economy.
What follows is a carrier-by-carrier overview of what's currently available. It is comprehensive but not complete: I'm sure there are some deals that have escaped my research and attention. And it is not the final word on the topic. Several major airlines are planning quick-hit summer sales that may slash fares even further. I'll bring you those deals as they happen and will update this page as appropriate.
By the way, if you're looking for substantial bargains on summer business-class travel to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, they don't exist yet. Those regions remain the final frontiers in this giddy and exciting new world.
BUSINESS-CLASS BARGAINS ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
The concept of deep-discount summer sales started on transatlantic routes, mostly because they are the ones with the most capacity. They also are the most drastically affected by the summer slump in traditional business-class travel and the upsurge in coach travel. Hence, the most and best sales are across the pond to Britain and (primarily) Western Europe.
Also keep in mind that many carriers are now discounting to European destinations that they do not serve nonstop from the United States. That means a change of planes at a hub--good ones (Zurich, Munich, Copenhagen), mediocre ones (Frankfurt, Madrid, Schiphol) and yes, the truly awful ones (Charles deGaulle in Paris and London's Heathrow Airport). Keep the transit experience in mind as you weigh prices and opportunities.
Aer Lingus: The Summer Up Front Sale Is Back--and Cheaper, Too
Aer Lingus, the Irish flag carrier, rolled out its summer business-class sale in February. But now it's back--and most of the prices are lower than they were if you had grabbed seats back in the winter. Between New York/Kennedy and Dublin or Shannon, business-class seats are as low as $899 each way. From Boston, the price is $949 one-way. It's $999 each way from Chicago/O'Hare or Dulles in Washington. The travel window is June 15 to August 31 and tickets require a Saturday-night stay and a roundtrip purchase. This time, you need to buy your seats by May 31 to score the special summer prices. (By the way, if you're interested in congratulating yourself for waiting, the current fares are $50 cheaper than they were in February from New York; $134 cheaper from Chicago; and $34 cheaper from Dulles.) Information: 800-585-0783. Update: The purchase-by deadline has been extended to July 10.
Air Canada: Don't Start the Summer Business-Class Sales Without Us!
Air Canada was slow to post summer business-class sales to Europe. But give credit where credit is due: The prices are pretty fine. From Toronto, fares are as low as C$899 each way to Paris and Madrid or C$999 to London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Geneva and Rome. Fares from Montreal and Ottawa are also C$899 and C$999, although the arrangement of destinations is different. It's C$1,099 or C$1,199 each way from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The travel window is from June 20 to August 31 for departures with returns from Europe by September 7. You must buy roundtrip tickets by June 2. Information: The Fully Flat Beds for Less page. Update: The purchase-by deadline has been extended to June 30.
Air France: That Bad Paris Hub and Gallic Snobbery, Too…
Air France has finally jumped into the summer business-sale arena and matched prices offered by its competitors. But it does have something its competitors can't match: Gallic arrogance--in this case the absurd claim that Air France is doing something other airlines on the North Atlantic aren't. One-way fares include $1,097 from Philadelphia to Barcelona; $1,111 from New York to Paris; $1,229 from Chicago to Zurich; $1,411 from San Francisco to Amsterdam; $1,511 from Los Angeles to Nice; and $1,461 from Boston to Athens. Air France's restrictions are identical to most other airlines offering a summer sale: 60-day advance roundtrip purchase; a 7-day stay; and a travel window of June 28 to September 4. Tickets must be purchased by July 6. Information: 800-237-2747.
American Airlines: Charging a Little Less Now, Restricting a Little Less
American Airlines has just lowered prices on its summer sale to match its Europe competitors and there are just enough other wrinkles to make it interesting in its own right. Most notably, the fares have slightly less-restrictive terms: a three-day or Saturday-night stay. Some samples: $899 one-way from New York/Kennedy to Zurich; $999 from JFK to Paris or Rome; $1,099 from Boston to Frankfurt; and $1,399 from Los Angeles to Madrid. The travel dates are June 28 to September 4 to Europe and all travel must be completed by September 11. A 60-day advance roundtrip purchase is required and the last day to buy is July 6. Information: the Summer Deals page.
British Airways: Cheap and Easy Now, Even Cheaper Later (I Think)
British Airways is battling a steep decline in premium travel to London with startlingly low structural fares: a 21-day advance-purchase business-class seat between New York and Heathrow is now as low as $1,061 each way based on a roundtrip purchase. (Saturday stay required, of course.) That's not a summer price, but one you can get during the spring and fall, too. But I suspect even lower summer prices are coming. In recent years, BA has run a slew of two-for-one promotions and very deeply discounted, quick-purchase summer sales, usually around Memorial Day and Fourth of July.
Continental Airlines: The First (Probably Still the Best) Summer Sale
Continental Airlines is the unquestioned creator of the summer business-class sale to Europe and this year it posted the fares a full two months earlier than last year. Even better news: The prices are about the same as last year, too. So that means prices from Continental's Newark hub are as low as $899 one-way to Amsterdam, Geneva, London or Manchester; and $999 to Glasgow, Dublin, Rome and Paris. There are also similar fares to the other European cities that Continental serves from Newark. At slightly higher prices, the sale is also valid from Continental's Cleveland and Houston hubs and on connecting service through Newark. The travel window is wide (June 28 to September 4 to Europe, return by September 11) and the restrictions modest (a seven-day or Saturday-night stay). Although Continental says the advance-purchase requirement is only 14 days, the advertised discounts require a 60-day advance purchase. Information: the BusinessFirst page.
Lufthansa: Summer Business-Class Bargains--With Returns in the Fall
Lufthansa's summer business-class sale prices to Europe are about what you'd expect in these tough times: as low as $1,018 one-way from New York and $1,418 from Los Angeles. Fares seem to top out at $1,518 one-way. Similar fares are available from Lufthansa's other U.S. gateways. The nice twist is the travel window: Departures can be as early as June 28 and as late as September 4, but travelers looking to knock around Europe can return as late as October 5. The restrictions are manageable: 60-day advance roundtrip purchase, Saturday-night minimum stay and surcharges for travel on the weekend. And, of course, if Lufthansa is offering these fares on these terms, so must United Airlines, its Star Alliance partner. Tickets must be purchased by July 6. Information: the Summer Business Class Special page.
OpenSkies: Two Beds for the Price of One to Paris and Amsterdam
OpenSkies, the year-old boutique carrier owned by British Airways, continues to march to its own drummer on its New York-Paris and New York-Amsterdam routes. For example, it now calls both of its cabins a business class, the difference being that the back of the 62-seat buses have big, wide, plush reclining chairs and the front of the planes have lie-flat beds inherited from British Airways' Club World service. The current focus of OpenSkies' sale fare is the beds. If you book buy May 31, you can get a pair of business-class beds to Paris for just $3,900 roundtrip. To Amsterdam, a pair of business-class beds costs even less, just $3,400 roundtrip. This two-for-one deal has another nice twist: The valid travel dates seem to run until the end of the year. Taxes add about $300 to the nonrefundable prices. For more information on the offer, surf here.
SAS: Come in Summer, Stay 'Til New Year's Eve If You Like
The SAS summer business-class fares have a wonderful twist: You can stay until December 31. From Newark, it's as low as $1,262 one-way to Copenhagen, Stockholm or Oslo and $1,497 to Helsinki. Fares are slightly higher from Chicago or Washington/Dulles. From SAS' West Coast gateway in Seattle, fares are $1,612 to Copenhagen or Oslo, $10 more to Helsinki and $50 more to Stockholm. The fare code is ZUSSCB5 and a roundtrip purchase and Saturday stay is required. Click here for details. If you are interested solely in travel until August 31 and can book by May 15, there are fares as low as $1,199 one-way based on a roundtrip purchase. Click here for those specifics.
Swiss International: The Me-Too Business-Class Sale, Not Quite As Cheap
Swiss International charges a little more for its summer business-class sale, but it has a big advantage: It routes travelers over its relatively compact and calm hub in Zurich. The fares: $2,516 roundtrip from New York to Zurich; $2,286 from New York to Hamburg; $3,065 from Boston to Athens; $2,541 from Boston to Milan; $2,939 from Chicago to Geneva; $2,736 from Chicago to Venice; $3,141 from Miami to Rome; $3,492 from Miami to Vienna; $3,124 from Los Angeles to Madrid; and $3,141 from Los Angeles to Florence. Swiss requires a 60-day advance purchase and a Saturday stay. The travel window is June 28 to September 4 for outbound flights, but you can return from Europe as late as October 3. Tickets must be purchased by June 30. Information: the Summer Business Class Offer page.
Virgin Atlantic: We Don't Really Do Summer Sales
As with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic's business-class cabins have emptied out since the financial crisis began last September. So the airline, which never liked summer sales in past years, has resorted to a deeply discounted 21-day advance purchase offer: as low as $1,061 one-way from New York; $1,261 from Chicago; and $1,509 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. The fares, which require a roundtrip purchase, are valid now through September 4 and must be purchased by August 14. One note: You won't get Virgin's limo pick-up service with these prices. Click here for the details.
BUSINESS-CLASS BARGAINS ACROSS THE PACIFIC
It's taken years for airlines plying transpac routes to begin summer business-class discounting. Part of the reluctance has been structural: There simply aren't as many seats across the Pacific as there are across the Atlantic. And part of the reason has been cultural: The Western-style summer vacation isn't yet a part of Asia's DNA, so there are much less dramatic traffic spikes in the summer months.
As business travel has slowed worldwide, however, U.S. carriers are discounting their transpacific business-class cabins. Asian and Oceanic airlines have reluctantly begun to follow suit. However, the discounting is grudging and reactive and, often, the fares are not nearly as attractive as those offered by U.S. carriers. So tread carefully and consider the quality of the airlines involved and factors such as frequent flyer miles and elite-level status.
Air New Zealand: Huge Discounts on Business Class in the Pacific
Air New Zealand's summer business-class sale is extremely attractive: As little as $5,380 roundtrip from Los Angeles or San Francisco in business class to Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington or Queenstown. That price includes fuel surcharges, but not about $100 in taxes and government fees. Another nice perk: a free stopover in Samoa, Tonga or the Cook Islands. The travel window is huge, until November 30, if you purchase tickets by May 18. (By the way, that deadline has been extended several times, so it may change again.) The applicable fare code is JNZAU10. Information: the Discount Business Premier page. Update: The buy-by deadline has been extended to June 17 and the travel window has been extended to April 15. But the fares have risen and the lowest fare is now $6,159 roundtrip.
American Airlines: They Don't Call It a Summer Sale. And It's Hardly a Sale at All
American Airlines isn't calling its Asia price break a summer business-class sale. And that's just as well because it isn't much of a sale at all, regardless of season. With prices before taxes and fees around $10,000 roundtrip from Chicago to Shanghai, you can easily skip this turkey of an offer. But if you're curious, you can see the fares here.
Cathay Pacific: We're With American, Our Oneworld Partner
Cathay Pacific Airways, which was an aggressive and effective discounter in the late 1990s, lost its mojo during the recent boom times. Now that its business-class business has largely evaporated, Cathay is struggling to get back to creative and inventive pricing. Unfortunately, its current offer looks more like the fares proposed by American, its Oneworld partner, than the truly innovative Asia prices posted by Continental (see below). In this market, it's hard to understand just who'd jump at the "sale" fare of $7,638 roundtrip from New York to Hong Kong, when Continental is flying the route from Newark for less than half that price. Still, you might find something attractive from San Francisco, where prices are in the mid-$4,000 range for roundtrips to Hong Kong, Manila or Shanghai. For details, surf here. Update: Cathay has now slashed the roundtrip, all-in price to Hong Kong from San Francisco or New York to $3,938. Travel at that fare is permitted until September 7. There are no minimum- or maximum-stay requirements.
Continental Airlines: Asia, Just Like Europe
The Europe summer sale innovator, Continental Airlines, has now created a summer business-class sale to Asia, too. On its nonstop Asia routes from its Newark hub, Continental has slashed business-class fares as low as $3,076 roundtrip (to Beijing), $3,168 (to Shanghai) and $3,268 (to Hong Kong and Tokyo). There are equally compelling fares on select connecting flights, too. Prices are valid for travel between June 3 and August 16. There's a 30-day advance purchase requirement and an 8-day minimum stay. The nonrefundable tickets must be booked in A class and the listed prices do not include taxes and fees. Information: The Continental Web site.
United Airlines: Deep, Deep Discounts on Sydney and Melbourne Flights United Airlines' aging business-class cabins over the Pacific can't compete on amenities and service with Qantas or even Air New Zealand. So as traffic softens worldwide, United has chosen to compete on price--and that's fine for folks who simply want a comfortable seat at a low price. United's new business-class sale has knocked fares to Sydney or Melbourne down to as little as $2,229 one-way from Los Angeles or San Francisco; $2,367 from Seattle; $2,444 from Chicago; and $2,457 from New York. Those are eye-popping prices considering that Qantas is charging upwards of $19,000 roundtrip in its business class. There is a 50-day advance purchase and the lowest fares are available for roundtrip travel on Monday through Thursday. Information: the Special Deals page.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.