Companies Jilting Basic Economy

 

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Time to applaud: research shows that an increasing number of organizations have turned their backs on basic economy fares.

Two years ago in this space we came out slugging against basic economy.  The basic scam is that, yes, the sticker price is less but because it delivers so much less, many travelers wind up paying more than if they had bought a more conventional economy fare in the first place.

Or their travels are filled with miseries.

My advice then was to urge travelers to push back against any organizational nudging them into basic economy.

I have not personally encountered that pressure and for this I applaud.

But I may not be alone.

I never thought business travelers would do anything but scorn basic economy. But it turns out I may have been too cynical about the corporate  response to it.

Encouraging news is that travel managers are recognizing that basic economy is a scam.  Research via the Global Business Travel Association and Airlines Reporting Corporation says this: “The study reveals a majority of travel programs (63 percent) never allow basic economy and even more (79 percent) configure their booking tool to hide basic economy fares when travelers are not authorized.”

Remember that if your organization wants to shove you into basic economy. Just say no. And stress that the majority of companies have vetoed its use.

That same research incidentally offered good news about business class fares: “Nine out of 10 (89 percent) [of managed travel programs] allow it occasionally and these policies commonly do so for lengthy flights, international flights or for senior executives.” So ask and ask again if you feel an upcoming flight should be in the front of the plane.

You just may hear OK.

All hope isn’t dashed if your program is among those that nix business class.  “Many travel programs are embracing premium economy fares, which provide extra legroom and other amenities such as early boarding. More than half (58 percent) of policies always or sometimes allow them and an additional 30 percent occasionally allow these fares,” said the research.

And premium economy is plush indeed compared to the alternatives.

The real show stopper however is the snubbing of basic economy and that’s because, over the past 15 or so years, many organizations seemingly have been in a race to see just how low they could get travel costs, and so hotel stays have slid down the value chain and so have airfares.

So my expectauons were accordingly bleak.

The formula, at the big three US carriers, is indeed grimly Dickensian.  At United, it’s a litany of no’s. No complimentary seat selection. No family or group seating.  No fullsize carryon bags unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member. Show up at the gate with a full size carryon and you pay the bag check fee plus a $25 gate check penalty. Exactly one personal carryon that fits under the seat is allowed.  No flight changes, no refunds.

And you board last.

Welcome to the friendly skies!

Delta and American are about as awful.

But just because something is bad doesn’t mean organizational bean counters won’t embrace it. It in fact seemed to me inevitable that, in many companies, basic economy and middle seat passage would become the norm.

Except this time they don’t appear to be.

“It’s not surprising to see many business travel programs shying away from basic economy fares,” said Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO. “These fares pose a challenge for travel programs, creating difficulty for spend visibility and comparison shopping when add-ons are factored in. Additionally, travel buyers are increasingly factoring in traveler preference and convenience as they recognize the importance of their role in employee retention and recruitment in a strong economy with low unemployment.”

Bottomline: corporate bean counters are realizing that basic economy may seem cheaper – but often it isn’t.

According to Skift, too, many companies are even opening their wallets a thin crack. Said Skift: “When it comes to add-ons, most policies allow in-flight meals, Wi-Fi access, and extra checked bags.”

But 74% of travel programs do not reimburse for airline lounge access.

And 54% will not pay for early boarding.

But ask and you may get what you want.

Push back and, just maybe, the organizational masters will hear your complaints.  Business travelers travel to make their organizations money, it’s that simple. But wearing us down – on overcrowded flights, in too small seats – is no way to put a refreshed team on the ground.

Insist on that message and, at least sometimes, it will get heard.  Sometimes. 

Just raise the volume to try to make yours one of the ones that get that money spent on better business travel often returns dividends in happier employees.  

 

 

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