When the advertising for "Earlybird Airfares" for Business Class to the UK / Europe comes out in full force, it's a good time to reflect on the changes we have seen in Earlybird pricing, and to share our observations on the best time to book Business Class Flights to the UK and Europe.
- Airline competition in the market for Business Class airfares from New Zealand to the UK / Europe changed the way airlines approach the traditional Earlybird season.
- Price rises for lead-in prices for 2018 travel plateaued, and we started to see "Rolling Specials" without price increases become more common.
- With some exceptions, 2019 Earlybird pricing largely represented a continuation of the 2018 specials that had been in the market. There was no noticeable "reset" of entry level prices to a lower start of season price.
- Each airline appears to have set their "lead-in" UK / Europe Business Class price level based on where they see their relative value proposition (and some airlines refer to Fine Travel's UK / Europe Business Class specials page to guage this).
- Booking in advance still gives you the greatest opportunity to secure lead-in pricing. The availability (or relative scarcity) of the required "lead-in booking class" is now the primary focus. Read more about lead In booking classes in our blog: Planning Ahead for Discounts on Business Class flights to the UK / Europe.
What has changed?
In 2017 Qatar Airways made a real impact on the New Zealand market for Business Class airfares to the UK / Europe. As I caught up with Commercial Managers and Representatives of the major airlines, it didn't take long before Qatar Airways was mentioned. This additional competition (which followed competition from airlines like China Southern and Etihad and improved offerings from Thai Airways) seemed to result in a structural change in how the traditional "Earlybird Season" unfolded.
Our past experience was that Earlybird seasons would start with what I described as the "resetting of discounts to the lowest levels for the upcoming season". From that low point, the lead-in prices progressively increased as we reached peak travel periods.
During 2018 however we saw a change: Lead-in prices stopped going up and settled at a level that each airline appeared to believe represented fair relative value for their product and service. Ad hoc specials with price increases appear to have been replaced with "Rolling Specials" with less frequent price changes.
How are "Rolling Specials" Different?
In this Rolling Specials environment, discounted lead-in Business Class airfares are more frequently in the market and are more likely to "rollover" into a replacement special after they expire. Lead-in price increases are more likely to reflect inflation and the price of oil.
Prior to 2018 we could face extended periods without Business Class Specials to the UK / Europe available. After a break, a new special would be released with an increased lead-in price as we got closer to peak periods. Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Qantas remain the main exceptions to the Rolling Specials observation as we do still see (comparably) extended periods without specials from them.
If Prices aren't going up Does this Mean Business Class Is Cheaper?
Airlines appear to be placing greater focus on controlling pricing though the availability of particular Business Class booking class on a flight rather than changing the base price. Prices will still therefore be determined by the availability of the lead-in booking class on your preferred dates. If that lead-in price isn't available, you are likely to be paying more (we go into this point in more detail in our blog on Planning Ahead for Discounted Business Class Airfares).
What does this mean for Earlybird Travel?
Rolling specials do provide greater confidence as to the cheapest Business Class price potentially available. The challenge is not being lulled into a false sense that you can put off booking - if the lead-in fares have sold out on the flight that works best for you, airfares on your preferred travel dates will be more expensive. Planning ahead, and committing when you can remains the best policy.