Who would have thought that there would be a time that airlines would dump “first class” cabins? Those are the big dollar money cabins where people that may not be rich enough to own their own private jet to fly 6,000 miles will still pay over $10,000 for a seat. But, it also costs a lot of money for the airline, both in losses revenue when the seats are going out empty and the cost of the food and drink to cater to those passengers.
Yet, here we are with another recent announcement by an airline that it is getting rid of first class. Here is why that can be a good thing – especially for us!
Why Airlines Stripping Away First Class Can Be a Good Thing
Last week, we heard the news that Asiana, a Korean-based airline, was doing away with their first class cabin in exchange for premium business class suites. United Airlines had made the move to ditch their Global First cabin for their Polaris business class (and just as well, too, since that Global First was past its prime!) and Malaysia Airlines has also moved away from a first class cabin for a better business class offering.
Yet, first class is certainly not disappearing altogether! Fantastic first class cabins on Lufthansa aren’t going anywhere (at least, they aren’t dumping them but some flights no longer offer them), Emirates still has their opulent First Class Suite-equipped A380 jumbo jets flying all over the world, SWISS still has their “exclusive” first class experience (“exclusive” because only their high elites can book them with miles – for all others, its cash only). And, there are still several others that offer the amazing first class experience that so many save up a lot of points to redeem for!
But, there are other areas where first class is being minimized somewhat. Etihad has been cutting back a bit on some of what they offer to first class passengers as they deal with some revenue issues. I think there is no question that first class is not doing it for airlines like they used to, in terms of generating revenue.
So, why is it a good thing that airlines are stripping away these awesome cabins?
Airline Award Charts Keep Getting More Expensive
This one applies to all of us who redeem miles for premium cabins. Over the past few years, airline redemption charts have seen some pretty insane increases in terms of what it costs in miles to fly in first class cabins.
For example, United Airlines (which used to be a favorite for international first class redemptions thanks to low mileage costs and no fuel surcharges) used to offer Lufthansa First Class awards for the amount of 67,500 miles between the US and Europe! That was an awesome redemption amount and one that allowed many of us to enjoy Lufthansa First Class for less than a sign-up bonus with some cards.
However, now that same flight will cost 115,000 miles for the same route! Business class on that same Lufthansa flight will cost 2,500 more miles than first class used to!
With this increase in redemption costs for first class cabins (fortunately, there still are programs that have reasonable rates – Alaska, LifeMiles, Aeroplan, Aegean, etc.), award seekers are forced to decide between saving a lot for that ultra-lux first class experience on that special trip or redeeming for business class.
For a trip for two from the US to Europe in first class (and back), it would cost 460,000 United miles! If you redeem United miles for business instead, you can get by for 280,000 United miles. That is a significant savings in terms of miles!
So, for those of us who redeem miles for these cabins, seeing first class cabins get cut isn’t the end of the world since the award costs are getting out of sight anyway. Which leads us to the next (and more important!) part…
Now, hopefully Asiana will allow these new business suites to be available to partners! 🙂
Getting Rid of First Class Means More of a Focus on Business Class
I have flown a lot of first class cabins and even more business class cabins and my summary (and probably that of many other people as well) is that three of the best business class cabins in the world (in terms of comfort and service) are: Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, and Austrian Airlines.
You know what those three have in common, besides being on my “favorite” list? They don’t have first class cabins (except for Qatar’s A380). That means more of their attention is focused on creating a really enjoyable experience in their business class cabins.
I mean, Qatar’s QSuites are nicer than some first class cabins (especially British Airways!)! Turkish and Austrian even have onboard chefs serving their business class cabins – something that no other airline offers (except Etihad in first class)!
It is clear that these three airlines really focus on their business class cabins and passengers and I always enjoy them more than I do even Lufthansa business class. When you are in business class and you see the flight attendants close the curtain in front of you to block you from seeing into another cabin, it sure gives you the feeling that you aren’t in the cabin that receives the greatest amount of service! 🙂
While there are certainly things that Turkish can improve in their hard product (and it will improve with their new cabins and retrofits coming), I still fly Turkish business class as a choice more than any other airline between the US and Europe.
So, the more airlines remove first class, the more attention to detail and service that will be paid to business class. Business class award redemptions are still a pretty good deal and will be even more so as airlines put more attention into them. This is what Asiana is doing with their replacement
Hey, even Delta has put out a really nice business class cabin for their international passengers!
International first class isn’t going to disappear in the next couple of years – there are still some markets where it does pretty well. But, there is no question that airlines are trying hard to make their business class products better than ever as well as adding a premium economy product that can attract the people that are willing to pay that little extra beyond economy.
Is there a place for first class? Sure, but the airlines that are shuttering their “first class” cabins in favor of different products are doing so because it is not working anymore for them. We don’t have to see that as a bad thing – there are a couple of ways it can be good for us!
Featured image is the current Asiana Airlines First Class suite – from Asiana