Traditionally towards the end of August we would start to see the earliest releases of the UK / Europe Business Class Earlybird specials for the travel following year. Airlines release seat availability 11 months in advance so by the end of August availability for the European summer months starts being loaded into reservations systems.
With New Zealand outbound demand remaining high, and airline seat capacity slow to return, in this article we consider whether the major airlines that traditionally connect New Zealand to the UK and Europe have the same incentive to discount and run an Earlybird Season. We also offer suggestions for how you might like to plan your travels, taking into account different planning styles.
Ongoing Capacity Challenges
Stripping away the marketing hype, the main function of the Earlybird specials is for the airlines to sell as much of their forecast capacity over the peak travel periods (generally the UK / Europe summer) as early as possible. This gives the airlines certainty of revenue and reassurance they have made the correct decision on aircraft allocation. To obtain this certainty (and to a degree reward passengers for booking and paying so far in advance) airlines were willing to open up more of their discounted Business Class booking classes.
The resurgence in demand for long-haul travel (particularly the UK / Europe) has outstripped the pace at which airlines can add capacity - in particular bringing aircraft, pilots and crew out of hibernation. To give you some context, in June 2022 only 36% of pre-Covid seats were available for the New Zealand market. In August it was expected to be 49% and 74% by November 2022.
We've also seen the impact of capacity constraints in airports where a shortage of baggage handlers has lead to some airports in the UK and Europe limiting the number of arrivals (resulting in cancelled flights) and delays in processing bags (resulting in delayed and lost luggage).
The return of capacity will be the primary factor in whether we will soon see traditional UK / Europe Earlybird Business Class airfares. When we asked an airline representative recently about the potential return of services out of Wellington, the response was that nothing was on the horizon and restricted access to aircraft and crew would continue for another 12 to 18 months.
In more positive news, Emirates has announced that it plans to introduce its direct A380 service between Auckland and Dubai from 15 January 23 - although we have yet to see this additional Business Class capacity translate into lower airfares.
The other side of the capacity coin - Inbound Tourism
While our borders were closed, senior voices in the tourism and travel industries brought to the attention of the government (and successive Tourism Ministers) the importance of ensuring policy settings took account of inbound and outbound tourism. Demand for seats on a plane comprises New Zealanders heading overseas and then returning and overseas tourists traveling to New Zealand and then returning home. Without clear visibility of the full demand picture, airlines would be reluctant to commit scarce aircraft and crew to the New Zealand market - and this is what we saw play-out (and continue to see).
Cargo more valuable than passengers
In addition to demand from passengers for seats on an aircraft, the revenue generated by cargo is an important consideration for airline revenue management teams. Allocating a larger aircraft (such as an A380) to a route may increase seat capacity, but reduce the cargo capacity on that route when compared to a differently configured aircraft. If the forecast revenue generated by the transport of cargo is greater than the forecast revenue from adding additional seats to the route, airlines may continue to focus on cargo until forecast demand from passengers increases further / stabilises.
Reskilling pilots - access to simulators?
We can all agree that as much as we would like to see more pilots return from their pandemic jobs to flying planes, we also don't want them to be rushed back before they are ready... Industry chatter suggests that one of the current challenges in reskilling pilots is access to aircraft simulators. Long wait times to access a limited number of simulators also delays the rate at which aircraft capacity can be added.
Chinese Airlines - A Limited Return
Cathay Pacific and China Southern are two airlines that will add significant Business Class capacity and competition on the route between New Zealand and the UK / Europe. Their full return is currently complicated by the requirement that cabin crew and pilots on China routes have not flown anywhere else globally in the 14 days before their domestic flight. This effectively means certain staff are restricted to just operating flights to and from China. Once this restriction is lifted we expect to see more flights from Cathay Pacific and China Southern return to our skies.
When will Korean Air Return?
Prior to 2020, Korean Air became one of Fine Travel's most popular Business Class options to the UK and Europe. Offering lie-flat Business Class seats and appealing cuisine at some of the lowest Business Class prices, we know that many of our clients and subscribers are eager to see Korean Air return.
At this stage, Korean Air is offering a very limited service between Auckland and Seoul. This unfortunately means that it's difficult to consistently find reasonable connections through to the UK and Europe at a reasonable price. As soon as we see this improve we will provide updates through our Facebook page and our Business Class Sales Alerts.
There are only 5.1 million of us...
Unfortunately one of the harsh realities is that New Zealand is in a global competition for aircraft and crew and there are only 5.1 million of us (and as much as it sometimes feels like it, not all of us are travelling). This not only means that other more profitable routes may be ahead of us in the queue for returning aircraft, but also that aircraft that had been allocated to New Zealand routes can still be taken away. We saw this recently when Emirates, after making a big push to promote its new Premium Economy option from Christchurch then pushed back the launch date by 3 months inconveniencing the New Zealand passengers who had booked on this new service (and everyone else booked to fly with them).
Capacity and Competition to the United States
A region where we are seeing capacity and competition is between New Zealand and the United States. Airlines such as Fiji Airways, Hawaiian Airlines (pictured above) and Air Tahiti Nui have been offering competitively priced Business Class airfares on indirect services to the US since our borders reopened. The indirect routes require a trade off between money saved and additional travel time when compared to Air New Zealand's direct routes.
Importantly though Qantas' announcement that it will be flying direct from Auckland to New York from June 2023, and American Airline's seasonal service direct from Auckland to Dallas (between November and March) should start applying downward pressure on the cost of Business Class and Premium Economy seats on certain routes. American Airlines will be flying a Dreamliner on the route to Dallas and has priced it at a significant discount to Air New Zealand's direct flight to Houston.
If you are planning to travel to the UK and Europe within the next 11 months, here are our suggestions as to how you might approach your planning.
Travel in next 4 to 6 Months
If you're planning to travel with one of the major carriers over the next say four to six months (Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Emirates, Lufthansa Group, Qantas) then "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". Given the already limited availability any Earlybird specials are unlikely to affect this period. Falling oil prices may see the base airfare comeback slightly, but the challenge will still be finding the cheapest booking classes due to high demand and limited capacity.
Our suggestion: Contact us now to investigate your flights rather than waiting any longer and missing out / paying more.
If you are thinking of including a cruise holiday as part of your itinerary, now is also a good time for us to investigate last minute 2022 / early 2023 specials.
7 to 11 months
The further we look into the next 11 months the more availability we see of the cheaper booking classes. Whether you commit now, or wait longer will depend on how you like to plan:
If you prefer certainty, and value certainty over the risk of missing out (even if that's at the cost of potentially seeing a cheaper airfare in the future) then you can act now.
If you're open to seeing how things unfold, and potentially seeing better airfares on sale later in 2022 and into early 2023 (but accept that this comes at the risk of missing out on the cheapest booking classes if there are no Earlybird specials) then there is some wiggle room to wait.
As with all crystal ball gazing about airfares, there are no guarantees.
Contact Fine Travel
As a New Zealand based travel agency with a specific focus on the premium cabins, Fine Travel Consultants are reviewing and booking Business Class and Premium Economy options on a daily basis - looking at alternative routes, different airline offerings (and mixes) and searching for discounted Business Class booking classes across the 11 months of released seat capacity.