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.
2023 Earlybird Business Class Specials?
In 2022 we saw the effect of the government’s surprise announcement to bring forward the opening of our borders for New Zealanders to travel overseas that left airlines scrambling to allocate capacity to our market. Although there was a surge in bookings for outbound travel, delaying the opening of our borders to inbound tourists affected the business case for allocating more aircraft to New Zealand. Combined with soaring oil prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Business Class prices to the UK and Europe rose dramatically and any Business Class seat, let alone discounted Business Class booking classes were hard to come by.
Industry figures we have seen show airline capacity continuing to increase and rumours of the return of more airlines to our skies (particularly China Southern) should result in Business Class prices starting to normalise. In June 2022 the available airline seats available for sale were at 36% of pre-Covid seats. In August this is expected to reach 53% and by November 74%.
Increasing competition and capacity is required before we are likely to see traditional Earlybird Business Class specials for the peak 2023 UK / Europe summer season.
The history of UK / Europe Earlybird Specials
- Pre-Covid, airline competition in the market for Business Class flights from New Zealand to the UK / Europe changed the way airlines approached the traditional UK / Europe Earlybird season.
- At the start of the season we would traditionally see a resetting of lead-in Business Class specials to what would be the lowest price for the cheapest Business Class booking class for the season. From 2018 these lead-in prices plateaued, and we started to see “Rolling Specials” without lead-in price increases become more common.
- With some exceptions, 2019 Earlybird pricing largely represented a continuation of the 2018 Business Class specials that had been in the market. There was no noticeable “reset” of entry level prices to a lower start of season lead-in price.
- Airlines 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 gauge this).
- Booking in advance then provided the greatest opportunity to secure lead-in pricing. The availability (or relative scarcity) of the required “lead-in booking class” became 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.
In 2017 Qatar Airways made a real impact on the New Zealand market for Business Class airfares to the UK / Europe. As we met 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, Korean Air 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 we 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.