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Will We See 2022 UK and Europe Business Class Earlybirds?

It seems like a lifetime ago that we wrote about the and how the traditional UK / Europe Earlybird season would unfold.  As vaccine programs are rolled out in New Zealand and around the world, we have been encouraged by the increased interest in UK / Europe Business Class airfares from Fine Travel clients.  We therefore look ahead to the 2022 UK / Europe summer, and consider whether Earlybird airfares will return in 2021.

The History of UK / Europe Earlybird Airfares

In our 2018 blog When is the Best Time to book Business Class airfares to the UK and Europe we shared our insights into how airlines traditionally approached the release of their discounted Business Class airfares to the UK and Europe in the New Zealand market.  Those Fine Travel clients who were in a position to confirm their plans for the following year (generally around August / September) could take advantage of what would traditionally be the cheapest Business Class airfares for that season.  Generally, once a special was released, airlines avoided undercutting that special later in the season.  This meant that clients who committed early would almost never be left feeling that they would have been better to wait.  Last minute UK / Europe Business Class airfare specials became rare as airlines developed sophisticated revenue management algorithms.

The Business Class discounts generally came in two forms:

  • Greater availability of the cheapest booking classes
  • A short term reduction in the price of the cheapest booking class

In our blog Plan Ahead for Discounted Business Class airfare to the UK and Europe we observed that fewer airlines were reducing the price of their cheapest booking classes, and were instead managing the availability of those booking classes.  So for example, an Emirates “O Class” airfare, or Qatar Airways R Class airfare would generally not change too much in price, but the availability of those booking classes became increasingly rare as the season progressed.

2021 – Our Experience To Date

So far in 2021 we have seen key airlines that flew from New Zealand to the UK and Europe return to our skies, or announce a return date.  This was an important first step as, for awhile in 2020, Air New Zealand was our only link to the outside world.  Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are now all offering Business Class airfares to the UK and Europe (historically these airlines were our Top Selling Airlines to the UK and Europe prior to the pandemic).  Korean Air, which was an increasingly popular option for Fine Travel clients, has announced its planned return to New Zealand from July 2021.

In these early stages, we have seen very few short life tactical airfares and until we see the Elephants (discussed below) leave the room, we may not see the pre-Covid competition return.

The Elephants in the Room

There are two large elephants wandering the room at the moment: the UK’s Traffic Light System; and New Zealand’s Compulsory 14 days of quarantine for returning travellers.

UK’s Traffic Light System

As the UK is the most popular destination for New Zealand travellers, its border policies are an important consideration and affects the routes available from New Zealand.

The UK’s Traffic Light system designates a country as either Red, Amber or Green with each designation either prohibiting entry, or carrying different obligations on arrival.  At the time of writing, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are designated as Red List countries.  This means that although New Zealand is a Green List country, the Red List restrictions will generally apply if you fly with Emirates or Qatar Airways as you would transit Dubai or Doha respectively. One of the main Red List restrictions is that only British and Irish nationals, and those who have UK residency rights are allowed to enter the UK.  South Korea, Hong Kong and the United States are currently Amber List countries, which means obligations such as 10 days home isolation apply.

While the Traffic Light System is in place, and key routes to the UK are either effectively blocked (in the case of Dubai and Doha) or have strict arrival obligations (in the case of Hong Kong and the United States) the competitive pressure remains limited.  Singapore Airlines Business Class via Singapore effectively becomes the only Green List Route to the UK at the moment.

New Zealand’s Managed Isolation

At the time of writing, we do not appear to have a clear path to the removal of our 14 day managed isolation requirement for returning travellers and this will continue to limit international travel.  As our vaccine program progresses and work continues on the IATA vaccine passport program, we should start to see the New Zealand government’s policy take shape.  Once this border policy is developed, the major airlines will have greater clarity on when demand will return and a framework for running UK and Europe Earlybird Campaigns.

Will We See 2022 Business Class UK and Europe Earlybird Specials?

Taking all these factors into account there is a good argument to be made that we will see 2022 UK / Europe Earlybird airfares before the end of 2021.  With Vaccine Group Four due to start receiving their Covid vaccines from the end of July, by the end of September the government may have sufficient confidence to set tentative border reopening dates in early 2022.  If the New Zealand borders reopen to allow New Zealanders to return from the 2022 UK and Europe summer, this should give the airlines the confidence they need to start running tactical campaigns again.

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