Know Your Product

Chapter 8

Know Your Product

If you want to become an expert seller, you want to be an expert in what you’re selling. When you have luxury customers, you want to learn how to speak their language in order to best serve them.

Which aircraft can offer your client flat bed seats? What is the difference between business class and first class? How are fares determined? In this section, we will introduce you to the basics you need to know about airlines and the products they sell.

Aircraft Types/Manufacturers

Airbus and Boeing are the largest aircraft manufacturers, followed by the much smaller Bombardier and Embraer.

Suffice it to say that there are countless different types of aircrafts with their own, unique configuration. Some smaller ones are economy only, others are split into economy and business, while the bigger models feature three or four distinct cabins or might even be multiple floors. Planes also differ depending on whether they are designed for short-haul or long-haul flights.

Cabin Classes

There are up to 4 cabin classes on an aircraft: economy, premium economy, business class and first class. Not all classes are created equal. The nature of these classes can vary depending on the airline and the size of the aircraft.

When it comes to economy, airlines often take the most economical option, often at the expense of passenger comfort (anyone else feel like sardines?). However when it comes to luxury air, airlines are becoming highly competitive, rolling out the red carpet for their clients and trying to one-up each other with the best service possible. It’s a battle for airline supremacy and the passengers get to reap the benefits! Let’s take a look at each of the cabin classes so that we can understand how they are different from one another.

Tip from the Pros: There is a distinction between international and domestic class configurations. What is called ‘first class’ on a domestic flight (let’s say from New York to Los Angeles), would in reality more closely resemble ‘premium economy’ on an international flight. The classes described below are based on international long-haul configurations.

Economy

Economy – also called coach – is the lowest class of service available. You get the barebone service and comfort here. They provide the least amount of legroom – ranging between 30 and 34 inches – and the least seat width – between 16 and 19 inches. Some airlines offer a few economy seats with a little extra leg room and more recline. These seats have a slightly higher price tag, but might be worth it for the extra comfort.

Some airlines now also offer basic economy. This is even cheaper than regular economy, but has extreme restrictions such as extra luggage and carry-on costs, no seat selection, and no allowed itinerary changes.

Photo credit: iStock

You will most likely find the cheapest fares in the economy cabin – but not always. If all the cheaper booking classes in economy are sold out, premium economy might end up cheaper (more on ‘booking classes’ later).

Premium Economy

Usually set apart in its own private cabin, premium economy offers better service and amenities than regular economy.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines

It is a fairly new class of service, and affords passengers a nice mid range of comforts including extra legroom, extra seat width, more seat recline, larger personal TV screens, laptop power ports, better amenities and premium food/drink services. You may also get adjustable headrests, leg rests or lumbar support. Premium economy can be up to 85% more expensive than coach but as low as 10% more when it is a last minute booking. It represents the smallest portion of seats available, but airlines have recognized the value of these seats with the rise of longer flight routes. Premium economy provides that extra comfort on those long trips all the while remaining more affordable than business or first class.

There is much confusion regarding premium economy, as there are airlines that offer classes such as economy comfort or economy plus. Those terms can muddy the waters a bit.

Each airline has its own standards. Make sure you get the full details from the GDS or your supplier, or verify it on seatguru (more on seatguru in a bit). The last thing you want is a misunderstanding, and an angry client.

Business Class

Just one step away from first class, business class is the class of choice for most business travelers, as well as many leisure travelers. Seats will often lie flat, and sometimes actually convert to a bed.

Photo credit: @skyseats

There is an increased staff-to-passenger ratio, tons of legroom, premium food and wine service, and amenities kits (e.g. sleeping masks or toiletries). Business class has been getting so luxurious over the years that some airlines have actually gotten rid of their first class option. Some airlines even offer sliding doors for each business class seat for extra privacy and comfort. Here’s just a taste of the luxury – Emirates has a fully-stocked bar in its A380 planes exclusive to business class passengers.


First Class

This is the highest class of service offered, and provides the most luxurious experience where comfort and amenities are the top priority.

Photo credit: Singapore Airlines

When compared to business class, first class cabins include 10-30 extra inches of legroom, 1-2  extra inches of seat width, larger TV screens with more viewing options, a higher staff-to-passenger ratio, and amenities kits. Some airlines even have private suites and menus designed by Michelin starred chefs. Interestingly, first class has seen a recent decline as airlines continuously increase the comforts and value of business class.


Seats

While different airline carriers provide similar in-flight amenities, entertainment and services, the same cannot be said about the seats. We touched on the differences between the seats you will find in each cabin class in the previous section, however the types of seats available can vary significantly depending on the airline and itinerary. For luxury air, the types of seats available can be dramatically different. Let’s take a look at the types of seats that you can find in premium, luxury air cabins.

Recliner Seats – offer more recline, more space and comfort than standard economy seats and are often featured in premium economy.

Angle Lie-Flat Seats – many airlines promote that these seats are able to recline up to 180 degrees, but they are actually slightly angled in their fully reclined position, meaning that they are very comfortable but not ideal for sleeping.

Flat Bed Seats – completely horizontal when in their fully reclined position, turning them into a bed and making them a great option for comfort and sleep.

Suites – the name says it all. We’re not talking about seats anymore. Instead, you’ll find a private room that features a fully flat bed, work station and television. Some are so extravagant that it’s practically like you’re staying in a luxurious hotel room that can fly across an ocean! Singapore Airlines has a suite for couples traveling together that features a double bed. Etihad’s cabin is actually a three-room suite equipped with a living room and its own private bathroom.

Booking Class

Be careful not to confuse booking class with cabin classes discussed above.

The booking class (or fare basis code) is a letter in a hierarchy that relates to the availability, pricing and rules of a ticket.

There are multiple booking classes within each cabin, and each booking class prices differently. As mentioned in Chapter 5, this is crucial to the airlines’ profit strategy.  The fare you pay is entirely based on availability and when you purchase your ticket. You could be sitting next to someone in the same cabin class as you who paid far more for their ticket if all the cheaper booking class tickets are sold out.

The booking class also determines other rules such as how many airline miles you can earn for the flight and how flexible your reservation is if you had to change it.


Each airline has its own booking classes and fare basis codes. Some codes are industry standards, but there are many exceptions. And most airlines also have a few of their own unique codes.


Here is a sample list of cabin codes that may be used by airlines:


First Class Category
F First Class A First Class Discounted

Business Class Category
J Business Class Premium
I
Business Class Discounted
C Business Class
Z
Business Class Discounted
D Business Class Discounted

Economy / Coach Class Category

W Economy / Premium
Y
Economy
M
Economy
S
Economy
B
Economy / Discounted
H Economy Discounted
K
Economy Discounted
L
Economy Discounted
N
Economy Discounted
Q Economy Discounted
T
Economy Discounted
V
Economy Discounted
X
Economy Discounted

Miscellaneous

U Shuttle Service –
   No Reservations Required
E
Shuttle Service – No
   Reservations Permitted –
   Seat Confirmed at Check In
G Conditional Reservations
   (eg. Group Bookings)
O
Varied use by Airlines
P Varied use by Airlines
R
Varied use by Airlines

To show you just how confusing it can get, consider this:

  • A class on most airlines is First Class, but on Alitalia it means Premium Economy.
  • P class is Business Discounted on United, First class on Air France and Korean Air, but Premium on ELAL
  • B is Basic Economy on American Airlines, but semi flexible on almost every other airline

See where we’re going with that? Confused yet? Wait. It gets even more complicated…

  • For the P class example above, it’s only First class on Air France if it’s booked through Air France. If Delta books the Air France as a codeshare, P means Premium Economy.

The list goes on and on…

The complete details would be way too numerous to mention here, and do keep in mind that the codes above are only examples. They are definitely not absolute.

But there’s good news: GDS has all the info, so once you know how to use the GDS, you will be able to review any code shown in your search results and get all the details for that particular airline and flight.

Not a GDS user? Your travel supplier will probably reformat the GDS code into understandable text, and provide all the details you need to know in order to communicate with your client. This is commonly referred to as decoding. And, if you ever do bump into a set of GDS codes that haven’t been decoded, at least you know to ask.

The Best Time to Book

The internet is full of sites and news sources claiming that they have found the ‘formula’ for the best time to book. We can’t vouch for any of that in general, and definitely not when it comes to luxury air.

Airlines publish their fares eleven months in advance. At first they test the waters to see how much they can sell it for, and then adjust a bit. Our advice is that anywhere in the area of six months in advance is perfect. Especially when it comes to NET fares; once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Keep in mind that if the travel dates are in peak season – like New Years or Thanksgiving – there is a very high demand. It is highly unlikely that they will ever go on sale

However, if the travel dates are not peak season there is always a chance that the airlines will run a flash sale on unsold seats. Therefore, the best advice we can give you is to purchase refundable fares whenever feasible. (More on refundable fares in the ‘Fare Rules Overview’ section.) That way, if the price drops significantly you can refund the original ticket for a small fee and then rebook it.

SeatGuru

Not sure if your business class booking features a flat bed seat? Want to see the configuration of the seats? Looking for information about traveling with your beloved pet? Here is the secret weapon used by travel agents across the globe: www.SeatGuru.com

A product of Tripadvisor®, SeatGuru is your one-stop shop for up-to-date specifications on a flight, from the seat map to the amenities, making it a fantastic tool for luxury air specialists who want to ensure that their clients are getting a premium service. You can browse through traveler reviews and photos of the aircraft and accomodations, get information about the types of seats available, and even look over information specific to each airline regarding check-in, baggage policies, unaccompanied minors, traveling with infants or a number of other questions and concerns you may have.

They also have a blog section where travel bloggers detail their experiences with different airlines and airports and provide savvy tips for their readers.

Sample screenshots of seatguru.com


Chapter 8 Takeaways…

  • The cabin class determines the quality of service and the level of comfort
  • There are 4 cabin classes: Economy, premium economy, business class, and first class
  • There is a difference between domestic and international seat classes
  • Luxury classes on international flights are business and first class
  • Fares depend on booking class and availability
  • The type of seats available can differ dramatically depending on the airline and itinerary
  • The best time to book luxury airfare is about 6 months in advance
  • Purchase refundable fares whenever feasible
  • Use www.seatguru.com often!