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Emirates has quietly dropped a bombshell on the travel world by introducing a Business Class fare that has a lot of the usual Business Class benefits stripped out. At the time of writing, there’s no mention of this move on the Emirates media page and I haven’t seen it mentioned by any of Emirates’ official outlets but the fare is very real indeed.
Emirates “Special” Business Class Fare
As things stand the new fare (which Emirates is calling ‘Special’ Business Class) is only appearing on a few select routes and, as far as I can tell, the fare is only appearing on routes originating in Dubai….although I expect this to change very quickly as the fare is rolled out systemwide.
The Dubai to London route is one on which the new Emirates Special Business Class fare is now being offered (click to enlarge)…
…but I don’t yet see it when I look to book fares in the other direction (London to Dubai).
Here’s what’s special about Emirates’ ‘Special Business Class’ fare:
- Free seat selection is only available after check-in opens ( I was not offered the option to pay for seat selection when I made a dummy booking).
- Mileage earning is reduced (a DXB-LHR flight earns 3,000 miles with a ‘Special’ fare while it earns 3,750 miles with a ‘Saver’ fare)
- Passengers booking ‘Special’ fares are not entitled to Emirates’ chauffeur service
- Passengers booking ‘Special’ fares do not get access to Emirates’ lounges
- ‘Special’ Business Class fares are not upgradable
- Change fees are considerably higher on ‘Special’ Business Class fare bookings (they’re double the fee charged by Saver fares on the DXB-LHR route)
- The cost to refund a ‘Special’ Business Class fare is considerably higher than the cost to refund a ‘Saver’ fare (AED 1,600 vs AED 800 on a DXB-LHR flight)
I know that the idea of unbundled Business Class fares has been mooted by Emirates in the past but I thought that the introduction of a Premium Economy cabin would see the airline hold off from making this change. Clearly I was wrong.
I don’t see the loss off the chauffeur service as a major issue as Emirates doesn’t actually offer a chauffeur service at a lot of the airports it flys to…but a few of the other changes are concerning.
My first thought when I saw this news was to wonder if the introduction of ‘Special’ Business Class fares is also going to be an award devaluation. Will Business Class award bookings now also not offer lounge access and advanced seat selection? We’ll probably have to wait and see how the rollout of these fares progresses before we know the answer to that question.
The lack of advanced seat selection is probably the biggest issue for me as the Business Class cabin on Emirates’ 777s is still home to the ‘middle seat’. Not being allowed to select a seat before check-in greatly increases the chances that anyone buying an Emirates ‘Special’ Business Class fare will have the dubious honor of having a passenger either side of them for the duration of their 777 flight….and Emirates offers some very long flights with its 777s!
The biggest issue may be the lack of seat selection but my biggest concern is that the idea of an unbundled Business Class product will spread.
I don’t generally fly in Emirates Business class (I think it’s an over-hyped poor Business Class product) but I do fly with Qatar Airways a lot and I’d really rather not see Qatar Airways unbundle its Business Class fares.
Qatar Airways offers truly fantastic Business Class fares on a reasonably frequent basis (usually for travel between Europe and Asia) and these fares can offer a very economical path to top-tier oneworld status. If Qatar Airways takes a look at Emirates and thinks that it too can get away with reducing what it offers as part of its cheapest Business Class fares then we’ll be on a very slippery downhill slope (especially if elite/milage earnings are cut).
There are still a few unknowns surrounding Emirates’ new ‘Special’ Business Class fares (how will they affect award bookings? Will Emirates Skywards Elites get any leeway with these fares? Will the fares appear on all routes?) so it’s too early to come to any definitive conclusions…but things don’t look great.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the ‘Special’ Business Class fare is a cheaper option which comes with fewer benefits because, as far as I can see, the ‘Special’ fares are no lower than the ‘Saver’ fares were a few days ago.
What’s happening here is that Emirates is stripping away benefits while charging no less than before….a bit like what a lot of US and European airlines did when they introduced Basic Economy fares.
From a selfish point of view I won’t care too much about this move from Emirates as long as the idea of an unbundled Business Class fare doesn’t spread. Emirates, as an airline, doesn’t have a lot of uses in my world (it’s not a member of a global alliance, it’s currency is overpriced and I can get to most places Emirates flys with any number of other carriers) so as long as any changes to what Business Class fares offer are limited to Emirates I’ll rest easy.
Sadly, airline management teams aren’t generally the most innovative teams you’ll find and they have a tendency to copy one another quite a bit. If Emirates is seen to be getting away with unbundling Business Class fares there are bound to be other airlines that follow suit…and that’s when things will start to get really bad.
[HT: One Mile At A Time]