Recently British Airways had first class on sale as low as $2100 roundtrip between Boston and London.
- It was very much for off-season
- British Airways first class is legions behind the first class products of many competitors (although still quite lovely)
- Premium cabins are sold for far lower multiples of economy than they used to be. And as a result more of the seats are sold rather than going out empty or being given as upgrades.
British Airways First Class
Lucky at One Mile at a Time wrote about a first class sale on Cathay Pacific where the prices were anything but good: “They start at just $18,780 roundtrip between the US and Asia”
Cathay Pacific First Class
Obviously there are sales… and then there are sales. They can be used to stimulate business during soft periods. I do wonder though whether $9000+ each way limited-time fares do generate incremental business. I’d love to see the data.
Another way that airlines price discriminate selling premium cabin tickets is based on market in which the tickets are sold. An airline may sell a ticket for a whole lot less originating in Asia or Africa than in Europe or the U.S.
There may be more customers in the U.S. willing to buy a premium cabin ticket to Africa, than the other way around. So selling seats cheaper originating in Africa can fill otherwise empty seats without reducing the price many of the Americans will pay.
It’s worth running the flight for the high revenue traffic heading to a destination and back, and once the airline is flying the plane anyway it’s willing to fill up remaining seats at a discount. So the way it does that is discounting for passengers buying their ticket to start a journey in the lower revenue end of the trip.
Here’s a great example. Several months ago a reader (apologies, I’ve forgotten who) shared an Emirates first class fare with me between Maputo, Mozambique and San Francisco on Emirates.
One-ways run $2571:
Here’s the itinerary — it’s the hour-long flight to Johannesburg on South African and then Emirates first via Dubai.
Here you’re flying an Emirates 777 to Dubai, so a first class suite but no onboard shower. Relax in the Emirates “Night of the Comet” lounge and then take an A380 complete with shower suites and onboard bar to San Francisco.
In fact, roundtrips originating in Mozambique are ‘only’ $4256.
I say ‘only’ because the same roundtrip itinerary originating in San Francisco will run over $37,000.
Originating in Mozambique is literally 89% off the price of the same flights originating in San Francisco.
This isn’t terribly useful to too many people. And that’s the point. The one-way fare is still a lot of money.
But there will be some people who choose to book a one-way award ticket to Africa, and then buy their ticket back from Africa. Or Asia. Colombo, Sri Lanka has been especially known over the years as a great city to start from for cheap airfare. Cairo has been as well. It’s often less expensive to buy a ticket from India than it is to buy a ticket to India.
Perhaps the cheapest city ever to buy tickets from used to be Tripoli, Libya. This was during the Muammar Gaddafi regime. The challenge, though, was getting the Libyan visa as you’d generally need to pick up physical paper tickets issued in Libya to make this work.