It can be harder than ever to persuade cash-strapped management to pay up the extra money required for a business-class seat. Here are some scenarios where it still makes sense, despite the high price tag.
Picture by T-Bet
Business-class travel has that name for a reason: traditionally, heading to the front end of the plane was the prerogative of those who were either being paid a lot, or had been paid enough in the past to retire on a big fat mound of cash. However, tighter travel policies in many businesses mean that it's often harder to get a business-class berth.
Many organisations operate strict economy-for-everyone policies; others only allow business-class travel for journeys over a certain length; and the emergence of premium economy has seen some companies promote that rather than full business as an alternative. The shift of ticket buying online hasn't always helped matters; it's much easier than it used to be for someone to find out just how much more expensive that business-class seat really is.
Despite that, there are still some clear scenarios where business class makes more sense. Here are the most common examples.
When you need to land overseas and head straight into a meeting. Flying to the US or Europe or central South-East Asia is brutal; if you land first thing in the morning and have to head straight to a meeting on no rest, you're not going to deliver effectively. Some businesses deal with this by choosing the cheaper flights and sending you in a day early, but that also means you are entirely out of the loop for even longer. For high-speed overseas turnarounds, business is a much more forgiving environment — you can rest or work on the plane far more effectively.
When corporate travel policy minimises the price difference. Large corporations often organise bulk travel deals through a travel management company in order to track expenses more efficiently and to reduce costs. This often has the effect of making prices more predictable, but less flexible: that is, you won't get slugged with the most expensive last-minute airfares, but by the same token, you won't get access to super-cheap last-minute deals either.
One consequence of these arrangements can be that business class fares don't differ as widely as they might with conventional, direct-from-the-net fares. This won't always help — some companies set such strict policies with travel managers that you can't even get a business-class quote — but it's worth investigating.
When you need maximum flexibility. If you have fixed flight plans that won't change and you can handle being delayed if there's problems with that particular plane, then the cheapest available fare might make sense. However, if you need flexibility to either extend or shorten a journey, then business class can be more appealing, since you'll almost invariably have much more flexibility to change your seat, and usually less competition to get alternative seats. By the time you pay a large number of change fees in economy, the difference can be a lot less marked.
When your employer is keen to retain you. Buying a business-class ticket is expensive, but so is retaining an employee with rare or valuable skills. Given that recruitment costs can account for 20 per cent or more of a new hire, it may prove cheaper for the business to supply better travel conditions than to shunt you into economy and this inspire you to seek employment elsewhere.
How effective this strategy is depends to a fair extent on the rarity of your skills; if you're earning less than six figures, the odds are, to be honest, low. But if you do have an in-demand ability and you're shifting to a new job where travel is likely to be a requirement, this is definitely something you can bring to negotiations.
When corporate travel policy works has a US or European focus. We've already mentioned the "no business class unless you fly continually for longer than a certain time" scenario. In many multi-national corporations, that limit is set at around six hours, since that covers most internal flights in the US and Europe. If you happen to end up in one of these companies (and you live on the east coast, as most Australians do), the majority of overseas business trips will fall outside the six-hour limit. It certainly shouldn't be the sole reason for choosing an employer, but it's an example of where a non-Australian mindset might work in your favour.
When the value of what you're doing outstrips the cost of the trip. Sure, this should be obvious, but business policy sometimes trumps common sense. If you're responsible for negotiating a multi-million dollar deal, then skimping on travel and presenting you in a less-than-optimum state seems like a false economy.
What rules apply in your company for taking business class travel, and have you found effective means to get it authorised? Share your experiences in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is a fond fan of the pointy end of the plane, but can't always muster the economic argument. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker. Throughout Business Travel Week, we're looking at strategies to make business travel more productive.