Segmentation in the all-business sector

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Not every all-premium carrier is after the same slice of the market.

New York-based Eos says it is targeting hedge-fund managers and others at the very upper level of travel demographics with a first-class like product at business class fares. Executive vice-president global sales Toby Joseph says passengers are attracted by its extraordinarily high levels of service, with 48 lie-flat seats each in a cubicle or private area, and its use of London Stansted instead of Heathrow is the deciding selling point.

"We are able to offer people a straight in-and-out airport experience that lets them be on the train to London or in a car within minutes as opposed to the hell that is Heathrow - an unpleasant experience that will only get worse," Joseph says.

Washington-based Maxjet and London-based Silverjet are targeting smaller businesses and individuals by offering a business class product at a premium economy fare. Maxjet's product is aimed at executives whose corporate travel policies "recognise our value proposition," says Josh Marx, senior vice-president for planning and development. He adds that Maxjet is also courting connecting passengers who book flights on low-cost carriers operating out of Stansted and Las Vegas: "At Stansted, European low-fares carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair or Wizz offer hundreds of connections. So someone who is say a plant manager in southern France can easily connect."

UK-based Silverjet is focused on growing the market by wooing individuals who normally do not fly business class. "We'll grow the overall size of the business class market by taking on economy and premium economy," says Silverjet chief executive Lawrence Hunt.

Paris-based L'Avion has a similar focus. Chief executive Marc Rochet says half of L'Avion's customers used to fly business class on legacy carriers while the other half are full fare economy passengers who find business class too expensive. He says L'Avion initially only focused on wooing small corporations, professionals and individuals. But "big corporations are beginning to look at this type of operation because they are budget constrained. They're thinking they can make a lot of savings. I agree legacy carriers have an advantage but over time I think we can take a share," Rochet says.

PrivatAir chief executive Greg Thomas, however, predicts that not all the start-ups will survive and believes the all-premium market is best served by legacy carriers given their extensive networks and iron-clad relationships with large corporations. "When you look at the single route operators, they are fighting for market outside the corporate contracts or those guys trying to get around corporate travel policies," he says.

While the start-ups heavily market the exclusivity of their services, including their use of private terminals, the network carriers generally do not market their all-premium operations separately from their normal business class product. Lufthansa and Swiss say some of their customers seek out flights operated by PrivatAir but there is no difference in the fare compared to a widebody business class seat on the same route. "We don't market it separately in the reservation system," says Lufthansa vice-president Karsten Benz, adding that the business jet service is similar but the flight attendants are supplied by PrivatAir and the aircraft is branded PrivatAir.