x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Flying Emirates business class on short flights - is it worth it?

Economy tickets become expensive during the summer months, but is it wise to sacrifice your Skywards airmiles?

Business Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport Terminal 3 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Business Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport Terminal 3 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
The decision to pay up the extra cash or miles to fly business class within the Middle East is a tricky one. It always comes down to one question - is it really worth it for a flight under four hours?

This debate has gone on for years and typically the accountants have won, with few companies giving employees automatic upgrades for flight times under five or six hours. However, during the summer, a very busy period for flights within the region, the rationale changes somewhat.

Economy tickets become very expensive and the usual route of sidestepping rising prices by using miles to get an economy seat does not work because many flights are full. Faced with such a situation last week for a quick trip to Amman in Jordan, the best solution ended up being a business class seat paid with miles on Emirates Airline out of Dubai.

The flight times were convenient for a fast turnaround to get me back to work for the start of the week, and the complimentary chauffeur would shuttle me from and to Abu Dhabi with little fuss - and crucially, at no extra expense.

My midday flight allowed a leisurely and comfortable journey and check-in, leaving me with enough time to enjoy lunch in the relatively new business class lounges in Concourse A of Terminal 3 at Dubai International.

The really impressive aspect of these lounges is that they are so numerous. You can virtually sit next to your gate while taking full advantage of all the facilities on offer, giving you maximum time before the 30-second stroll on to the plane. So far so good, and the 100,000 or so miles used for the privilege did not feel like they had been wasted.

The experience went swiftly downhill at the very extensive and wonderful-looking buffet on offer. It was mostly inedible. The food reminded me of the bad old days of airplane meals, except that I was still on the ground. The taste of it put me off even trying anything once I was on the aircraft. The conclusion has to be that the sheer immensity of the business class offering at Emirates has now resulted in a huge dip in the quality of the catering. The food has been on an opposite trajectory to the airline's overall growth.

The aircraft I flew in were the oldest versions in Emirates' fleet of A330s and Boeing 777s, and it felt like it. The seats had seen better days and felt tight compared to the newer cabins offered on longer flights. The in-flight entertainment was the same quality as on any route but the screens and equipment felt outdated. At the end of my journey back in Abu Dhabi I felt neutral to the whole experience - it was neither very good nor very bad - and I still cannot conclusively say whether upgrading within the region is worth it or not. Which may be an answer in itself.

q&apremium travel prospers

What has been the overall trend for business class travel this year?

According to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), worldwide premium traffic grew 1.8 per cent year on year in June, a slight dip in the rate of growth. However, in the first half of this year premium travel expanded on average at a slightly faster rate than economy travel, at 3.9 per cent compared to 3.7 per cent.

So it is a good time for premium travel?

Generally speaking yes, since the percentage of premium travellers compared to the overall market has shown steady if unspectacular growth since late 2012 and is now at a little under 6 per cent. Although it is not back to its pre-financial crisis peak of close to 7 per cent.

Where has premium travel been the strongest?

The strongest growth has occurred on the longer-haul markets where the share of premium revenues is greatest. This has helped the financial performance of the longer-haul network airlines, compared to shorter-haul mainly leisure travel-focused airlines in some, though not all, regions. The share of premium revenues has risen further to just under 29 per cent in June - a rise of a bit less than 1 percentage point during the past year, as premium yields have held up more than yields on economy seats. This has partly been due to the mix of routes, according to Iata data for June.


Follow The National's Business section on Twitter