Business and First Class Airline Tickets Are Taking Off

By: James Flippin · August 15, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

Upgrading Seats

A new era of air travel may be upon us. And it’s getting pricey.

In recent years, the number of travelers flying first or business class has taken off. In response, airlines have entered an arms race to upgrade their fleets to include more premium seats — from extra legroom to a first-class cabin.

Luxury seats offer significantly higher margins for airlines than economy seats. For example, a premium Delta Air Lines (DAL) ticket between New York and Paris recently cost a little over $3,000. An economy ticket for the same route went for roughly one-third of that price.

Flying in Style

Economy seats still make up the bulk of airline ticket sales. But the share of business and first class tickets is growing rapidly.

In 2009, only 9% of seats sold were first class, according to a Delta spokesperson. By 2019, the share of premium seats had risen to 28%. In 2024, experts predict premium seats will make up 30% of all ticket sales.

Finding the Balance

Major airlines across the world have taken notice of this trend, rushing to update their jets to accommodate more passengers who want more room and comfort in the air. Delta, JetBlue (JBLU), and United Airlines (UA) have unveiled new first-class seats, while American Airlines (AA) plans to replace its Flagship First class with a business-class cabin on some of its Boeing (BA) 777 jets.

On the international stage, Singapore Airlines (SINGY) and Emirates are taking it one step further by offering first-class cabins with onboard showers, sliding doors for privacy, and the square footage of a small hotel room.

On the flip side, economy seats still account for nearly 80% of all airline tickets, and airlines have no interest in replacing them entirely. It’s all about finding the right balance to ensure their economy sales maintain altitude, even as premium ticket sales fly sky high.

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