Thursday, April 16, 2009

International Premium-Travel Slump Worsens

There's more bad news for airlines, but good news for those with a lot of frequent flier miles piled up, or for those who are flexible on international travel plans. The international fare sales and award-ticket deals are probably going to continue for a while.

That's because international front-of-the-plane fare sales have not had the effect of arresting the plunge in premium overseas travel. The number of passengers traveling on first-class and business-class fares dropped 21.1 percent in February, following a 16.7 percent drop in January, according to figures out today from the International Air Transport Association.

Nor did those amazing fare sales in coach have the desired affect for airlines, at least in the winter off-season. Travel on coach tickets was down 8.3 percent in February, following a decline of 4.7 percent in January. Those numbers may even be misleading for gauging the weak leisure travel market as "there is evidence that business passengers continue to trade down to cheaper seats at the back of the aircraft," the IATA says.

(The comparisons are all to the previous month in 2008).

Pacific markets showed the biggest decline in premium travel in February, off 27.3 percent. This is not good news for Delta Air Lines, which has bet heavily on international premium traffic and which acquired a vast new network of Pacific routes when it bought Northwest Airlines last year.

Premium traffic on the North Atlantic routes was off 22.5 percent in February.

The good news for passengers, of course, is that the airlines still have to fly all of those seats they slammed onto the international routes, until they find more efficient ways to reduce capacity. So those fare sales will continue.


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