Business Travel: Companies Increasingly Letting Employees Fly Business Class

Scott McCartney reports in the Wall Street Journal that corporate travel policies are becoming more generous allowing employees to fly in premium cabins.

There’s a tight labor market and companies don’t want to lose their best employees. The spread between business and coach and winnowed down. With more competition for premium cabin seats there are fewer upgrades available.

While travel is a business expense, comfortable business travel that’s considered ordinary and necessary isn’t taxed as income. It’s cheaper for an employer to buy business class than for an employee to buy up the difference.

[Expedia’s business travel booking portal] Egencia says more of its clients have recently begun making business class more available to employees. Some have tailored that perk to employees who travel more than 10 times a year on long flights, says Virginie Pouget, Egencia’s head of global consulting.

…The two most important remedies to reduce friction, according to road warriors: booking business class on flights of at least six hours, and reducing personal time spent on company travel.

…“If you fly once a month, you’re flying coach. If you fly every week, you should be in business class,” says Ariel Cohen, TripActions CEO and co-founder.

American Airlines Business Class

In addition to loosening up the requirement for buying premium cabin seats, companies are increasingly:

  • Allowing employees to take more expensive non-stop flights on non-preferred carriers
  • Scheduling afternoon meetings so employees can take a morning flight in rather than coming in the night before

Premium cabin rules aside, companies are much less likely to require ‘cheapest airfare’ as the default. For instance many company travel portals don’t even show basic economy options which is exactly the bet airlines were making to re-exert leverage over business travel airfares.

Have you noticed any change — more or less generous rules — for your business travel?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Unpopular truth – that makes zero sense.

    Points are included in the purchase cost of the service. By your logic, employees should be taxed for using an employer-provided mobile device to check their bank balance or a work-provided laptop to schedule a dental appointment.

  2. Points travel is one of the few benefits left to being a small business owner in the U.S. The tax law changes will help bigger corps but still won’t help a lot of smaller companies from what I’ve read and then will help only if they spend the money to convert to a diff tax structure by going from say an llc to inc, etc which is more expensive to operate, usually requires more accounting and much higher fees. I sold my biz last year after 20 years and the only real benefit to being self employed sometimes was the points because I paid ungodly sums in taxes every year…at least I could earn points from biz purchases to eventually get to travel on….because as a biz owner, every trip I took I had a cell phone tied to my hip and never really got a break. It isn’t the dream folks think it is for most small biz owners, you work twice the hours you ever would for someone else and most of the time you’re giving so much of it back in taxes that you wonder why you bother…I know I did.

  3. I used to work for a large retailer in the US and our travel policy didn’t even allow us to keep FF miles. Everyone who traveled for work had a corporate FF # for each airline and the company kept the points and pooled them to use for future ticket purchases when it was cost prohibitive to purchase a ticket. Sucked big time.

  4. More companies paying for business class is also good for those who buy their own tickets and who fly or like to fly premium economy. PE was supposedly the sweet spot for business travelers who couldn’t fly business class. Empty PE seats should mean lower PE fares. Anecdotally, flying from PEK to LAX a few days ago in AA’s 21-seat PE cabin, only two seats were occupied. I anticipated great service. Silly me. Instead the FAs assigned to PE decided to help out in the economy cabin and we were practically ignored.

  5. My company is VP or higher for premium class and then Biz only for intl greater than 5 hrs. Generally the younger guys on our team do all the travel. Us non millennials realize how much it sucks and try to avoid biz travel when possible.

  6. If anything, my company is getting stingier with regards to travel policy from this year. Max $200 hotel rate and $100 meal cost per day. Not easy when most of your travel is in expensive financial centers of the world. J class only on overnight flights over 6 hours and has to be lowest reasonable route which doesn’t take into account difference in reliability.

  7. …“If you fly once a month, you’re flying coach. If you fly every week, you should be in business class,” says Ariel Cohen, TripActions CEO and co-founder.

    BULL$#|+ —> if you’re flying for work, IMHO you should be flying in Business for *any* flight, say, 4 hours or more, regardless of how many times a month/year you travel for work. Anything 3 hours or less, as long as it’s your job telling you “fly there,” at a minimum you should be in PE.

    Yeah, OK, when I was in my 20s, flying SFO-ORD-NYC-MIA-SFO and working as soon as I hit the ground was something my body could take…not my first choice however. But there is NO WAY I could do that now without a lot of backaches, knee pain, and feeling tired. If your job is sending you to ___________ for work, they *should* want you to be working at your best….ergo, Business class — or PE at the very least.

  8. This sounds like one of those articles where someone is attempting to get people to do something they are not doing by saying “everybody’s doing it.”

  9. When airlines went revenue based mileage earnings, I tripled to sometimes 8x my miles. My company has always allowed flying business class on overseas flights. (however they will often book economy for connections in the US or overseas….) I get much more miles based on the price of a ticket than on the miles flown.

  10. Only one employer in my family and friends circle, allows business class overseas. My company only allows VP and above to book business class internationally. It is true that domestically non-stops and first are allowed. Mostly because the price difference is much smaller than a few years ago. One has to look at the compensation level to see what is allowed. Lower level employees for the most part, are not being booked into business class overseas.

  11. it is ludicrous to send an employee on a 10 hour trip (as I often do) and then expect a fully alert, full competency performance at the other end when you fly them premium economy. I need to sleep at night – and I am not a trained super soldier who sleeps standing up. Sounds like the company wants a premium economy performance. And complaining that it is too expensive to ensure that your frontline negotiator and representative is in the best possible shape when going into battle for you is so self-defeating and mis-focused as to be incredibly naive. If its too expensive, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by taking it out on your employee, take the issue to the airlines….and if it is too expensive to look after your commercial negotiator, then perhaps your priorities have gone awry. This whole conversation is stupid. Business class is for business travel, n’est-ce pas?

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