Could Unbundling Come to Business Class? Cheaper Tickets With No Miles or Lounge Access

“Unbundling” is a favorite topic of airlines, it means charging additional fees for things like checked bags that used to be included in the price of a ticket.

In theory this should be good for travelers – you pay for only what you use – though in practice most passengers hate it and see themselves as paying more.

Much of unbundling, in the US at least, is driven by the tax code.

Although premium cabins continue to have most services included – checked bags, meals, priority boarding, and often even more flexible changes. That’s not universally true — Spirit Airlines markets “the Big Front Seat” which is just that — a bigger seat — and doesn’t buy you out of other fees such as carry ons that don’t fit under your seat.

But if the new CEO of Malaysia Airlines has his way, the airline’s restructuring could mean more than new business class seats and lounge improvements in addition to cutting routes.

It could also bring with it unbundling of business class fares.

Newly-minted Malaysia Airlines CEO Christoph Mueller tipped the new “pick’n’mix” scheme on the sidelines of this week’s International Air Transport Association meeting in Miami.

“Customers might book a business-class seat, but opt out of the miles or lounge access,” Mueller tells Aviation Week.

Malaysia Airlines doesn’t today have IT systems that will support this modularity. But it would be a step beyond what most other carriers have done, if they bring it to fruition.

And if discounted business class tickets don’t come with lounge access, would award tickets?

You may think elite status will at least get you lounge access, but fellow oneworld member British Airways wants to exclude lounge access and priority boarding from its lowest fares.

This would be an extension of BA’s ‘handbag only fares’ that unbundle checked baggage and eliminate the free checked bag benefit for elite members. This exclusion is spelled out specifically in oneworld elite benefit rules as well, meaning that an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum does not receive a complimentary baggage allowance when flying BA on one of these fares.

It’s a brave new world, and business class may not be exempt for long.

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. I could see my company going for this. It’s pretty committed to business class for long haul but keen to save money and earning miles is no value add to them and the lounge is of debatable value. Fair play to them if they did choose these fares.

    That said we have a moratorium on flying Malaysian and our current travel agents struggle to book within our current policies. I suspect this won’t appear in the gds, it’ll be an Internet only thing so not bootable by agents.

  2. Interesting.

    Part of the appeal of buying business class tickets is the “all in one” appeal. I know that when I buy coach tickets, I won’t look at LCC/ULCC carriers unless there’s at least a $100 fare difference. I simply don’t feel like wasting my time figuring out just how much all the ancillary fees are going to cost me…. just to find that the ULCC is $10 cheaper or more expensive. I’ll pay the legacy rate and not sweat it.

    If airlines go to a pay-per-use lounge model for premium cabins, most of them are going to have to up their game, especially at their non-hub locations. If I have to pay at the lounge, why not just pay at the restaurant/bar where I’m likely to get better food?

  3. A lot of company travel policies will pay for business class tickets but not lounge access. Unbundling it will make people choose other airlines. For example we can fly business on international flights over 8 hours. We can spend $500 more than the cheapest fare for the route. So unless they are more than $500 less than the next cheapest fare I would skip it since the $50 lounge fee is not reimbursable.

  4. was surprised to see British Airways charging $100 for seat assignments on my SFO-LHR flight in business

  5. They might as well exclude the 3 free bags too. Anything that decreases the crazy price differential between business and coach is a win for travelers. However if this happens we know that mileage award tickets will get you only the bare bones business class seat.

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