We’ve seen an increasing number of airlines roll out “basic” business class products. We’ve seen everything from Qatar Airways to ZIPAIR introduce these kinds of fares. Now Finnair is the latest airline to roll out these fares, except I’d say Finnair’s version is particularly punitive.
Finnair’s new “business light” fares
As of today (June 15, 2021), Finnair has put its new “business light” fares on sale. These new fares are valid for flights within Europe, as well as for flights between Europe and Asia. Finnair won’t initially sell these fares between Europe and the United States, given the oneworld transatlantic joint venture, which prevents Finnair from setting its own pricing.
With this change, Finnair has three types of business class fares:
- Business light, which is the most basic type of business class fare
- Business classic, which is the most traditional type of business class fare
- Business flex, which is the most flexible (and expensive) type of business class fare
Finnair is rolling out “business light” fares
Restrictions on Finnair’s “business light” fares
Finnair’s new “business light” fares include the most restrictions we’ve seen from any major network airline to roll out a “basic” business class product.
What are the restrictions with these new business class fares?
- They only allow carry-ons, and not any checked bags
- They earn 150% elite miles, rather than the 200-250% elite miles offered by other fares
- They don’t allow any changes or cancellations
- They only allow seat assignments and lounge access for a fee
- They don’t allow priority check-in, priority security, or priority boarding
That is ridiculously restrictive. It’s one thing to earn fewer miles and to not allow changes or cancelations, but not even letting people check-in at the business class counter, or board with business class? Really? Ouch…
It’s not entirely clear whether oneworld elite members would still receive their typical privileges or not, which could potentially limit just how bad these fares are for some passengers.
Finnair “business light” fares don’t come with seat assignments
What are Finnair’s “business light” fares like?
There would be a reasonable and consumer-friendly way for Finnair to introduce fares like these. Given the huge number of restrictions we’re talking about, it would be fair if Finnair sold these fares at a significant discount (like 30%+ off the regular business class fare). But nope, like so many other airlines that have introduced basic business class fares, that’s not what Finnair is doing.
For example, take a roundtrip business class ticket from Helsinki to Hong Kong this fall. A roundtrip “business light” fare costs 2,700EUR (~$3,270), while a roundtrip “business classic” fare costs 3,000EUR (~$3,632). I’m sorry, but how outrageous is it to pay over $3,000 for a roundtrip business class ticket and be told to board last and to use economy check-in? It defies logic.
It’s a similar story in other markets, where the savings are marginal. For example, within Europe one of the biggest advantages of business class is all of the priority services, because otherwise you just get an economy seat with a blocked middle and better food. Yet “business light” pricing is only marginally lower.
I simply don’t get it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of basic business class fares, but the idea should be to offer genuine value to customers, and get premium economy travelers to “buy up” to basic business class, when they couldn’t have otherwise justified doing so.
Instead Finnair’s “business light” fares are simply a money-grab. It’s not about the value proposition of “business light,” it’s about being sufficiently punitive to the point that the airline hopes that people will pay enough to avoid it.
Finnair isn’t the first airline to unbundle business class
In fairness to Finnair, it’s not the first airline to introduce these kinds of fares. In mid-2019, Emirates introduced unbundled business class, where the Dubai-based carrier’s cheapest business class fares no longer included lounge access, chauffeur service, or the ability to upgrade, along with limits on seat selection.
Emirates was one of the first airlines to unbundle business class
This is something the airline had been working on for years, and it’s something the airline has maintained, so I guess it’s working quite well.
This is also something that other airlines have followed since Emirates lead the way, though the execution has differed. For example, when Lufthansa introduces a new business class on its 777Xs, the airline plans on charging for certain seat assignments, essentially creating a premium business class. The airline hasn’t yet decided if it plans to differentiate the soft product, but it’s something that’s under consideration.
Lufthansa’s new business class, coming on the 777X
Perhaps what Lufthansa is doing there is the opposite of Emirates — rather than unbundling business class, the airline is bundling to create an even more premium product.
Finnair has rolled out its new “business light” fares, which are incredibly restrictive. They don’t allow free checked bags, changes, cancelations, or lounge access. But beyond that, they don’t even allow you to check-in or board with business class, which is something so restrictive that we’ve never seen before.
To add insult to injury, these fares aren’t actually that attractive. It’s one thing if these basic business class fares were half of the regular business class price, but that’s definitely not the case. Rather than trying to offer a genuine value proposition, Finnair is clearly just hoping that people will pay extra to avoid basic business class.
What do you make of Finnair’s new basic business class fares?