Wow: A Travel Agency Is Chartering An Etihad A380 For A Staff Party

Filed Under: Etihad

Many airlines operate very successful charter flights on behalf of travel companies. For example, Qantas has for years been operating 747 charter flights both over Antarctica for the ‘Antarctica Flights’ company, and around the world for ‘Captains Choice.’ They can be very lucrative for aircraft that may not otherwise be utilised.

Flight Centre is not a charter company, but a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ storefront travel agency. I don’t believe it’s that well known in the US, but is probably the biggest travel agency in Australia and New Zealand. Many storefront travel agencies have closed down over the years, as online travel agencies become more sophisticated so customers can ‘cut out’ the middle-man.

But Flight Centre has prevailed.

Global Gathering

Each year Flight Centre holds what they call their ‘Global Gathering’ event. This is where they reward their top selling travel agents from around the world, by sending them to one global location (which changes each year) for a weekend of celebration, networking and rewards.

I used to live with a friend who worked for Flight Centre, and he has attended Global Gathering for several of the past years. While meeting the ambitious sales targets to qualify for this event requires almost a full year of very hard work, with plenty of overtime, an all expenses paid trip to somewhere like Las Vegas, Macau or Cancun (where previous Global Gatherings have been held) is a great motivation for staff and no doubt a great profit generator for the company.

This year’s Global Gathering will be held in Berlin in mid-July. While some managers arrive earlier for additional events, most staff who have qualified for the trip are only in Berlin for the weekend, arriving on Friday and departing on Sunday. While staff would no doubt like to stay much longer, it tends to be entire stores who either ‘make it’ to Global Gathering or not, so it is not practical to shut down an entire store for a week plus so the staff can enjoy a longer break.

I can see from this year’s agenda that there is a welcome event on the Friday night, followed by a full day of presentations and motivational speeches, awards and usually a surprise celebrity or two. The event then concludes with a huge ball on the Saturday evening. While there’s no doubt plenty of education and motivation, I understand the ‘celebrating’ is the main focus of the weekend for most attendees.

Most years, depending on the location, Flight Centre charters at least one flight to and from the event. Although staff will attend from all over the world, the majority will be coming from Australia, so the logistics of transporting hundreds and hundreds of staff across the globe for a short period is much easier with a charter aircraft.

Often the airline sponsoring the event will provide the charter plane which provides for all sorts of cross-sell and promotional opportunities.

The Etihad Charter

Well this year Flight Centre is chartering what is arguably the world’s best A380, the Etihad A380 from Sydney to Berlin, via Abu Dhabi, and back. What makes this even more unusual is that the plane will be landing at Berlin Schonefeld Airport rather than Tegel. Is this because Tegel cannot handle an A380? I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen one there.

An A380 at Schonefeld will be quite a sight for #avgeeks.

For the Sydney to Abu Dhabi (and return) legs, the regularly scheduled EY451 and EY450 are cancelled on 12 July, and 16 July respectively, with the charter flight operating in its place. Etihad doesn’t operate to Berlin at all, so it’s a special flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin on 13 July returning on 15 July. Presumably the A380 won’t sit empty on the ground all weekend, so my guess is it might continue on to London Heathrow to then operate one of the three daily A380 services back to Abu Dhabi.

I cannot imagine how much it would cost Flight Centre to charter an A380 like this.

What is even more unusual is that Flight Centre will be using all three classes onboard, including their excellent Business Studios, and innovative First Apartments, as well as The Residence. They are offering each leg in the Residence as a prize for the travel agents who sell the most Etihad flights to customers within a certain period. This would be an incredible experience to get a free flight in The Residence!

According to their public registration page, those qualifying travel agents will receive free economy tickets on the charter flights (or other regularly scheduled flights if they are originating from other cities or traveling on other dates). They can then pay to upgrade to business or first class subject to availability of course.

Time to celebrate

Now, I have it on good authority that these charter flights get pretty wild. You have hundreds of travel agents, who have been killing themselves to meet their sales targets all year, and are only away from work for a couple of days and are ready to let their hair down. I have heard rumours that certain airlines that have operated the charters once refuse to do so again (even though it would be lucrative to do so) because the passengers were ‘celebrating’ so much.

Each year Global Gathering has a theme, usually related to the destination – think ‘Casinos’ for Las Vegas, ‘Aloha’ for Hawaii, etc. This year’s theme is ‘Flight Klub,’ with the promotional video focusing on DJs and the nightclub culture that Berlin is so famous for.

The charter flight usually gets into the spirit of the theme with special branding in the cabin and cabin crew dressing up. I would be willing to bet they have a live DJ on board the flight to Abu Dhabi at least. Presumably there won’t be spontaneous bare-knuckled fighting in the galleys like in the movie Fight Club!

Hyped-up travel agents ready to let their hair-down, unlimited alcohol, live DJs on board, shower suites, and The Residence – what could possibly go wrong?

I guess fortunately for Etihad the onboard shower is so small that you really can’t fit more than one person in there at a time…

Bottom line

All jokes aside, it’s impressive that Flight Centre has gone through this much trouble and expense to hire one of the world’s best aircraft as a treat to their hard working staff. And those who win the Residence prizes will be the luckiest travel agents in the world. What a wonderful experience.

I’ll be very interested to follow along on social media to see what they have planned for the charter flights.

Do we have any Flight Centre staff readers? Anyone share anymore insight into what these charter flight are like?

  1. Lucky at this rate you may as well start writing posts about cooking recipes too.

    Why not?

  2. Sounds like a great perq to offer the sales reps (although the actual execution, Fight Klub in the sky, sounds like my idea of an awful trip).

    Also sounds like a great reason to never, ever book travel through Flight Centre or any similar company in which the sales staff are incentivized in a direction that bears no interest to the client’s needs.

  3. Worked for An FC brand in the US for quite a while and honestly, nobody partied harder. I went to Global in Macao and you seriously left US on THU and came home on SUN, back at work on Mon (or else). The FC/Etihad relationship is strong, especially in AUS. Good on them…something tells me they got a pretty good deal on this though.

    Then again, aren’t these wild investments hurting EY?!

  4. @larryinnyc I concur. There was a documentary on British tv about their practices which didn’t reflect well on them. The pay of the travel agents is so low they have to be incentivized.

  5. Yeah indeed. It’s $800 cheaper to fly on Singapore but I won’t tell you about that. Here’s an awesome deal on etihad…..

    Plenty of Aussies still feel much more comfortable using Flight center than booking direct.

  6. This day and age, I simply cannot understand why people would still be using brick & mortar travel agents… and they must be raking in huge profits for organising such an event each year.

  7. Flight Centre bought Liberty Travel in the US several years ago, so they are also among the largest US offline travel agencies. Additionally, they are among the largest offline agencies in Canada.

  8. Maybe this partially explains why EY101 AUH to JFK is operating with a 77W from time to time during the summer?

  9. Sometimes EY451/450 operates with a 777. Perhaps they have used all of their 777s as well, but you’d think they have some spares for moments like this. Flight Centre seems to really love VA/EY/NZ/DL. I’m surprised how many Aussies haven’t worked out that Flight Centre deliberately tries to avoid Qantas which most Aussies adore.

  10. Yep I have been on the Flight Centre charter flights 3 years running now and they are a hoot! Think nightclub in the sky… The great part is the flight attendants always get into the fun, usually in costume of some sort and create a great vibe in the plane.

  11. Great article again James. As a POME in OZ I regularly fly Etihad to MAN ( and pool the velocity points back to VA ) flight centre are always a rip off adding in huge “ extras “ however I always use them – search the web for an Etihad discount code get a big discount then head down to FC for a price beat – love it

  12. Hi James, a few facts wrong here and in particular Flight Centre are a charter aircraft company. In 2016 Flight Centre took a majority stake in AVMIN a global charter aircraft logistics company. They provide charter flights for a range of clients including government bodies, bands such as cold play and celebrities such a Chris Hemsworth etc. anything from the above A380 to B747 to private jets stalkers turbo prop and helicopters.

  13. In most sales roles the only way to hit your targets is to make sure your clients keep coming back, and refer their friends and family.

    It’s about building relationships, offering the right/best options, and having the experience and knowledge to back it up – there is value in human interaction.

    Also here are much easier ways to make money, and if you ever do speak to a travel agent, you’ll most likely find they didn’t get into the industry for the paycheck.

    Btw good on you Jay for saving $1. Sounds like time well spent.

  14. Flight Centre Travel Group is one of the best companies to work for, truly a great place to be a part of. Strong employee engagement and empowerment.

    It’s not just a travel agent event. This is a large global organisation with some 30+ brands (Flight Centre is just one of many) and anybody in the organisation essentially has an opportunity to attend and it’s linked to performance. From travel agents to accountants, technology, hr , supplier management, business development, account management etc – they have a chance to get there.

    It’s a huge incentive to employees, the company gives back a lot when it comes to company culture. Not just this one mega event.

    Although it’s a conference essentially, a huge part of it is about celebrating some of their best employees.

  15. I used to work for FCUSA, and attended Global. They probably paid nothing or nearly so to Etihad for the charter; the airline gets exclusivity, their C-suite people at the event, and gratis marketing during event and afterwards, as well as the perk of getting agents to sell/upsell tix particularly for business class seats. Put your top agents on an Etihad flight, they’ll do all the promotion that hard marketing dollars can’t. The two companies have been working together for years, and both get lots out of the arrangement — win-win-win for FC, Etihad, and the agents.

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