NEW DELHI: It is now possible to fly business class on your next long haul non-stop to the US, Australia and Europe at a fraction of the actual ticket cost of this premium segment. Air India now lets passengers bid for business class while booking their economy class seat. These flyers will be asked to pay extra, meaning over and above the economy fare, for the upgrade bid — with the extra payment being up to 75% less than the regular business class fare.
Once check-in of the flight is complete and business class seats are available on that flight, the passenger will be given the premium category boarding card at boarding gate. And if the upgrade does not happen, the bid amount will be refunded to the passenger. Bidding will be offered in different levels, with higher bid amounts having a higher chance of upgrade.
However, economy flyers who get business seats on the upgrade will not get lounge access (as upgrade will happen at boarding point) and their baggage allowance will also be as per their economy class ticket. The seat and meal will be of business class.
The India-US nonstop return ticket starts at Rs 2.5 lakh while economy starts at about Rs 70,000. “For US, the bidding amount starts at about $450. If a passenger bids and gets the seat, then he would have paid just $450 (about Rs 32,000 at current exchange rate) over and above the economy fare for one sector,” said a senior AI official. Similarly, the bidding amount (payment over and above the economy fare already paid at time of booking) for one-way upgrade on Delhi-London at present is between Rs 13,609 and Rs 41,193. AI is the only Indian carrier with direct flights to the US and Australia.
The bidding will be for domestic sectors also. Delhi-Mumbai business return fares start at Rs 25,000, while the economy fare can be Rs 7-9,000. Bidding for business on this sector currently is in the range of Rs 2,218 to Rs 6,720, said the official.
AI chairman Pradeep Singh Kharola said: “While our overall seat occupancy is about 80%, the business class occupancy is 50-60%. A business class seat going vacant once the gates are closed is revenue lost for ever. So we thought of this bidding scheme to offer business class seats at a discount to economy passengers which is a win-win for both the airline and the flyer.” AI offers 72,000 seats daily of which 4,500 are business class seats across its network.
“As of now we have started bidding for flights to US, Australia, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and on domestic sector to flights between the six metros. We will expand the scheme that was started in last week of December,” Kharola said.
Given the fare difference, AI says it is getting good response to the new bid policy. “On Tuesday (Jan 8) we got 300 bids, of which over half were able to get business class upgrades. The day we hit 1,000 upgrades via bids a day, AI will generate Rs 1 crore extra,” Kharola said.
Since bidders will know if they have got a business seat at boarding gate, they will be beyond the point of availing the lounge facility and would have taken baggage as per economy allowance. So, AI will not need to spend on these two fronts on them.