Business class is cheaper than economy: whole-of-journey travel risk management


Just what have you cut?

Just what have you cut?

The majority of travel departments/managers are only empowered, authorized or capable of looking at travel management from a cost perspective exclusively. However, to truly ensure that the process of travel is efficient, profitable and safe; a much wider focus is required-predominantly in the areas of cost, productivity and safety.  When such a wider and more comprehensive perspective is engaged, most organizations will discover that business class flights are in reality much cheaper than economy class for the majority of their executives and traveling talent.

Consider a short-haul flight of under four hours. For an executive this will typically translate to an eight-hour working day. If traveling in economy class they will typically need to be at the airport nearly 2 hours before departure. Even with privileged frequent-flier status they will need to be checked in much earlier than their business class counterparts. Without such privileges, the time required maybe even longer as check-in queues and airline efficiency lengthen and decline respectively. The immigration processing will potentially be lengthened also as many airlines now have preferential immigration processing of business travelers. The traveller in economy will now be left to fend for themselves in the public seating/WiFi/meals environment of economy class travel. Boarding time will be  lengthened and carry-on luggage will be reduced which again will have added to the overall pre-departure time.  Regardless of the physical size of the traveller, their work laptop, the airline or the seating space; very few people get anything close to productive work conducted whilst in economy.  Not to mention, when corners have been cut,  everyone within proximity of a business laptop user can often see the entire content and context of business presentations, e-mails, discussions and intellectual property. The arrival stage will also entail longer immigration processing times, time lost awaiting baggage and jostling within the bulk of the flights travelers. If after all this, on a short-haul flight you expect the traveller to bring their A game or deliver pivotal business results, you should prepare yourself for disappointment now.

Conversely, a journey that has been considered in a whole of risk  manner will play out significantly different. First, the traveller will have the time and flight best suited to the work productivity objectives and reduced commute, check-in and processing times. Utilization of the business lounge will ensure productivity and access to information and systems prior before departure. Overall fatigue and affect on the individual will also be reduced. Whilst not entirely risk free, the threat to personal belongings, company information  or other valuables will also be reduced.  Productivity (best calculated by adding the per hour cost to the company for the executive and the per hour revenue potential of the trip or executive) will also be enhanced by a compact yet usable mobile workspace. Even if the individual is not conducting work on a computer platform, the demands to the individual  are also diminished.  It is also almost ensured that the executive will hit the ground running and clear the aircraft, immigrations and baggage claim much faster, leaving only the commute from the airport to the place of business. This streamlining and efficiency is also replicable for multiple travelers or trips.

When analyzing all of these factors (even in a developed country) the hundreds or even thousands of dollars between economy class and business class travel is often much cheaper than the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars  of business productivity, time and dollars at risk. However, the functional heads responsible for cost, productivity and safety are all typically measured and evaluated on cost containment rather than profitability or maximized earnings of their senior executives. All of these elements are significantly amplified in developed or developing countries. When the entire journey is constructed along whole-of-journey travel risk management lines thousands or even millions of dollars in opportune business can be preserved while appropriate expenditure managed. Reduction or elimination of disruption and wastage can be easily achieved. When it comes to whole-of-journey travel risk management most companies are penny wise and pound foolish. There is nothing more comical and economically tragic than a senior executive or CEO traveling on a budget airline. While sitting in cheap seats being nonproductive and paying five dollars for peanuts or drinks they are losing thousands of dollars or even millions in productivity or earnings for the sake of a few bucks. In the wake of the financial crisis, some very savvy financial institutions openly conveyed that they dare not reduce the privilege, risk or status of their major wealth generation executives for fear of losing them to more competitive or sophisticated banks or financial institutions. Why should this be any different in the face of many other threats to talent and revenue?

The empirical data and evidence of enhanced productivity and efficient travel risk management exists at present in every company. The only limitation is that few are rewarded or supported in harvesting, processing and analysis of such data. If companies and their respective leadership took the time to stop and analyze such processes or even historical culture within the organization, they would find that simple and efficient adaptation of such processes like the use of business class travel versus economy class travel could potentially unlock thousands of hours of productivity and greater business competitiveness. This is certainly the case in developed markets and significantly more acute in developing markets where there is an accumulation of much greater threat, costs, threat disruptions and safety issues.

The question then  is not “Is business class is cheaper than economy?” but more a case of  “Can you accurately prove that it’s not?”

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About Tony Ridley
Travel health, safety, security and risk management expert.

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