Thought Leadership Sponsored by Air Canada International Airline Booking Strategies Balancing Cost and Convenience December 20, 2017 Share 1 -- The volume of choices available to international air travelers these days puts travel agents front and center as the voice of knowledge and expertise. To be sure, both leisure and business travelers are aware of price as a factor in their decisions, but that’s only one of a myriad of elements that comes into play when travelers choose their transportation options. Convenience of flights and airports, scheduling, comfort, loyalty programs and customized perks offered by individual airlines are all part of the decision-making process. Knowledgeable travel agents are uniquely positioned to help travelers make those determinations—but only if they have an understanding not just of the options available, but also of the individual traveler’s motivations when booking. While leisure travelers have the discretion to make decisions based on their individual travel priorities, business travelers may be constrained by the dictates of a corporate travel policy. In both cases, though, knowledge is power—and the obvious first choice might not be the best choice when viewed in the light of balance between cost, comfort and convenience. The travel agent’s knowledge—not just of scheduling and price, but aspects such as loyalty programs, ease of connections, access of airline lounges, individual airline amenities and more—can make the difference between well-informed decisions that lead to a pleasant, productive flight and those that leave travelers with less desirable memories bookending their travel experiences. All About Comfort Studies show that comfortable flying experiences can boost the likelihood of a successful business trip, and travelers and agents must find the right balance of cost and comfort. This can be especially crucial for frequent business travelers, who must conduct business once they land, particularly on long-haul flights. A traveler exhausted after a long, uncomfortable flight likely won’t perform at his or her best, and may well not be able to realize the full business potential of their trip. That’s the underpinning of the concept of “traveler friction,” the notion that frequent travel, if not managed with the traveler’s comfort in mind, can have hidden business costs due to lack of traveler effectiveness. The concept in recent years has been studied and promoted by Scott Gillespie, managing partner of travel management consultancy tClara. Gillespie’s firm in 2016 partnered with the Airlines Reporting Corp. and American Express Global Business Travel to survey 757 frequent travelers, and found that those who feel “burned out” or nearly so often cited problems with the quality of their travel experiences—not necessarily the quantity of travel—as a key driver of that feeling.A 2017 update to that survey found that frequent travelers in organizations that prioritized keeping travel costs low were less likely to consider their business trips “effective” than travelers with organizations that stressed traveler productivity and satisfaction. He points out that agents trying to help business travelers avoid that friction on international flights first must assess whether the client’s travel program prioritizes cost or traveler satisfaction. With cost-focused programs, the challenges for the agent are clearly greater, requiring walking a tightrope between what the traveler needs and wants and what the company is willing to pay for. “If agents are working with a road warrior who’s in a cost-focused travel program, the four things that are going to matter most to that road warrior are nonstop flights; premium economy seating; if they’re going long haul, they’re going to want business class; and they’re almost always going to want a comfortable and convenient hotel,” Gillespie says. In short, he says, “They’re asking for travel that lets them be productive.”While international leisure travelers have more discretion to make their own decisions, the tradeoffs between time, money, convenience and comfort also come into play as they look to maximize their vacation time and start their trip off on the right foot. The Full Experience In addition to considerations such as distance to the airport, flight schedules, checked baggage options, seat choices and other common factors that travelers consider, travel agents can help travelers make informed decisions with a look at other available amenities that can affect the overall travel experiences. Consider, for example:Class of service: While travelers are aware that a major perk of business class, for example, is enhanced seating options, travel agents can also educate clients about additional amenities that can enhance the overall traveler experience. Business class amenities vary among airlines, so ensure an apples-to-apples comparison by looking at features such as pitch and recline of seats, the availability of lie-flat beds, priority security clearances and other onboard amenities. More recently, some airlines have introduced Premium Economy Class options, a middle ground between traditional economy class and business class. Features vary here, too, but typically include additional legroom and might include more seat recline, special onboard meals plus premium services, such as earlier zone boarding and faster bag arrival, and other onboard amenities not typically found in economy class. Stopover programs: Stopovers can serve as a method of reducing business traveler friction and enhancing a leisure trip. A business traveler with the opportunity to add a stop in a desirable location during an international trip for a few days of relaxation and sightseeing may well consider a stopover a perk. So, too, might a leisure traveler, who could choose to match a visit in one international destination with a few days in another destination on the way—such a stop can add a complementary cultural aspect or simply provide a break from the rigors of long-haul travel. Airport lounges: Such stopovers needn’t be that long, either, to be considered a perk by some business and leisure travelers. In fact, travelers might not even need to leave the airport to enjoy a break in their travel. Airport lounges offer a respite from crowds of passengers as well as the opportunity to charge a phone, get a drink, stretch their legs and decompress between legs of a trip. “If agents have any knowledge of where the airport lounges are, that can be a nice little side benefit to mention,” tClara’s Gillespie notes. Since in the past, airport lounges were often the exclusive domain of high-volume passengers who belong to loyalty programs, it’s important to ensure that clients know that some are now more accessible. Travelers can enjoy the amenities of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf lounges, for example, for free or for a nominal fee in a variety of ways, such as being a member of the Maple Leaf Club, holders of certain credit cards, those who have purchased specific classes of tickets, including some economy fares, and participants in a variety of loyalty programs. Loyalty programs: In addition to access to lounges, loyalty programs can bring a variety of other benefits to the flying experience beyond the accrual of points, especially the ability to upgrade seats, priority seating and access to expedited security and immigration services at airports.Making Connections with Air Canada Canada might not be the arrival or destination point for transoceanic U.S. travelers, but Air Canada is betting that an expanded overseas network and service, non-stop flights to dozens of U.S. cities, a streamlined customs process, potentially lower cost and better schedules will lure a share of that market.And that bet continues to pay off: Earlier this year, Air Canada was named the Best Airline in North America by the 2017 Skytrax World Airline Awards, the results of a survey of almost 20 million air travelers. It’s the sixth time in eight years that Canada’s flag carrier has earned that honor. In 2016, the carrier launched the most intensive network expansion in its history. Air Canada, a Star Alliance member, and its Air Canada Rouge subsidiary provide scheduled passenger service directly to 64 airports in Canada, 60 in the United States and 98 in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America.“Part of our transformation plan and our strong global play is carrying more U.S. customers, via our Canada and international destinations,” says Vincent Gauthier-Doré, Air Canada director of U.S. business development. “We’ve grown a lot in the past few years, with how many customers we carry from the U.S. to Europe, the Middle East and also the Pacific.”Air Canada currently offers service to 60 cities in the United States, and the carrier’s overseas proposition focuses on those cities without non-stop flights to other continents, Gauthier-Doré points out. “From big hub cities like New York or San Francisco, for sure there’s a lot of nonstop offerings of our joint venture partners [United Airlines and Lufthansa], but we see ourselves as a complement.”Additional nonstop transborder routes have been announced for spring 2018. “We continue to strategically expand our already extensive North American transborder network to offer the only services from Canada to Sacramento, Omaha, Providence and flights from additional Canadian airports to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Francisco," says Benjamin Smith, president, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada. "As the largest foreign carrier serving the USA, we are pleased to offer customers even more non-stop travel choices between Canada and the U.S., as well as the ability to conveniently connect onward through our extensive global network at our Canadian hubs on North America's Best Airline as rated by Skytrax."U.S. passengers on overseas flights connecting via Air Canada’s Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver hubs not only connect through a single terminal, Gauthier-Doré says, but also have a streamlined re-entry process to the United States on the return flight. “Let’s say you leave London, and you’re going to Cleveland, connecting in Toronto,” he says. “When you land in Toronto, unlike what you would experience in a U.S. airport, you don’t have to pick up your bag. Instead, we have a system where you are matched to your bag at check-in. Because we have pre-clearance at our Canadian hubs, you leave the aircraft and clear U.S. customs without touching your bags. It’s a very efficient process. And when you land in Cleveland, you just pick up your bags in the arrivals hall with no further customs or immigration to go through.” Another perk for travelers from the U.S. is Air Canada’s Stopover Program, a convenient add-on that allows travelers the opportunity to break up their international flight and visit a Canadian hub city during their travels with no additional airline fees. The option is offered with any itinerary that includes a connection time of more than six hours between consecutive flights in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Travelers can apply a stopover to outbound or inbound flights, or both, for up to seven days. For an up-close view of Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, both travel agents and clients can enjoy a fully immersive simulated experience with Air Canada’s new virtual reality technology, even enjoying a virtual Business Class meal complete with wine in an Executive Pod. "Air Canada is always developing new ways to enhance the customer experience and to engage partners such as the travel agent community, which plays a key role in helping our customers select the travel options best suited to them,” says Duncan Bureau, vice president of global sales for Air Canada. “Virtual reality enables us to familiarize thousands of travel agents and potential customers with Air Canada's offerings through the magic of an interactive, virtual tour. We have already seen an increase in bookings since we began using this technology."For more information about any of Air Canada’s programs, visit AirCanada.com.