Superior service. Comfortable seats. Tastier meals. Better entertainment. The appeal of flying in the front of the cabin is easy to understand. And savvy travel advisors know how to make selling first and business class an integral part of their services.
Selling front-of-cabin air travel is a natural fit for advisors who specialize in luxury travel, notes Keisha Adriano, president and chief executive officer at Travelwise International in Fort Washington, Maryland. She notes that advisors who are well versed in the complexities of air travel can serve as “airfare experts,” helping luxury clients to snag the best deals and in-flight experiences. “Airfare experts add the personalization necessary to have a seamless, worry-free, memorable travel experience, by advising the client of all enhanced travel options available to them, including preferred airlines, class of services, premium cabin inclusions, lounge access, transfers, lodging and VIP services,” she says.
“If you can sell higher classes of service tickets, it is more beneficial both to the traveler and to the advisor,” Adriano adds. “Flexibility and convenience are what every traveler is looking for, and as travelers move up in classes, fares contain less rules, less restrictions and, most importantly, [provide] refundability. As an advisor, the work and ease of handling top-tier tickets, opposed to the cheapest fares, is a lot easier.”
Marcia Simon, owner/travel advisor at Friendly Group Travel in Westbrook, Connecticut, agrees that it makes sense for advisors to book air travel to upscale clients, even as they may avoid doing so for other travelers. “I steer budget-minded clients to do it themselves,” she explains. “For clients who want upgraded services, I book air as part of a package. To attract — and keep — luxury clients, it's all about customer service. It requires more work at times, but if these clients have a good experience, they tend to be very loyal, and they refer their friends and families, who also tend to prefer upgraded services. It's worth the extra time.”
Who’s Flying in Front?
There is no single demographic for front-of-cabin flyers, according to Adriano. “Premium seating not only applies to high-end travelers, business or frequent flyers,” she explains. “It can also attract those who are celebrating a special occasion or who have health or accessibility needs.”
Simon also sells first and business class to a variety of travelers. “Business clients often want front of cabin; then again, many are savvy and use their mileage points for upgrades,” she says. “Aside from that, people who are part of a group have different preferences when air is not included in the group package. For instance, a cruise that begins in the Caribbean — some will book their own basic economy, most want main cabin and some prefer the upgrade.”
Charity Peaver, owner and CEO of Esprit Errant Travel LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that clients book first and business class for a variety of reasons and features. “Business and leisure travelers may choose to book the front of the cabin to have more space and privacy to work or to access premium lounges and services that can help them be more productive and add a unique experience to their trip,” she says. “They book the front of the cabin to experience the highest level of service, including lie-flat seats, gourmet food and beverage options and personalized attention from the cabin crew.”
When to Sell Front of Cabin and Business Class
Simon follows a client’s lead when it comes to booking pricier classes of service. “If clients prefer to fly business or first class, they tend to mention that up front,” she says. “I ask for their preference and I do not try to oversell anyone. I don't try to convince clients of anything related to air, other than foregoing basic economy, which doesn't always provide mileage points. If a client is on the fence, I'll provide the differences and let the client decide.”
Adriano says that some indicators lead to more front-cabin sales. “Selling higher classes of service tickets is easy when you understand what your clients are looking for,” she says. “Whether they’re looking for more space on a long-haul flight, or access to the premium services and lounges through the airport, understanding their preferences, needs and wants allows you to connect features to benefits. In today’s world, comfort is almost a necessity, and the airlines are noticing even more with price incentives and add-on amenities to entice travelers.”
Mix and Match
While front-of-cabin and business-class travel may most logically fit with other forms of luxury travel, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, travelers may pair a pricey land vacation or cruise with a bargain-basement airfare, or a cheap getaway with an upgraded airline ticket, according to Simon. “This happens with multigenerational family vacations, when family members fly in from different places and stay at the same hotel,” she says. “Family elders may spend more for a flight than their adult children traveling with young children. Another scenario is the client who wants a truly authentic experiential vacation that includes small inns or local hotels rather than butler service, modern villas or global chains. Solo travelers may treat themselves to the comforts of upgraded air seating, and then join an ‘average’ excursion to enjoy the company of other people.”
Overall, Adriano stresses the importance of recognizing that different clients may want a front-of-cabin experience for different reasons. “The beauty of travel is that there is no one way to travel,” she says. “Like every person is different, the way we travel is different. Each person values certain priorities, some more than others — and as travel advisors, it’s important to understand our clients and how they want to travel. Splurging to reduce any friction and added comfort are the main reasons why travelers upgrade their experience, especially during the flying component of their trip.”