Working with Airlines | Business Travel News

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After the Covid-19 omicron variant put the travel recovery on pause beginning in late 2021, business travel has rebounded solidly since mid-February and through the spring. Airlines have reported business travel recovery in March — whether measured by demand or revenue — anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent compared with 2019.

Gross revenues for some carriers even are exceeding 2019 levels, thanks to continued strong leisure demand and increased fares. In April, the average US airfare was up 156 percent year over a year, to its highest level in seven years, according to Airlines Reporting Corp.

Fares are also up because carriers still lag in terms of capacity and network recovery, while demand continues to climb and outstrip supply. As a result, fewer airlines will want to roll over rates this year, so corporate travel buyers should come to the negotiation table prepared with as much data as possible to back up their demand for discounts.

Buyers also will want to look carefully at carrier routes and schedules as they ramp up their business travel, since many options have changed significantly the past two years, especially when it comes to secondary and tertiary markets. Some routes on certain carriers are gone, while other destinations are now serviced with stopovers as opposed to direct flights. As a result, some buyers might need to expand the number of airlines in their programs.

While scoring the best deals will still be important to corporations ‘bottom lines, some companies have become more focused on their travelers’ well-being than pre-pandemic, and they’ve loosened their policies to allow for more employees to book higher classes of service. A word of caution, however: Leisure demand for premium seats has filled the gap while business travelers remained off the road, and carriers do not see that abating.

This trend could make it harder for business travelers to secure desired seats, particularly as corporates tend to book closer to departure. Some carriers are “managing” the expected increased business demand by holding back some premium inventory a little longer for corporate clients, but that is by no means a sure thing. Buyers could address premium access during contract negotiations.

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