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Emirates’ “Business Special” Isn’t Special at All

Emirates’ “Business Special” Isn’t Special at All
Joe Cortez

Emirates has “unbundled” their business class product, offering a lower price for fewer amenities in the forward cabin. But will this result in easier access for flyers? Or is this a preview of problems to come for flyers in the future?

As airlines sought to maximize profits by unbundling airfares, one section remained sacred. On the other side of the thin curtain – or aircraft level, as it were with jumbo jets – the seats still reclined all the way down and wine flowed freely from never-ending bottles. Meals were still served with a smile (most of the time), and entertainment wasn’t restricted to a personal screen.

Such was the liberty of flying in business class. And in some parts of the world, this luxury also came with certain benefits. At Emirates, flyers could be driven to the airport by a chauffeur, before they are welcomed into a world-class lounge for relaxation prior to departure. When it was time to go, passengers would depart for the exact seat they selected when they booked the flight.

Unfortunately, the end is beginning for premium cabin flyers – and it comes from the least likely of places. FlyerTalkers found the new Emirates “H” fare, speculating at first it could be a new version of premium economy. However, it turns out that the new fare is every flyer’s nightmare: an unbundled business class.

In exchange for a lower price, business class flyers can give up the liberties that come with the seat. This includes not selecting a seat before check-in, not getting that chauffeur to the airport and getting locked out from the lounge before takeoff. If you are a member of Emirates Skywards program, you will only earn points as if you were in premium economy. But If you have Skywards Platinum status, you can still get a “Business Special” and visit the lounge.

Most importantly, on a business lounge fare, passengers are not allowed to upgrade their seat. Even if you have status or the miles to make it to First Class, there’s no moving up allowed.

Emirates warned this could be a reality for future flyers. In a 2016 interview with Skift, airline chief executive Tim Clark said: “Maybe, if you’ve got business class seats going begging, that’s the easy way to go, rather than create a completely new product, which is going to upend the distribution systems, upend service delivery and upend the logistical management on the operational side.”

The comment seemed flippant at first: why would a luxury carrier devalue their own product by offering a discount? It potentially made no sense, as people pay for the full experience. Giving only a portion was not how Emirates attracted luxury flyers to their aircraft.

Yet, the writing was on the wall, and nearly three years later Emirates quietly introduced the product into their lineup. Not even America’s carriers, notorious for cutting perks in the name of profitability, have broken up their premium offerings. Of course, no American carrier also offers nearly any of the benefits of the “Middle East Three,” so that statement could be akin to comparing apples to figs.

On the FlyerTalk Forums, flyers seem upset about the changes – as well they should be. FlyerTalker Gig103 writes: “No lounge access on a business class ticket is as chintzy as British Airways charging for seat-assignments in business class. To me, some things are just expected based on the majority of airline business class products.” FlyerTalker JXTC agrees: “Not giving EK lounge access does seem a bit stingy.”

FlyerTalker thijsseh adds to the frustration: “All we need now is ‘no access to the on board lounge’ (on the A380) or ‘middle seat only’ (on the 777) as well as ‘limited choice of meal options’ and we have eclipsed BA. Bah!”

FlyerTalkers – as well as anyone who plans on flying a premium cabin in the future – should be upset about the changes. In many situations, it only takes one airline to set in motion a constant move of devaluations and degraded services. Remember last summer, when American carriers increased the price of checked luggage one after another? By the end of September, all carriers moved their prices to match each other, costing flyers more and bringing in big profits for the airlines.

On the converse, the argument could be made that the new benefits open up business class for flyers who were unable to access the cabin before. Clark made his target audience clear in the now infamous Skift interview: “Baby boomers, the aging population of Europe. No mortgages, money in the bank, spending the inheritance of the children, that kind of thing. But they would prefer to have a bed.” And for them – and other FlyerTalkers – this kind of product could make sense, resulting in fuller aircraft for Emirates and more money for the airline.

Regardless of the arguments to be had, the truth remains that Emirates has now opened a figurative Pandora’s Box on the business class product. Now, we wait for the dominoes to continue falling until they end up on our shores. Only time will tell as to who will be the next airline to devalue and unbundle their business class, much to the detriment of the passenger.

What’s your take on the Emirates unbundling debacle? Let us know on the FlyerTalk forums.


[Featured Image: Emirates]

View Comments (23)


  1. thesaints

    June 13, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    How much is Emirates saving by not allowing seat selection ?

  2. dval44

    June 13, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I mean, from an economics perspective it makes sense.

    – If I knew I wasn’t checking luggage, would I take a $100 giftcard to give up the benefit? Of course.

    – If I was arriving at an emirates lounge and they slid me a $100 bill to go use one of my other lounges instead that I have access to through my credit card, I would certainly take it.

    It makes sense to unbundle and not pay for things you don’t use. The downsides are 1.) it’s hard to tell if you are really saving money given the complexity of airfare and 2.) it feels annoying at the time to pay extra. I.e. it may “feel” worse to start at a $1,500 fare and buy up +$400 to $1,900 instead of just buying a fully bundled $2,000 fare. Even though you are technically better off with the 1,500 + 1,900.

  3. StrongEagle

    June 13, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    We will still have to see how the details play out, but such a change works fine for me. I don’t care (much) about airline lounges or chauffers. What I do care about is the quality of my flight and a long haul business flight at reduced rates in exchange for reduced perks, while giving me the same seating comfort, is right up my alley.

  4. Ronlap

    June 13, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    For me, the lie-flat seat is king and I support this move fully — if I would ever fly a middle eastern airline.

    But meanwhile, I could care less about the fancy meals, access to the lounge, freely-flowing wine, etc. Give me a lie flat seat at the lowest cost for longhauls and I’ll be happy. Wish United and Singapore would try this.

  5. Jacobin777

    June 13, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    I agree with others above. “Pay what you need” IMHO is better than simply purchasing a ticket which includes (or excludes) everything. Let the person decide what they need and don’t need.


    June 13, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    I’m going to Italy in September. I could fly Emirates to Milan in Business for about $5,000. It would be interesting to see what the un-bundled price would be. No chauffeur, no lounge, no pre-booking of seat I would expect to pay no more than $1,500 RT.. So if that is what Emirates intend to charge – then we good. Anything more than this…. Well, I firmly believe in shrugging and moving on to the next….

  7. kiwitrains

    June 13, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    I flew with Air Asia x from Perth to London some time ago when they did the route and it was in the premium cabin with there flat bed there was no lounge no entertainment system and crap food but the flights were Wonderfull for a great price and worth every dollar $2500 I think when the normal business fare was $6000 no brainier.

  8. jonsail

    June 13, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    For my wife and me doing leisure travel, no seat assignments could be a deal breaker, particularly if the plane had 3 abreast business seats. If I were assigned a window seat by the airline and didn’t have good aisle access, I would say to my aisle seat mate–if the person was not wife, “Sorry, but I get up a lot to take leaks. Do you want to trade?,” and if the aisle seat mate seemed displeased by the choice, I would say, “If you are flying cheapo business class like me, I guess you can’t complain and if you are flying regular business class, why don’t you complain to the airline because w/o the option of cheapo business class my wife and I would be a window/aisle pair and we wouldn’t be bothering anyone.” Other than that cheapo business class might make sense.

  9. Mobius1

    June 13, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    I don’t think this is a bad idea and in fact Emirates has already been doing this in an undercover way with those who purchase one-way business class flights and economy the other way.

    When I was flying from Dubai to Los Angeles I received an email from Emirates the day prior to my flight offering what was ‘Business Special’ in all but name only at a discounted price. It didn’t include things like lounge access, chauffeur service etc and I would say it was a fairly strong value offering as the Emirates Business hard product is excellent.

  10. Danwriter

    June 13, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    I do not want to sit next to you.

  11. tris06

    June 13, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    For me I would be very happy if my airline offered a business class fare slightly above premium Economy. Being a frequent flyer I lose some of the advantages of complimentry lounge access if I book business class as I am paying for it as well in my ticket. So I am happy to fly premium economy majority of the time.

  12. tuna_hp

    June 13, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    First I’ll say, I think that unbundling can be anticompetitive. With all the dozens of airlines and their disparate policies, it can take hours of research if you truly want a perfectly considered economically optimal decision between different fare options. There are so many areas where levels of service differ. However, there is an industry standard that a business class international seat includes access to a lounge. If airlines start taking that access away, and inventing unique rules as to what fare codes and what other methods grant lounge access, you make it harder for the consumer to make an informed decision, because you are just making the “research costs” too high.

    However with regards to seat reservations, the benefits of charging for seat selection are probably too high to give up. I think only full fare and maybe high elites should get free seat selection. The reason is because if you let people select seats on a first-come-first-serve basis, you are (1) giving all the best seats to the people who are paying the least, and (2) you are reducing the total value of all your seating. To explain that second point, imagine a 2×2 cabin. People start selecting seats, people start selecting seats, most pick aisle seats and a few pick window seats but all choose their seat within a seat-pair that nobody else has chosen yet, so by the time half the seats are sold, every single seat pair already has 1 person in it. Now you have a couple or business partners that highly value sitting together. There are no open pairs. Similar situations to other types of cabins. Better to NOT include seat selection, for people traveling alone who don’t care that much, let them be assigned a seat at the gate, after everyone who really values their seat selection pays a modest fee in order to reserve.

  13. Jaytara

    June 13, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    I absolutely agree with many of the posters. The lie-flat bed and the use of toilets where the ratio is bearable is paramount. It’s the flight that’s important, you can always hang around in a corner of the airport and reserve your eating/drinking capacity for the flight. As for chauffeur pick-up , I am quite happy with Uber and its kin thank you. Seat selection is very important though, what happens if a couple is not seated together ? And priority boarding, security check of-course. Bring it on. Premium economy which I flew on SIA, SFO-SIN last week, is seats with extra legroom, nothing more. You have to tramp back to the middle or back of the aircraft to use toilets which sonn become very messy. And if you have ordered a special meal that’s plonked on your tray and if you ask for drinks, they ask you to wait for the trolley, maybe special mealers are expected to be abstemious.

  14. spainflyer

    June 14, 2019 at 12:16 am

    What’s not clear to me from Joe’s article (and maybe it hasn’t been announced yet) is: Are there just two fares, “bare bones” and “full service”? Or is everything unbundled and you can step up to the salad bar and choose your ingredients (so to speak)? I could certainly do without the chauffeur service and would stay out of the Emirates Club, if that is necessary, but I would be reluctant to have a lesser menu and no way am I going to give up that “free flowing wine” that Joe talks about! As AJNEDC says, it would depend on price difference. Give up all extras to save 10%? Nahh. To save 40%? Sure!

  15. MrLee

    June 14, 2019 at 2:41 am

    “If you are a member of Emirates Skywards program, you will only earn points as if you were in premium economy”

    Emirates do premium economy?

  16. alexmyboy

    June 14, 2019 at 5:02 am

    does the chair double as a toilet

  17. cairns

    June 14, 2019 at 5:47 am

    Don’t know why anyone would or should be upset. If you don’t like it pay full boat. No one’s forcing you to buy any kind of business fare.

  18. quicky

    June 14, 2019 at 8:22 am

    Emirates obviously tries to solve the problem that they do not offer Premium Eco. So the price between Eco and Business shows a big gap. It is like offering Smart, E Class and S Class Mercedes and nothing else. In this view it makes sense to offer a Down Business Class, especially if you are fed up with the cage narrow Eco seat which get even narrower these days in some 777 (10 setas rows) and 787.

  19. GetSetJetSet

    June 14, 2019 at 9:34 am

    This will go like every other “enhancement.” The current price for biz with all the perks will become the new price for bare bones biz and to “buy up” to what used to be included in that ticket, it will cost you 2x the price.

  20. davistev

    June 16, 2019 at 4:59 am

    I know what fare bucket Business Class EK award seats will be in

  21. 2Ruse

    June 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    ‘business lite’ doesn’t work for me – if i’m flying business, i expect at least an advance seat assignment (yes i’m shaming BA) – i guess i could live without the lounge, although i really enjoy going thru that semi-secret portal even if the experience on the other side is not all that – i fly on awards a lot, so if you offer business special with fewer miles, it could be worth considering, but otherwise i see this as a step in the wrong direction

  22. Aidan

    June 20, 2019 at 4:49 am

    Seems like people here are expecting premium economy pricing, it’s not going to be that low.
    My prediction is the rates will be only slightly less.

  23. Annalisa12


    June 21, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    You can guarantee that the people not using the seat selection will end up with the crappy middle seat.

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