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Luxury Brands Are the Latest Way to Coddle First-Class Fliers

Stocks in this article: AAR

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- When was the last time you walked off a commercial flight with a free Gucci bag, Givenchy pajamas or Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit?

If the answer is never, you're not flying the right airlines and not buying the right tickets.

There's a growing hyper-competitiveness in the airline industry when it comes to luring customers for ultra-expensive business and first-class seats on international routes, industry experts say, and it's leading airlines to offer increasingly more luxurious flight amenities and gifts for fliers.

"On international routes, airlines are really becoming competitive, because that's where the revenue is," says Oliver McGee, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of transportation during the Clinton administration. "And the luxury amenities and giveaways are designed to attract the high-end revenue streams that come from business and first class. When an airline fills up the business section or first-class section of its plane, 25% to 50% of the cost of that flight is paid for."

Providing luxury goodies for well-heeled fliers is not exactly a new idea.

But it is one making a robust resurgence in the post 9/11 airline industry after a decade of lost profits, constant reshuffling, mergers and bankruptcies.

"In 2001 the airlines all retrenched. Now that they've managed to figure out how to make money in an environment with high fuel costs and a soft economy, they're much more bold about co-branding," says Chris Sloan, executive producer of the Travel Channel's Airport 24/7: Miami.

"What they're all trying to do is up the ante," adds Mark Murphy, owner of several travel publications. " Cathay Pacific offers an Ermenegildo Zegna black pouch amenity kit for men, while women get a Trussardi amenity bag featuring Aesop as their exclusive skincare brand," Murphy says.

Cathay Pacific is not alone. At the end of January, American Airlines (AAR) started giving iPad cases to its high-paying fliers, Sloan says. Turkish Airlines has been known to hand out the cases as well.

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