Until recently, flying business class did not involve much decision-making, other than choosing to spend several thousand dollars for an upgrade at a major airline.
But with the arrival of all-business carriers and on-demand jet services, the market became more competitive, with ever-increasing options in routes, services and prices.
For big spenders who like to journey on private jets, or budget-conscious executives who need a good rest and a decent meal, there's a flight to match.
In the last three years, airlines offering only premium seats and services
. Their draw: competitive prices, uncrowded planes, exclusive lounges and personal attention. The setback: limited routes and schedules.
However, this segment appears to be growing in spite of high oil prices and a weakening economy. Its key players, Eos and Silverjet, plan to add destinations in the near future.
U.K.-based Silverjet is the lowest-priced all-business airline, with standard roundtrip fares of $2,198 for the popular New York-London route. The same business-class trip costs more than $3,500 at major airlines.
flies twice daily from Luton Airport -- 32 miles from central London -- to Newark Airport, and once daily from Luton to Dubai. Its
767 aircrafts fly 100 passengers (This model normally fits 300 passengers).
Seats have a back massager and recline to become 6'3" beds (with a 6-degree incline). When not sleeping, travelers can watch TV shows or newly released movies on a portable high-definition screen with noise-canceling headphones. Renowned British restaurant Le Caprice designed the meals.
At the company's Silver Lounges, the staff helps with expedited check-in and security lines, meaning passengers can arrive 45 minutes before the flight. The loyalty program awards a free flight for every 10 purchased. Companies that sign up earn free trips when any employee uses the airline, and any employee can use the award.
Potential new destinations for Silverjet include South Africa, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, said a spokesperson.
heralds first-class service at business-class prices. The American company flies several times a day from Stansted Airport -- about 30 miles from central London -- to JFK. Daily service to Newark will begin in May, and to Dubai in July. A New York-London ticket typically ranges from $3,000 to $8,000.
Eos' Boeing 757 aircrafts carry 48 passengers (these planes were designed to carry 200 passengers), and are equipped with fully flat 6'6" beds in a 21-square feet space. Amenities include cashmere blankets, down pillows, and entertainment consoles with Bose headphones.
On the ground, the staff helps guests with bags and guides them through security and customs. Eos offers complimentary ground transportation to and from Stansted Airport, as well as helicopter service from Wall Street and the East 34th St. Heliport to JFK, for passengers who purchase unrestricted fares.
Their Club 48 rewards program exchanges points for flights on Eos or any major airline, or merchandise at stores like Barneys and Harvey Nichols.
In light of the industry's push to lure business travelers, major airlines are giving their premium services a makeover.
Asia's prominent carrier
recently announced the launch of all-business class flights between Singapore and Los Angeles, and Singapore and Newark. The airline is refurbishing five Airbus A340 planes for the new service, which begins in mid May. The current two-class, 181 seat aircrafts will have 100 seats that turn into fully flat beds, plus the carriers renowned business-class services.
will launch all-business flights between New York and London City Airport, just six miles from central London and three miles from the Canary Wharf financial district. The airline says it ordered two Airbus A318 aircrafts with 32 lie-flat seats (Airbus318 planes can normally fit 100 passengers) for the launch. Fares have not been announced.
announced it became "the first major U.S. airline to offer lie-flat beds in business class." A Washington-to-Frankfurt flight was the first to carry the new seats. Further proof of the airline's effort to boost premium services is the multi-course menu designed by famous Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. United is refurbishing 97 aircrafts with 180-degree, lie-flat seats.
Delta said it plans to introduce lie-flat beds this year, and American is already adding more comfortable business seats to part of its international fleet.
Private Jet Services
The proliferation of private jets started with fractional ownership plans. The new trend, however, is on-demand jet flights, a no-strings-attached service offered by companies like Halcyon Jets and XOJET.
has a fleet of brand-new Citation X jets, which fit eight passengers and are said to be the fastest business jets in the world.
The company promises an aircraft with a 12-hour notice and flies internationally. Its on-demand service requires no initial purchase and offers one-way fares and flat rates for popular routes. A quick roundtrip from New York to London costs $90,700, which includes all airport and international fees.
As a general rule, the cost of keeping two crew members overnight on international trips is $1,300 per night. In-flight amenities include baby alpaca blankets, a wide selection of movies and CDs, toiletries, wines, cocktails, organic snacks and comfort foods. XOJET also has partial ownership solutions for high-frequency fliers.
, of New York, works with a large fleet of small, medium and heavy aircrafts. The company can also arrange to charter a jumbo jet. Halcyon's Dream Card membership program is not aircraft-specific and requires an initial deposit of $25,000.
"But the typical member has six figures on account with us," says founder Gregory D. Cohen.
The prepaid charter program offers benefits like access to deeply discounted "empty leg" flights. (These are empty aircrafts returning from a one-way trip.)
Although most customers are frequent fliers -- professional athletes, celebrities and investment bankers -- the company also offers on-demand flights for the occasional jet setter. A trip from New York to London on a heavy jet, like a G4 Gulfstream fitting 12 people, can cost from $6,000 to $8,000 an hour. Flying time is six to seven hours each way. Soft drinks, blankets, pillows, DVDs and snacks are provided.
As for the bleak economic outlook, Mr. Cohen says jet companies like Halcyon deal with and elite clientele that is not affected by the vicissitudes of the marketplace. He foresees significant growth. "We are in the second inning of a nine-inning game," he says.
Paola Singer is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and Hemispheres magazine.