Dec. 3, 2008 -- Here's a little reverse recession strategy for you: Instead of forgoing flights in 2009, do the opposite -- take a luxury trip to Europe in the comfort of business class.
No, I haven't lost my mind. Here's why: Business class tickets to London can be had for about $800 one way. Right now. For those of you who went this summer -- in coach -- remember what you paid?
Actually, business class has been becoming something of a bargain for a while now -- a relative bargain, anyway, and I know what I'm talking about. After all, I'm writing this column as I'm about to head for home from London with my family on Continental's BusinessFirst service. I bought our tickets in June of this year online, with no help from a travel agent, and paid $1,360 (plus tax) per ticket, roundtrip.
And of course, this was months before the economy entered full meltdown-mode and before many Fortune 500 companies began sending out the dreaded air travel memo. Didn't get it? You will. It goes something like this:
"Suck it up and pack your own snack because from now on you're all flying Coach, and that goes for European flights, too. And if anyone ever figures out how to use that darned video-conferencing gizmo, we'll forget about flying altogether …"
Business Travel Cut Back
Yes, there are lots of unhappy road warriors today -- you'll find them sardined into the back of the planes with lots of empty seats upfront. And this is true even as some of these travelers dip into their own personal supply of miles for upgrades.
There is room at the top. So the airlines are playing "Let's Make a Deal." Why don't you take advantage of it?
I just saw some business fares to London for about $1,800 roundtrip on Continental, and Lufthansa has flights from New York to Frankfurt for $750 each way. A little perspective: Normally a roundtrip, business class flight to Europe -- even with a 14-day advance-purchase -- would cost about $4,400. Buy your tickets less than 14 days in advance and the price jumps to nearly $6,000. And again, normally, the only bargains to be had required a 40- or 50-day advance purchase.
Want more good news? How about all the "business class Botox" we've been seeing lately -- you know, all the makeovers aboard the U.S. legacy network airlines. Finally, we're seeing more of those nifty lay-flat seats, 250 plus movies on demand, and when it comes to dining, lot's more pizzazz. How does "Rosemary-scented shrimp drizzled with garlic sauce served with lemon rice and artichokes" sound? Sounds good to me and to the chefs working for American Airlines.
This is the way flying should be -- and amazingly, it's within reach of a lot of us. I predict, these relative bargains in business class will continue well into the New Year.
Believe me, I know my prediction may seem at odds with the fact that we have lost a handful of "discount" business class airlines the past year, including MaxJet, EOS and SilverJet -- but maybe the timing just wasn't right. You have to wonder if these airlines would have survived if only oil hadn't started on its ominous ascent last spring.
Europe on Sale
So what's the catch? There really isn't one for business travel to Europe -- unless you're far from one of the main U.S. departure or gateway cities. But this is a minor irritant that can be overcome with good preplanning. For example, we bought $49 tickets on Southwest from Dallas to Houston Hobby, then carpooled to Houston Intercontinental, so we could to catch our beautifully priced Trans-Atlantic flight.
OK, but what about guilt? Should we be spending the extra money in these very tough times? I am sure there are some of us who figure, I can still get a cheaper price by flying coach, so that's what I must do. I have no quarrel with that, but have you thought about low-priced business class flights to Europe as a Christmas gift? A gift to share with the whole family?
A last thought: Watching airlines go under for lack of passengers is not going to help anyone. By taking a luxury trip to London -- don't laugh -- you just might be making a tiny contribution toward helping our economy on its road to recovery.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.