For a brief period of time, thousands of passengers were flying in relative luxury over the North Atlantic, and paying significantly less to do so. MaxJet, Eos, L'Avion, to name a few, were the all-business-class airlines that were hopping across the pond.
In theory, the new airlines were a breath of fresh air, offering lower fares and better service to affluent passengers. Business-class fares on American, British Air and Air France averaged more than $10,000 round-trip. But the new kids on the block undercut those fares—big time.
One of the ways they could offer more style for less money was by flying alternate routes. They didn't land at or take from the preferred British airport of Heathrow; instead, they serviced Stansted and Luton, leading to significant fare savings.
MAXjet, based in Washington, D.C., flew five planes between Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Stansted in London. The fares? At one point, I made a fare comparison between Maxjet and American on the New York-London flights. American wanted $11,822 round-trip; Maxjet was offering its flights at less than $2,000 round-trip.
Then there was EOS, a more successful attempt, which also flew to Stansted and priced its tickets slightly higher than the Maxjet range. Its seats were about as big as other airlines' first-class seats. But the biggest selling point—other than its fares—was a fleet of 757s that were configured for just 48 passengers. (Most 757s carry nearly 200.) L'Avion started a similar service to Paris’s second airport, Orly, from New York.
Initially, the market started to shift and prices began to drop. American and British business-class lowered their prices, but it wasn't enough. Then, Silverjet entered the market with daily all-business class service from Newark to Luton. That's when the gloves came off, and American—which had never before attempted to fly to Stansted—announced twice daily service there from New York, with attractive mileage bonuses.
Other airlines soon followed suit, and lowered their fares. British offered a 42-day advance purchase fare in business class as low as $1,129 each way. Continental dropped fares to as low as $1,500 round-trip. Even SAS dropped business class between New York and Stockholm for $2,990 round-trip. British Airways announced daily business class service from London City Airport to New York.
Then came the soaring fuel prices.
The result: another, even more dramatic, shift. Maxjet folded in December, 2007; and more recently, EOS went under after losing $37 million in the first nine months of 2007. Silverjet is still flying, but is seeking investors. L'Avion, too, is still aloft, with $1,399 round-trip business-class fares to Paris.
But how long can they hold out? And, does this signal the beginning of the end of affordable, stylish transatlantic business travel?
Given the bleak economic outlook for all business-class service across the pond, as well as the inevitable rising fares in the wake of reduced capacity, are there still ways to biz-class your way to Europe without mortgaging your house?
The answer, surprisingly, is ... Yes. Some solutions:
1. Bring a friend.
Perhaps the best benefit of having an American Express Platinum card is its two-for-one business-class airline deal. Buy one first- or business-class ticket on any number of international airlines, and your companion’s ticket is free. Airlines range from Continental to Alitalia, from Air New Zealand to Lufthansa and Swissair. There are some blackout dates, but it's still a great deal.
2. Be creative with your schedule.
Consider extending your U.S.-to-Europe journey to that ‘round-the-world trip you’ve dreamed of. Don't just fly business class from the U.S. to London or Paris. Instead, check with Airtreks.com for hundreds of different combinable routes. For fares slightly more than what EOS was charging round-trip on a single flight to Europe, you can continue east, and head around the world. If you plan properly, you even get mileage. Also, both oneworld and Star Alliance operate RTW desks that sell tickets directly.
3. Using mileage on secret flights/secret routes.
Head to Europe on airlines you'd never even think of. The planes are less crowded, and in many cases, the airfares are less expensive because these airlines simply want to fill seats on flights that are actually headed beyond their initial European destination.