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European corporates increase spending on flights

European companies are “willing to accept” higher travel prices with more business travellers now flying in business class cabins, according to data from corporate payment specialist AirPlus.

The Germany-based company analysed flight bookings from eight European markets including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK for its AirPlus Business Travel Index.

AirPlus found that European companies booked 19 per cent more flights in 2023 than in 2022, with overall spending on air travel reaching 76 per cent of 2019 levels. The country with the highest rate of recovery was Switzerland where corporates spent 88 per cent of their 2019 budget on flights.

Business travellers are now flying in premium cabins more often than they did pre-Covid with 11.1 per cent of bookings through AirPlus being for business class. This was up from 10.7 per cent in 2022 and 8.8 per cent in 2019.

This rise in demand for business class came despite average ticket prices rising by 7 per cent year-on-year to reach €3,867 in 2023. AirPlus noted that average economy fares remained stable at €515 last year, compared to €510 in 2022, with “further slight price decreases” in the past three months.

The data from AirPlus corresponds with similar findings from Advantage Travel Partnership and Travelogix of “major growth” in bookings for premium air travel during 2023.

AirPlus added that trip duration was also “stabilising”, with the average trip lasting 5.9 days in 2023 – down from 6.2 days during the previous year but longer than in 2019 when the average was 5.4 days.

The company also noted the continued trend of travellers seeking to “bundle various appointments into a single trip instead of taking several short trips”. The total proportion of one-day trips booked in 2023 was 6.8 per cent, slightly up from 6.5 per cent in 2022 but still well below the figure of 14.3 per cent in 2019.

Oliver Wagner, CEO of AirPlus, said: “Although economic conditions have recently become more challenging for many European companies, they continue to recognise the relevance of personal encounters and business travel.

“Expenditure on business travel should therefore not be seen as a cost, but first and foremost as an important investment. We are currently seeing positive developments in the business travel market.”

AirPlus found that the US retained its position as the top long-haul destination for European companies, with China returning to the second place it occupied back in 2019 after finally reopening its borders in early 2023. The list of the top five intercontinental destinations was rounded out by India, the United Arab Emirates and Japan.

“While the US continues to be in high demand as a travel destination, flight capacities to Asia are steadily increasing,” added Wagner. “We are therefore optimistic that Asia, and China in particular, will continue to approach pre-Covid levels this year.”

Within Europe, the top air destinations in 2023 remained the same as in 2022, with Germany leading the way followed by Spain, the UK, France and Italy.