Some Airlines Shouldn’t Bother With First Class

No, I’m not even talking about American, which has a fantastic business class product on their 777-300ER, but only ever-so-marginally better first class product.

Instead I’m talking about Kuwait Airways.

Kuwait-Airways-747

As many of you probably know, I’m seriously considering booking Kuwait Airways home from Colombo in a few weeks, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

Kuwait Airways’ business class is horrible. It’s so bad that they don’t even advertise it on their website. But you know what’s truly mind-blowing? They also have a first class product throughout most of their fleet.

For example, let’s take a look at the A340, on which they offer first and business class, both of which are in a 2-2-2 configuration:

KU-A340

The same is true on their A300, which has identically sized first and business class cabins, both in a 2-2-2 configuration:

KU-A300

I suppose they’re really generous towards first class passengers on the 777, as first class is in a 2-2-2 configuration, while business class is in a 2-3-2 configuration:

KU-777

So how do fares differ?

Between Kuwait City and New York, the one-way business class fare is ~$500 (how is that a thing?!?):

KU-J-Fare

Meanwhile if you want to fly first class, the fare jumps almost sixfold, to ~$3,000:

KU-F-Fare

The price premium isn’t quite as rich flying one-way between London and New York, as the business class fare is ~$1,100:

KU-J-Fare-2

Meanwhile first class is ~$1,500, which seems like a more reasonable premium:

KU-J-Fare-1

While I’d like to say that I don’t get why they bother with first class, I really don’t get the airline as a whole. When ~$500 is your published one-way business class fare on your flagship route between Kuwait and New York…

But here’s what’s even more puzzling. Kuwait Airways will soon be taking delivery of some new planes, on which they’ll introduce a new first & business class product.

About a year ago they revealed what the new business class product would look like. Via Kuwait Airways’ Instagram, here’s what their new first class looks like:

KU-New-F

While here’s what their new business class looks like:

KU-New-J

Yes, their first class product is a reverse herringbone seat, which is becoming pretty standard in business class nowadays. Even with their brand new product, their first class is as good as business class at best, while their business class is as good as… I’m not really sure.

Bottom line

I really don’t get Kuwait Airways’ JoS. A. Bank-esque business model. They’re marketing a business class product (at best) as first class, while their business class product is consistently cheaper than economy on other airlines. And that’s even with their new fleet, and not even taking into account the horrible hard product they presently have throughout their fleet.

Then again, they don’t seem to understand their business model either, given that they’re government owned and don’t seem to have any actual strategy.

At least the “big three” Gulf carriers lose money in a classy way, while showering us with, well, showers, and good champagne. šŸ˜‰

Emirates-A380-Shower

Does anyone understand Kuwait Airways’ business model when it comes to their premium cabins?!

Comments

  1. Lucky, those business class seats remind me of the Ethiopian Airlines flight you took on that 767.

  2. Just got off of Kuwait Airways A300 Business Class KWI-CAI. Horrible! Just horrible!

    (I can write you my thoughts and send some some pics if you want)

  3. Lucky, you said it yourself. They’re state-owned, they don’t HAVE to make money. What is important to them is that they have their own connections to some countries (wherever Kuwait Airways goes). That looks like an cabin upgrade designed specifically to meet a budget goal and look like it was done in this century.

  4. If they’re consistently cheaper, then it could also be seen as a different name to a same product – i.e. economy on Kuwait is economy; ‘business’ is premium economy; ‘first’ is business. One could also question why some airlines are eliminating first but introducing a premium economy to make another type of thee-class configuration. Perhaps as an attempt to make some businesses pay for ‘first’ class seats rather than ‘business’ class seats for their staff?

  5. Let me fill in the blank for ya.
    “while their business class is as good asā€¦La Compagnie” šŸ˜‰

  6. @Abdel Rahim Abdallah : Your reaction gave me a good laugh !! šŸ™‚ I am based in Cairo and just back here. Would love to hear your experience with Kuwait Airways in that particular route (KWI-CAI). These days I often use Gulf Air (within the region of Middle East) and I am quite reasonably satisfied with their fleet & service.

  7. more importantly… why do you bother with this airline? you should have just booked Qatar, at least you’d earn miles and fly a decent product.

  8. @jessie – If you can shoot me up an e-mail at abdallah.abdelrahim@hotmail.com and I’ll reply or just write your e-mail here and I’ll send you a little review!

    Yeah, Gulf Air do have some nice fares out of CAI in economy, flew them CAI-DXB-CAI for $297 in Sep 2014.

  9. @ Charlie — True, though I think the downside is that many companies have a strict travel policy whereby you can only book business class, etc. So I think they’re at a disadvantage, because for many companies they couldn’t book first class on Kuwait, even if it’s cheaper than business class on other carriers.

  10. @Lucky
    You still seems to have some kind of video or sound file playing on your site, could not find a link or see the video. But the sound is there at full volume.

    About the new business class, the description you are looking for is perhaps a nice Premium economy?

    @Charlie
    Why 3 class? Probably too make it more difficult/impossible for those corporate travelers that are on full Y tickets to upgrade to J with miles.

  11. @ Lucky – in interests of sanity, you should hold off flying them until they roll out a new product. Although that inaugural flight would probably gather a few less hits than Etihad’s šŸ˜‰

  12. On the India routes, they sell the First Class seats as Business Class. I find that the KU Business Class fare from DXB-KWI-BOM is often cheaper than the EK Economy fare on the DXB-BOM route and you get the reasonably decent First Class sleeper seats on the 777/343 to boot from KWI-BOM. Too bad that the rest of the experience is horrendous otherwise I might actually fly them some more.

  13. ā€œAt least the ā€œbig threeā€ Gulf carriers lose money in a classy wayā€
    Emirates consistently makes a profit so this point is simply not factually accurate, but it sure sounds good to the US airlines lobbyist šŸ˜‰

  14. They’re simply in a time warp.

    This is exactly how First and Business Class looked / were handled by most airlines in the 1980 to mid 1990s.

  15. “while their business class is as good asā€¦” some of the business class seats you can still find on Emirates šŸ˜‰ Granted, it’s the worst of 3 or 4 business class seats Emirates still offers.

  16. @No Name this site has some type of adware infection on their server, it has for a while. I get random redirects and stuff instead of this page loading. I think lucky acknowledged it in the comments of another post. Ive dealt with this stuff before on my own site, it’s a major pain.

  17. $500? Are you kidding? For $500 for what –may not be up to your standards but– is obviously better than a coach seat, I’d buy the ticket in a heartbeat, thank the Kuwaitis for subsidizing it, and stop worrying about what name they’ve labeled it with.

  18. @BHill “Emirates consistently makes a profit ” Is that a joke you’re making?

    Anyone could claim a “profit” when their contracts for ground service are with heavily subsidized service companies.

  19. @ Joseph N. — And that’s my point. This post isn’t really intended to be from a consumer’s perspective, but rather from their perspective. When you’re charging $500 for longhaul business class on your flagship route, something is wrong. šŸ˜‰

  20. @ BHill — To clarify, they make a profit factoring in the multi-billion dollar fuel hedge they simply made disappear, the fact that they pay next to nothing for airport ground handling services, etc.? Or using what accounting?

  21. Lucky, I think you got the title wrong. It should be “Some Airlines Shouldn’t Bother Existing”. There’s no logical reason in this day and age why a tiny country of only 3 million people should have an airline at all, particularly when they’re surrounded by mega-carriers. I suppose it’s a pride thing – every Emir wants his own airline. Call it “Keeping up with the Al Maktoums”.

  22. @Joseph N ā€“Other airlines pay the same ground service charges in Dubai, whether it is Emirates or not. Claiming otherwise devalues your argument since it is simply not accurate. You are only regurgitating lobbyists/PR convenient PR nuggets.

    Does it unfair advantage that Emirates is based where geography is an advantage? Conversly the question could be asked; is it unfair advantage that Singapore airlines does not have to adhere to the same labor laws as US carries? Seems that US airlines are cherry picking on issues to challenge their biggest competitors/threat. Seems hypocritical to me.

  23. @Lucky ā€“ please share more about the billion dollar hedge that was made to disappear. Source? Very intriguing. Surely you can shed some more color on this.

  24. I sat next to a KU captain on a short KWI-BAH flight on UA last year and he told me not to fly KU unless I really have to.

    He seemed very disappointed with the every aspect of the airline [lack of service, working conditions etc], and especially management running it.

  25. @ lucky

    I guess they don’t have a fax in business otherwise you’ll be jumping on that deal in a heart beat …

  26. @ Lucky ā€“ Thanks for sending the link to the White Paper showing where you base source material from, ie the US airlines.

    In the document there is no concrete evidence of Emirates making multi-billions fuel hedge disappear. It is a misrepresentation of facts concocted for PR purposes. According to this White Paper you refer to, Emirates sold the futures contract and took a loss of $428 million on the contract. So much for Emirates making losing fuel hedges disappear! Airlines are free to buy/sell futures to hedge against fuel price swings. All airlines do so.

    I find it interesting that the White Paper uses a lot of words like ā€œindicateā€, ā€œsuggestsā€, ā€œpossible lossesā€ ā€œcouldā€ when referring to the hedge. Clearly this is just PR and lobbyist mudslinging. It is a shame that you report such claims as facts. If what the US airlines and their heard of lobbyist/PR people are claiming was definitive and factually accurate the US airlines would say so in no uncertain terms and would not use such qualified language.

  27. BHill, could you name the independent, internationally recognized accounting firm that certified the financial statements of Etihad, Qatar and Emirates as profitable organizations that have disclosed all commercial transactions with licensed providers equally audited?

  28. @JoeMart ā€“ Yes, I can. In a couple of seconds I could find that Emirates independent auditor is PwC. Etihadā€™s auditor is KPMG. You can easily find such information using Google.

  29. @ W — Hah, comparatively I think La Compagnie might have the product advantage here… at least they have decent champagne!

  30. Try flying Saudi Airlines, that way you will see all gulf carriers not just the “big three”

  31. ITA is incorrect, these Z class business fares are phantom and don’t exist, as per KU staff. I think they are Y class fares or special fares for ID travel.

  32. They do seem to have the angled lie-flat business class seats on their refurbished A330’s, but even those seats are very dated now. The current First class they have on the 777 aircraft are actually very wide and super comfy old fashioned seats that recline right back. Whilst it’s nowhere near the standards of international first class today, you can expect to pay about Ā£1500 for a return LHR-JFK through most of the season. Even in the sales you’d have trouble finding a return business class flight for less that Ā£1800 on that route. Having flown upper class on Virgin, the Kuwait old style first class seats look far more comfortable.

  33. I booked KWI to HKG Business using their new A330-200 for 393 KWD (~$1300 USD) and when i boarded it became First class the flat bed šŸ™‚ its really a mystery how how differentiate their classes

  34. now everything changed their first class is pretty good considering that the price is just unbelievable.
    i took a flights from Kuwait to Frankfurt which is like 6 hours but to be honest i got very well better than my experience with KLM business which was dreadful , anyhow i would recommend travelling in their new fleet if you have a chance to .

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