Brussels Airlines: An Example Of A European Airline Successfully Adapting

Europe is one of the easiest places to get around by airplane. Flights are insanely cheap, sometimes to the point that they’re cheaper than a Subway sandwich. Last year I got a $9 roundtrip ticket from Gothenburg to London Stansted with Ryanair.

Given the increased competition, traditional airlines are adopting low-cost models. Most notably, British Airways cut their free food and drinks and now offers “no-frills” fares just like their low-cost competitors. Other airlines, such as Lufthansa, have launched separate carriers to compete in these markets (in their case, Eurowings). The problem is that the legacy carriers haven’t gotten much cheaper. Despite their cost-cutting, British Airways charges double or triple what their competition charges on some routes.

While legacy airlines race to the bottom, ironically, low-cost carriers are racing to the top. EasyJet is introducing connections and partners, which historically hasn’t been part of the low-cost point-to-point model. Meanwhile Europe’s most hated airline, Ryanair, is making vast improvements, from allowing more carry-ons to increasing checked bag weight allowances.

Somewhere in the middle, we find the Lufthansa Group, and specifically, Brussels Airlines. As far as I’ve seen, they’re the only legacy carrier that manages to compete with Ryanair on price, and it’s pretty impressive. Through almost the entire fare calendar, Brussels Airlines is offering consistent $36 flights to/from Brussels to the following cities: London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Hamburg, Berlin, Bremen, Hannover, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Geneva, Milan, Rome, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid and more! 

They’re also offering connecting flights from $54. Here’s why this is significant:

  1. You can still earn miles with United MilagePlus and Lufthansa Miles and More
  2. You get lounge access if you’re Star Alliance Gold (which you don’t even get flying some Eurowings routes)
  3. Brussels Airport is beautiful and convenient for connections
  4. Brussels Airlines times its network to be perfect for connections
  5. They’re also a good airline offering slimline seats with 30″ of pitch
  6. You can still bring two carry-ons when booking Check&Go
Great connections through Brussels!

As a comparison, Lufthansa charges much times more for their hand-baggage only fares… A ridiculous amount, in fact.

These fares are the lowest I’ve seen from a traditional carrier in Europe, and they really show how the industry is changing. Brussels Airlines has certainly done well at adapting! It’ll be sad to see them morph into Eurowings soon.

Bottom Line

Kudos to Brussels Airlines for lowering their fares to match the low-cost competition, and for actually succeeding in bringing prices down after cuts to their product. I’m considering booking a weekend in Brussels when I get home and given how great these prices are, you might want to look into it too!

Comments

  1. Are they….profitable though? The premise of this article seems to be missing a deeper analysis. Lufthansa and BA would likely lower their fares if they could….but it wouldn’t be profitable. Since Brussels is the successor to Sabena (long since bankrupt), I wonder if this is sustainable….

  2. Is it really successful though? I dont see any analysis as to whether what they’re doing is commercailly viable for the long term. Sure, you can lower ticket prices, but does that cover your costs? Does that produce profits? I’m not convinced that this piece does anything other than show that Brussels knows how to reduce ticket prices. Whether they have the cost structure to support these, and be a viable long-term player, isnt addressed here. Without that, I dont think we can say whether Brussels Airlines is succesful or not.

  3. What everybody else says. These fares include taxes/fees, right? If so, their profit margin must be close to zero, or probably negative.

  4. FRA-FCO for $274 that’s way too much, try a round-trip (I see rt starting at $154) — many of these legacy carriers offer only fully flex fares for one-way flights

  5. Yeah, no.
    First off, this is not new. I flew PRG-BRU roundtrip on SN for ~$80 back in early 2012 and even then this was no exception. On the other hand, the airline struggles financially and it remains to be seen what LH Group does with them given their troubled balance sheet.

    Second, Brussels is a nightmare for connections. In theory, their schedule is designed for a banked hub, yet their on-time record is lacking. Last year, I got stranded in Brussels for the night on a straightforward PRG-BRU-GOT itinerary. It was due to technical difficulties and the airline handled this very poorly – no information whatsoever, no connection updates, slow and indifferent transfer desk staff and literally hundreds of stuck passengers in Brussels. It then took a full 11 months to wrestle the EU261 compensation from them.

    Third, Brussels airport is generally fine, but certainly not convenient – not after their newest wave of security measures, which look more like an elaborate security theater than anything else. I feel for them in terms of the recent tragedy, but have never felt that it was an efficient operation.

    Perhaps it depends on the market, but out of Prague, Lufthansa, Austrian and SAS tend to be very competitive with SN, not to mention the myriad of LCCs, which are actually improving (Wizzair is dropping their carry-on charges this fall, Volotea is expanding…)

  6. I don’t believe that the UK comparisons are fair. For all of Heathrow’s issues, it is leagues ahead of Stansted and landing fees reflect that. A better comparison would be between the ULCC’s and legacies between the same airports.

  7. I think these terribly low prices also reflect the terribly low quality of their service (both on ground and in the air)

  8. You need to take the destination airports into consideration.
    Getting into London from Stansted is more expensive and might take longer than from Heathrow.
    Some travellers might happily pay the fare difference of 70 USD for a more convenient airport.

  9. I booked a friend on a Brussels Airline intra-eu flight back in 2007 and the way she described handling of a missed connection sounds a lot the way @Juraj described his flight in 2012.

    @Daniel

    Leaving aside the fact that your LON example include different airports. The biggest point is that Ryanair and Norwegian sell all tickets as one-ways, which seems to be the way Brussels handles ticket sales these days.

    Then there is the fact that Oneworld Elites gets lounge access in LHR on BA flights and extra luggage if that is your thing.

    BA is still more expensive on one-ways than on returns same as LH, also there is the whole Saturday night effect on prices. This also leave aside things like fortress hubs admittedly less for BA these days inside EU due to multiple airports in LON, but very much a thing for LH at FRA.

    Rather than trying to book a one-way out of their hub compare LH and Brussels on a return flight GOT-BRU/FRA-FCO over a weekend. Prices will be much closer and chances are that LH will be cheaper on flights that don’t leave at the crack of dawn. I just priced out a GOT-FRA-FCO return weekend flight in late November on Google flights that ended up being cheaper than FRA-FCO on the same days.

    While the EU network carriers have gone downhill lately with reduced service on board and extra fee I think the following video is still valid. You get what you pay for.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPyl2tOaKxM

    Both Brussels and Scandinavian can be good choices if you want a one-way flight with a network company and *A benefits, the difference in price compared to more classic network companies is often much lower on a return.

    Of course this all leaves out the effect that having a terrorist attack in your airport will do to prices of flights, Turkish true IST is also very cheap these day.

  10. I don`t really agree on this article and concur with the previous posters… You can’t really compare LHR and STN, and definitely cannot compare FRA-FCO to BRU-FCO as the markets are fundamentally different, e.g. when it comes to purchasing power or viable LCC alternatives. The reason SN often charges little and LH (or more so even, LX) often charge more is simply because one needs to charge little to attract demand while the others can get away with charging more, because there enough customers willing to pay that price for that service.

    Finally, SNs operations are bad enough when things are normal (not getting bags transferred on a 1:30 connection bad, which happens frequently) and abysmal in IRROPS.. Never do I worry about LH connections with 30mins in MUC or having alternatives and I am willing to pay for that.. So, yes, you get what you pay for.

  11. Sorry, not wanting to seem overly nitpicky here, but a 15M profit on 1.27B, so 1.1% margin of revenue isn´t really that great.. For reference, LX posted 429M profits at 4.799B in revenue, coming out at 9% margin, and that is even though ZRH is crazy expensive to operate out of and their long haul fleet is far less fuel efficient (still a lot of 340s) than SNs.

  12. @Tom. They are a business. If they can sell for higher they will. They obviously can sell their tickets for higher. So they do.

  13. Are there seriously people here trying to lecture Daniel on supply and demand? Sometimes Americans are incredibly embarrassing. Trust me, he knows.

    Now read this thing again with a ceteris paribus mindset and stop your yapping. It only makes yourselves look stupid, believe me.

  14. Personally, internal to Europe, I’d rather take the train. Thats a matter for another post, however.

    To me, comparing LHR to STN is a misnomer though. LHR is a vastly superior facility, and I know if there is a problem, I can likely find another way to my destination – and that peace of mind is something I’m willing to pay for. Connections at the airports arent the same. Getting into London isnt the same. Irregular operations arent the same. You get what you pay for.

  15. @Hermann don’t forget that 2016 was a difficult year for SN due to the Brussels bombings. This definitely had a very big impact on profits.

  16. @Hermann The price difference between BRU and FRA has nothing has nothing to do with purchasing power. The GDP (ppp)/capita is higher in Brussels than in Frankfurt. So by your theory the prices should be higher from BRU than from FRA. Obviously that’s not the case. It all comes down to competition.

  17. The reason BRU-LHR is so cheap is because it’s such a short distance that it’s much quicker to take the train. It’s a unique route that they really have to be cheaper than a train for people to consider them. The time it would take me to get from East London to LHR is almost as much as the time the train takes all the way to Brussels.

  18. As far as i know, Brussels makes most of the money with the Africa routes, most of them which have very little competition and high prices. They fill some seats cheap on their short-hauls, since there is lots of competition, as explained in the article. They would not be profitable with just the short-haul.

  19. @Mauricio – SN is already part of Eurowings. But the Brussels Airlines brand is supposed to remain, as well as its long haul routes, and its business class on those routes.

    I flew SN pretty extensively recently in business class both TATL and intra-Europe, and found it to be a pretty nice experience overall (aside from a wildcat airport strike in Brussels that caused our bags to be delayed by >2 days). TATL, the flight crews were pleasant and helpful, the seat good (although not stellar) for both sleeping and lounging, and the food acceptable (but again not stellar). Intra-Europe, again the crews were pleasant and the food edible (if unremarkable). I’d definitely fly them again, although I’d prefer that they find a different company to handle baggage at BRU, since Swissport workers have a history of striking there.

    If SN hasn’t had a stellar year for profits, keep in mind that it still made some money despite the terrorist attacks last year. BRU was quite busy this summer, so they should soon pull out of any downturn caused by those events.

  20. I’m sorry for some of the nit pickers here but I fly with them every week since I live in Belgium and I do have to say they are pretty decent. Not having your bag transferred in 1h30?? I never arrive at the airport earlier than 45min before take off and always have my checked in bag delivered at the destination. Security has vastly improved and I have to really think of when I actually had to wait longer than 3 to 4 minutes before security check.
    Leaving on time: well Brussels Airlines, thats something they tend to miss from time to time however I’ve always arrived on time this year (after taking 75+ flights with them)

  21. These SN fares ex-BRU are a 1 EUR basefare, and a 28,18 EUR BRU airport tax.
    They don’t charge any fuel surcharge on these fares, so the amount SN gets from selling such a oneway ticket ex-BRU is exactly 1 EUR.
    It’s are a temporary promotion btw, normally they sell tickets from 39 EUR (+-5 EUR basefare, +-5 EUR YQ and the BRU airport tax).

    For a lot of destinations (VIE, WAW, PRG, …) these oneway fares are only available when booking 30-60 days in advance. For other destinations (MAD, FCO, BCN) they don’t have any advance purchase requirements, though the N booking class that give these 29 EUR fares won’t be available when booking a day in advance.

    Keep in mind that tickets for these fares are only available on the SN website, when booked via TA’s/OTA’s they charge an extra 16 EUR DCC GDS YR tax. Some local OTA’s have a direct link to the SN booking system and are DCC exempted.

    Soon or late they’ll try to integrate SN shorthaul into Eurowings though, and at that moment all Star Alliance advantages will probably disappear.

  22. Side issue but…I don’t see OMAAT has covered Ryanair’s current timetable change/cancellations crisis and the immense online PR fallout?

  23. @ Dave

    I also live in Belgium, and I also fly them oftern. Usually to Africa once a month and within Europe 2 times a month. Your experience seems to be completely different than mine. The baggage handling in a joke: if they’re not on strike, you have often to wait 20 min at the carrousel. Priority bags come out after non priority bags. They manage to lose my bags 2-3 times per year on direct flights, and I always check in 2 hours before the flight. Security is a nightmare. I can’t remember when I only had to wait 3-4 minutes; and I use the express lane most of the time (though sometimes that queue is longer than the normal queue). On African flights the service is is quiet good, despite the many “difficult” passangers. On intra-European routes the service is on-par with Ryanair. Honestly, even when it involves a stop in ZRH, I strongly prefer LX over SN on any route.

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