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How the Other Half Travels

At a time when coach seats are shrinking to make room for outrageously lavish flying apartments, it’s surprsing to see a study suggesting the elites on the other side of the first class curtain might not be so different from the rest of us. ADARA, a provider of travel industry data, looked at how consumers searched for and booked travel, and found that the high-spending group was surprisingly thoughtful when planning its trips.

The group of “Elite travelers” identified in the ADARA study actually conducted more extensive searches and booked farther in advance than the non-Elite travelers. A majority of Elites also demonstrated willingness to use non-premium options. Since corporate travelers made up a significant portion of the Elite cohort, these findings should be particularly encouraging for companies looking to encourage cost-effective employee travel.

Who The “Elite Travelers” Are

Elite travelers were defined as “those that have purchased a business or first class airline ticket, and/or have stayed at a luxury hotel in the past six months.” This group isn’t comprised exclusively of people traveling for work, though of course the decision to splurge on premium travel is a little easier when you’re not the one paying: since business travelers are less price sensitive than leisure travelers, airlines can charge six to eight times as much for business class as for coach. The ADARA study found that elite travelers:

  • Make up over 10% of the total market.
  • Travel nearly twice as much as non-Elites. The average Elite traveler recorded 8.6 flights and 6.4 hotel stays annually, compared to 3.4 flights and 3.6 hotel stays for others.
  • Spend more on their trips. The average daily hotel rate for Elite travelers ($212)  was more than 20% higher than for the non-Elite group ($174 / night).

Booking Habits of Elite Travelers

The study suggests that despite their high spending, Elites practice some habits associated with finding good deals. Elite travelers actually plan their trips farther in advance than the average traveler, and conduct a higher number of searches while doing so.

Elite travelers typically begin planning eight days before committing to a flight booking and 32 days before their departure date. Hotel bookings happen after four days of research, and 23 days prior to their trip. This is a larger window in comparison to non-elite Travelers, who typically begin searching six days prior to booking flights and around 30 days until their flight departure.

Trip Planning Time

Trip Planning Schedule Elite Travelers

The Elite group of travelers also conducted a slightly higher number of searches before booking their flights and hotels. On average, Elites had 6.2 flight searches and 5.6 hotel searches per trip, compared to 5.5 flight searches and 5.1 hotel searches for the non-Elite group.

Together these findings challenge the assumption that Elites – including frequent business travelers – book their trips at the last minute and default to the airline and hotel with which they have preferential loyalty status.

Elite travelers aren’t necessarily snobbish travelers: more than half of this group’s flight and hotel bookings came in non-premium categories.

“Elite Travelers tend to prefer first class travel and luxury hotels, however, their primary factor upon booking where to stay is location. They are not averse to flying economy or staying in mid-tier/full service accommodation in order to secure the specific location they require – 53% of Elite Traveler flights are front of cabin and not entirely first class, and 54% do not only stay at luxury hotels.”

The ADARA study concludes that “Elite Travelers are not unreachable, and are open to price plans and deals.” That’s encouraging news for companies looking to manage their T&E expenses: even the most jaded road warriors aren’t opposed to cost-effective travel.

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