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Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

It is an age-old question: “Business or pleasure?” For airline passengers nowadays, the answer increasingly is both.

The growth in so-called “bleisure” trips blending personal getaways with remote work has helped fill seats on planes during the coronavirus pandemic and marks a shift in travel patterns for an industry used to clear divisions between briefcase-toting road warriors and sun-tanned vacationers.

Such excursions have been on the rise as the spread of the Omicron variant has delayed the return to offices, especially among larger employers. The share of business trips that include a weekend has increased 23 percentage points to 38% since 2019, according to corporate travel manager TripActions. 

“Many of our customers that we’ve historically called leisure travellers are actually flying for reasons beyond just vacation,” American Airlines Group president Robert Isom said on Thursday. “They may travel to a beach or a mountain destination, but they’re actually going to work remotely for the week. The lines between leisure and business travel are definitely blurred.”

In response to the growing demand, TripActions added a dedicated personal trip booking platform in 2020. It averaged 22% monthly growth last year, said Kelly Soderlund, TripActions’ senior director of communications.

A plunge in traditional business travel during the pandemic has hurt the bottom line of carriers that count on large corporate customers as a key source of profit. Their absence has been felt most deeply on international routes, as well as key cross-country travel corridors such as New York to Los Angeles. Overall business travel bookings are 66% below prepandemic levels, according to industry trade group Airlines for America.

But the boom in bleisure — a term not everyone loves — has helped make up for some of that lost traffic. American says the blended trips often are booked at the last minute and carry a higher fare. The airline also saves on marketing expenses and has found that people making such excursions tend to fork out the cash for a better level of service.

United Airlines Holdings is generating a record amount of revenue from selling premium seats to leisure customers, chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said on Thursday. The trend “represents a meaningful amount of potential upside” to the carrier’s revenue plans, he said. 

Even as Big Business remains cautious about travel for work, domestic trips taken by employees of small- and medium-sized enterprises have rebounded sharply — with more of those now including added time for leisure. 

Bleisure travellers are increasingly flying on Thursday, joining business passengers who historically have made that the biggest travel day of the week. That allows them to work on Friday and move into the weekend sooner, according to Vasu Raja, American’s chief revenue officer.  

“As we go through the pandemic, customers have a lot more flexibility with their time,” Raja said. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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