Skip to navigationSkip to content

The economics of business class, explained through America’s most popular flight

PR Newswire/JetBlue
Low quantity, high quality
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The latest business class cabins have seats that turn into beds, large entertainment screens, and more leg room than most people could ever use. US airlines are increasingly using such amenities to lure business travelers onto the most traveled air route in America, from New York City’s JFK to Los Angeles’s LAX.

The privilege of flying business class on a transcontinental US flight can easily cost an extra thousand dollars over flying in coach, but that cost is worth it to some, who in turn account for an outsized portion of carriers’ revenue.

The US Department of Transportation estimates that 2.6 million passengers traveled on the route in 2013, 26% more than the next most popular route, according to data compiled by PlaneStats. Total revenue on the service was estimated at $701 million in 2013.

The Department of Transportation makes these estimates based on 10% of the tickets issued by US carriers. The data are calculated using the origin and destination of a journey, no matter the number of stops or connections. By law, only US carriers are allowed to fly on routes that are solely within the United States.

Across the major operators on the LAX-JFK route, the average round trip fare was $600, excluding frequent flyer awards. More than half of passengers paid less than $400 round trip on the ticket and 87% pay less than $800.

🎧 For more intel on air travel, listen to the Quartz Obsession podcast episode on flying business class. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.

The remaining 13% of passengers paying $800 or more accounted for 40% of the revenue generated by the route in 2013. And the 3.6% of passengers flying on tickets priced over $2,000 contributed 21% of the route’s aggregate revenue.

(Passengers who paid little to nothing for their ticket by, for instance, cashing in frequent flyer miles, are also included in the data.)

American Airlines and United rely the most on the highest priced tickets on the JFK to LAX route. Over 10% of each airline’s revenue on the route comes from tickets costing more than $3,600

JetBlue, which in the chart above has noticeably cheap tickets, didn’t operate a transcontinental business class in 2013. But last week, it introduced both business class and first class cabins for the first time—and only on the JFK to LAX route.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.