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The "business" term is often associated with premium travel products, priced accordingly, among many offerings of the industry.

  • Business class cabins in airplanes

  • So-called "business" hotels

  • Business taxis (my example is one taxi operator in Paris having some cabs in its fleet labeled "Club Affaires" - "affaires" being the French word for business in this sense - those cars all being high-end executive sedans)

But, as far as I have traveled for actual business, meaning it is for work purposes and the company pays the expenses, I flew economy. Oppositely, I once splurged in a premium economy ticket for personal travel.

Therefore, where does this association between travelling for business and premium/luxury services come from?

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    Most (very) high level execs will travel in first/business, Walmart regional managers and above are shuttled using the company's fleet of private jets Commented Jul 10 at 17:15
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    I'm not sure if business hotels are associated with premium. In my experience, these are no-frills hotels, often just outside the city center (and therefore cheaper). This could be country specific, though
    – Berend
    Commented Jul 10 at 17:26
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    I used to travel trans-Atlantic on a bi weekly basis for several months. Without flat seat business class I wouldn't even consider that, let alone be productive on arrival.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jul 10 at 18:54
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    I think the only frequently used terms here is "business class flights". Business hotel and business taxi are rarely used (in my experience). Even in flights it has degraded to an almost meaningless marketing term. One example is the so called euro-business class which is just a standard economy seat with the middle seat blocked.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jul 11 at 13:52
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    If there is no First Class because demand cannot sustain one, then Business Class becomes the de facto First. It has never really meant "commercial traveller" class.
    – mckenzm
    Commented Jul 12 at 7:01

3 Answers 3

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When you travel on business (especially in the past, but to some extent still today):

  • you are on expense account and are permitted to buy things on expenses (such as high end restaurant meals) that many people would not buy out of their own pocket
  • it is important to the success of your trip that you be well rested, that you have a quiet place to work, and so on

Companies are willing to pay for larger seats, access to a quiet lounge, a larger and quieter taxi, and so on in the belief that this will either make the employee more productive, or make the employee more willing to take the trip. (I can't see a business reason why it's important to get free alcohol on the plane, for example, but that's the situation in business class.) Those who provide such services know that labelling themselves as "luxury" "deluxe" "premium" and so on might attract a side eye about overspending, so they go with "business" "professional" "executive" "accommodating" "flexible" and other words that look better on expense reports.

In some cases the distinction is real - that business hotel may have better wifi, printer in your room, usb cable on the tv so it can be a second screen (I actually travel with a little caster device for this purpose), and other things that appeal to those working in the room in the evenings. In others it's just a name for the more expensive thing that at least some businesses will pay for.

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    'that at least some businesses will pay for": ... for at least some of their employees.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 10 at 21:43
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    When I worked for a European company, any person on any flight over X hours was business class (maybe X was 9? I don't remember). When I worked for an F500 American company, only "executives" were permitted to fly business class. It really depends on the company culture. But when a 17 hour flight came up, I let someone else handle it.
    – Kingsley
    Commented Jul 11 at 4:52
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    @Kingsley my experience of UK employers over 20+ years has been that they're pretty tight. Economy class all the way to Japan, meal allowances that struggled to cover a city-centre dinner, that kind of thing. Commented Jul 12 at 8:35
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    @Kingsley My experience working in Europe matches yours: longer flights (for us that meant anything out of Europe) ‘unlocked’ Business – or at least Premium Economy – for any employee who had to take them. The higher-ups and very frequent travellers would often fly First class (and would often have raked up so many bonus points that they’d be automatically upgraded even if they weren’t originally booked on First). Commented Jul 12 at 10:33
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    @Kate It’s not uncommon, in my experience, for ‘business’ hotels/suites to have better wifi, but with the downside that it’s not included in the booking fee – a sort of compromise between offering actually useful-to-businesspeople features and trying to get more money from customers. Commented Jul 12 at 10:35
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In the early days, all seats were first class. (Source)

Postwar, some airlines started introducing an additional coach class--sometimes also called tourist class or economy class (the last name is today most common). See also "The Origin of Economy Class" (KLM Blog, 2019).

In the late 1970s (and after 1969 when the Boeing 747 was introduced), airlines saw an increasing need to also have a third intermediate class for business or emergency travelers.

Relevant information from The Financial Post (1978):

KLM was one of the pioneers with its FFF class (meaning full fare-paying facility) and most other airlines, sooner or later, followed with variations ...

British Airways ... is launching Club Class ...

"It's our way of recognizing the considerably higher fare paid as well as the quality of service demanded by the business traveler" ...

Pan Am quickly followed with ... Clipper Class ...

CP Air was working out details for something similar it expected to label "Executive-Economy Service." ...

Air Canada has no specific plans at this time, but ... acknowledges three motivations for travel and says "We have to meet those needs with three class of service." His three groups are first-class, business or emergency travelers who need flexibility and, "as we have seen this summer, those responding to price."

Airline observers agree it is only right and proper the business/emergency segment should get some sort of accommodation. It is much too large and revenue-productive to be ignored -- and growing ...

On the North Atlantic air route, the world's heaviest, an Iata survey shows that business traffic increased dramatically last year to 28.8% vs 21% in 1976 and 19.9% in 1975.

All of the above mentioned airlines were explicitly targeting this intermediate class of business or emergency travelers. However, none explicitly called it "Business Class" (but instead used names like FFF or Club or Clipper Class or Executive-Economy Service).

From my brief googling, it seems Qantas might have been the first to explicitly use the name "Business Class". From a 1980 Business Week ad:

The New Qantas Business Class. You get first-class service for about $900 less than the First Class fare to Australia. Our new Business Class is not just the old Economy Class with a few frills tacked on.


The term business hotel seems to be rare or non-existent in a search of Google Books for 2000 and before. So I'm guessing it was simply copied from business-class flights.

I had never heard of business taxis until reading your above question. Googling "business taxi", I find only about 200-300 results--many are irrelevant and those that are relevant seem to be for websites in Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands. So perhaps this term is mainly a continental European thing? (And again, I would guess that it was also simply copied from business-class flights.)

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    Can't say I've heard "business taxi" in continental Europe (Austria and Germany mainly) either. Most large companies will have special relationships with one or more taxi companies, which generally means better service, but I've seen that outside Europe too.
    – Voo
    Commented Jul 11 at 9:53
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    I do hear of "executive car service" in North America. It's not a taxi (you can't hail it on the street, there's no meter) and it's definitely a more luxurious car. Commented Jul 11 at 13:49
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My (North American) experience is that for private companies above small size, other than entry level, employees frequently can be reimbursed for (and are sometimes actively encouraged to have booked) relatively expensive business class seats so they will be well-rested. Especially for longer flights. Sometimes the schedule is grueling, business travel and overheaded employee costs are expensive anyway, and they don't feel it's worth going cheap. It's also a bit of a bribe to the employee who will be away from home and inconvenienced in other ways. Physically larger folks who might require a premium economy seat anyway are particularly impacted.

That's less common among public servants (should they even be permitted to attend long-distance or foreign conferences at all).

The cost differential should not be compared with the kind of seats you might book for a holiday trip (non-refundable, booked long in advance, crammed in the back) but with something like "Y" (economy class, with no cost for re-booking the flight or cancelling). I also know of some companies that have booked blocks of seats in first class for long distance travel at almost business class prices-- giving their employees the benefit of lay-down beds so they arrive in (say) Tokyo from North America or vice-versa in relatively good shape.

I'm also aware of the austere "business hotels" in Asia .. thanks for pointing out the dissonance, which had not occurred to me. They do tend to have a better desk (with adequate electrical outlets) and chair, in my experience. Sometimes the desk in tourist hotels is close to useless, even after moving things around, and using the chair for any length of time is akin to torture.

Another data point is "business class" seats in high-speed trains in China, which are above first class in price and amenities (image from trip.com).

enter image description here

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    Trains are quite specific. Also in Europe first class coaches are relatively common and not that more expensive (country and company depending) so even ordinary people use them, especially if the second class coaches are full and the experience is similar to literal cattle class. The train companies may want something even more fancy than the standard first class on their best trains. Commented Jul 12 at 8:16
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    @VladimirFГероямслава I don't find the existence of the class surprising- it's the name. They could have called it "Super luxury class" or something like that. Emirates (airline) calls their top class "Suites". I suspect the reason is to help justify it as a business expense , as someone else has said. Commented Jul 12 at 13:53
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    Trenitalia offers four classes on its Frecciarossa high speed trains, and "business" is only the second most exclusive: Standard – Premium – Business – Executive.
    – ccprog
    Commented Jul 12 at 17:56
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    @ccprog Interesting. 'Executive' still implies it's for business, of course, just not for the plebes. Commented Jul 12 at 18:00
  • You can compare luxury in a ETR 1000: Executive and Business...
    – ccprog
    Commented Jul 12 at 18:03

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