Tough times for airlines are proving a boon for travellers wanting a taste of luxury with a discount.
While cut-rate international fares in economy cabins have been a feature of the past six months, heavy discounting is spreading throughout the plane.
Airlines are scrambling to fill their premium cabins and thousands of dollars of business-class discounts are being offered on long-haul flights, and on transtasman flights where the sharpest premium cabin fares are now as low as half standard levels.
Airlines with heavy emphasis on premium cabins - kitted out with features ranging from lie-flat beds to bars - make up to half their revenue from them, so the business travel slump is hitting them hard.
International Air Transport Association figures show that passenger numbers travelling on premium tickets last December fell by 13.3 per cent on the same month a year earlier.
The association estimates the decline in business-class travel revenues at around 20 per cent which, taken over a year, could cost the global airline industry $30 billion.
It all adds up to a silver lining for leisure travellers, with gourmet food, a better class of bubbly and exclusive airport lounges.
Among the deals on offer, Emirates is offering transtasman business-class fares from Auckland and Christchurch for around $1000 return, down from the standard $1820. This includes a complimentary limo service at both ends of up to 40km in Auckland and 60km in Sydney.
Passengers paying $1033 for an Auckland-Sydney return flight can fly on the airline's new superjumbo A380, which boasts mini bars in the 76 individual business-class passenger pods, and a lounge.
Emirates' New Zealand manager, Chris Lethbridge, said demand throughout the aircraft had been stronger than anticipated and particularly in business class, even before fares were slashed. More traditional leisure travellers were flying in business class, he said.
Air New Zealand is offering one-way $499 business-class fares to eastern Australian cities, down from $1110 list prices, and return business-premier fares to London saving up to $3000 if three people are travelling together.
The airline's general manager of international airlines, Ed Simms, said the area devoted to premium cabins in Air New Zealand planes was lower than the industry average, which was a good position to be in at present. The airline had enjoyed better bookings than expected earlier this year and cheaper fares were used to bolster demand during the winter season.
"While the forward look is nowhere where we'd like it to be, the booking cycle is getting shorter and shorter. The business is coming but it's coming later and later. Business cabins that were filling four or five months out are now four or five weeks out."
Cathay Pacific says its forward bookings in business class out of Auckland are strong over the next few months but as the global market has become more competitive, it has dropped fares - an Auckland to London return seat, for example has gone from $9267 to $6817.
Singapore Airlines says customers have become more discerning as to which class they travel, and to "help restore confidence in the market" it has reduced business fares. Business-class trips to Europe for two or more people travelling together now cost $7200, down from $10,249.
Business travel specialist Gilpin Travel said it had seen a significant increase in business-class inquiries from leisure clients, driven by strong airline advertising.
Owner and manager Keith Sumner said sharp prices were attracting more passengers "which in turn we believe could see them convert long term to using this product more, but there is a huge expectation about flying business class which we need to manage".
Among the deals on offer Auckland-Sydney return
Usual price - $2384
Discount fare - $1110
Usual price - $1823
Discount fare - $1033
Among the deals on offer Auck-London return
Usual price - $9267
Discount fare - $6817
Usual price - $10,120
Discount fare - $6968
Usual price - $10,249
Discount fare - $7200