Since its launch in the late 1980s, the Airbus A321 from Airbus Group (OTC:EADSY) has collected over 2,000 orders and has become a common part of airline fleets. And as many airlines move toward larger aircraft, the Airbus A321 stands to see an increase in demand.
Besides being able to haul more passengers than the Airbus A320, two major airlines are finding the Airbus A321 useful for going after a new passenger market.
In the air travel market, JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ:JBLU) has managed to carve out its own market of people who want to fly neither with the major carriers nor the discount carriers. But to keep hold of higher-paying travelers and win them over from other carriers, JetBlue is offering a product similar to what major carriers are offering on long-distance overseas flights.
JetBlue is bringing the in-flight suite to the domestic U.S. market in select Airbus A321 aircraft. The suites are called Mint and feature closable doors, a 15-inch screen, a massage function, and fully lie-flat capability.
By making this offering, JetBlue is able to target higher-paying travelers who would otherwise fly first or business class on other major carriers. And surprisingly, JetBlue's Mint suites don't break the bank, either. Often available for as little as $599 each way between New York JFK International and Los Angeles International, these suites are a higher-priced option but not out of reach.
On its website, JetBlue shows two different layouts for its Airbus A321: one with 143 core seats and 16 enhanced experienced seats, of which four are suites, and the other layout with 190 core seats. JetBlue also operates Airbus A320 aircraft with 150 core seats. Based on the number of core seats in each aircraft, the Airbus A321 with the suites is similar to the Airbus A320 if JetBlue were to extend the A320 and add suites.
By adding the suites, JetBlue has chosen to use the extra space of the A321 to sell a premium product, making the aircraft home to one of the most luxurious commercial flight experiences for domestic travel.
JetBlue isn't the only one seeing the potential for a luxury offering in the transcontinental market. American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL) is tossing its hat in the ring by offering its own private suite experience.
These suites have lie-flat seats, an entertainment system available with hundreds of movies and TV programs, and a choice of entree, including such things as shrimp scampi and beef fillet.
Prices for these suites vary dramatically, with reservations months ahead sometimes costing around $1,000 each way, but Bloomberg found that some fares can hit $8,000. The lower end of this price range could work for affluent travelers, but the higher end is for those who would otherwise be flying a private jet.
But these suites aren't in every plane. American Airlines has turned the Airbus A321 Transcontinental into a luxury flight experience, where only 36 of the 102 seats on board are ordinary coach class, with the others being coach seats with extra legroom and first- and business-class seats. Furthermore, American Airlines is being highly selective on when it deploys these aircraft, having selected New York JFK-to-Los Angeles and New York JFK-to-San Francisco as the only routes this aircraft will operate.
Obviously this is a big bet on the luxury air travel market, and investors should watch to see how successful American Airlines is in this new approach.
A growing trend?
JetBlue Airways and American Airlines have both used the Airbus A321 to bring these premium offerings to domestic routes where narrow-body aircraft are preferred but extra space is still required.
As airlines continue to look for new ways to sell to the highest-paying travelers, investors should continue to monitor which new features are added and which aircraft the airlines choose for selling these features.