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Asian airlines also upgrading premium services

All Nippon Airways recently upgraded its business- and first-class cabins. Singapore Airlines has introduced seats that allow business-class passengers to lie flat on medium-length flights. Qantas is taking a minority stake in a premium airline.

Asia’s booming economies are not only creating a price-sensitive middle class that’s starting to travel, but they’re also boosting the number of business and leisure travelers willing to pay full price for airline tickets, says Andrew Orchard, regional airline analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Indeed, Asia-Pacific is home to the world’s fastest-growing population of high-net-worth individuals — people who have assets of at least $1 million excluding their primary residence and collectibles, according to a 2011 survey by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. This region now has more millionaires than Europe and is the second-largest market in the world behind North America.

Given those demographics, “there is merit to having a product that can be sold at both ends,” says Brendan Sobie, a senior analyst at the CAPA Centre for Aviation in Sydney. “You can offer both (budget and premium travel), but you have to manage it well.”

The strategy also makes sense, according to Andrew Herdman, director of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines in Kuala Lumpur, because “everyone’s competing in overlapping markets. You have a business traveler who later might want to buy the cheapest ticket he can get for leisure.”

Still, business- and first-class passengers generate the “lion’s share” of airlines’ revenue, according to Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Overall, business class yields two to four times more revenue than economy class, while international first class seats can yield five to six times more revenue than economy, Boeing estimates.

At Singapore Airlines, business and first class passengers generate about 40% of overall revenue, according to Nicholas Ionides, an airline spokesman.

Asian economies are expected to grow faster than other parts of the world over the next few decades. As businesses expand in this region, it’ll mean more corporate travelers for airlines, says Daniel Tsang, founder of Aspire Aviation, an aviation information and consulting firm in Hong Kong.

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