SOURCE: FirstAir

December 15, 2008 17:56 ET

FirstAir 7th International Traveler Survey Shows Economy Slows International Travel

Travelers Plan Rebound in 2009

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - December 15, 2008) - A survey of over 790 international premium class travelers, conducted by FirstAir (www.firstair.net and www.1stair.com ) concludes that while the economy has caused travelers to cut back their travel plans, over half of those surveyed plan on increasing their international travel in 2009. The surging U.S. dollar, which makes overseas purchases less expensive for U.S. travelers, had little impact on increasing international travel amongst U.S. travelers. Despite a slowing economy and plummeting fuel costs, the majority of participants stated they found international fares to be higher than at the same time a year ago. They also stated that redeeming frequent flyer mileage is significantly harder than it was at the same time last year influencing their decision to cut back on travel. More than three quarters of survey participants believe that the U.S. Airline industry should not receive any financial assistance from the Federal Government.

The polling period for the current survey was from December 2nd-December 7th, 2008. FirstAir has conducted its international traveler survey since 2002 and despite the economy weighing on travelers' minds this current poll had the highest level of participation since the survey's inception. Key findings from this survey include the following:

-- International travel for both business and leisure are down in 2008. More than two thirds (69%) of survey participants stated they were traveling overseas for business less than at the same a year ago. Nearly three quarters (72%) of survey participants stated that the economy had caused them to cut back on business and first class international travel in 2008 but just over half (56%) stated they had planned to increase their international travel in 2009.

-- Despite the Mumbai terrorist attacks occurring less than one week prior to polling, 88% of survey participants stated that terrorism had no impact on their international travel plans. Terrorism concerns influencing international travel purchases are at their lowest levels since this survey began in 2002

-- The surging U.S. dollar, which makes foreign travel related services ranging from lodging to meal tabs, less expensive for U.S. travelers had little impact in stimulating international travel. Over three quarters (77.6%) of those surveyed stated that the rise of the U.S. dollar had no impact on their international business class travel planning. Slightly more than a tenth of those surveyed (10.7%) stated that a strong U.S. dollar has increased their international travel while almost the same number (11.7%) stated the strong dollar has decreased their international travel.

-- More than half of those surveyed (54.4%) stated that a strong U.S. dollar benefits them the most when traveling to Europe. Just over one quarter (26%) stated that a strong U.S. dollar benefits them when traveling to Asia. The remaining participants, slightly less than one fifth (19.6%) were divided between Africa and Australia.

-- Despite a steep decline in fuel costs, sixty percent (60%) of those surveyed found that international premium class fares are more expensive now compared to the same time last year. Slightly less than a third of the survey participants (32.5%) found international premium class fares to be the same as last year. Fewer than ten percent (7.5%) of survey participants found international premium class fares to be less than they were one year ago.

-- Best available price is still more than we can afford to pay - More than half of the survey participants (60.5%) stated that they had postponed or cancelled an international premium class trip because the best available pricing was still more than they were prepared to pay. The remaining participants (39.5%) stated they were forced to fly economy rather than business class because of higher than budgeted travel costs. Despite international premium class pricing being out of reach for the majority of those surveyed (for at least one trip), more than one third (41.9%) found international premium class fares to be more restrictive than at the same time last year.

-- Despite fewer full fare passengers, frequent flyer mileage is harder to redeem - When trying to use frequent flyer mileage rather than cash for international business or first class travel, nearly two thirds (62.7%) stated that arranging award travel was more difficult than at the same time last year. Almost one third (32.5%) stated that frequent flyer redemption was about the same as it was one year ago. Just 4.8% of those surveyed found it easier to redeem frequent flyer mileage for award travel compared to the same time last year.

-- Nearly two thirds (61.7%) of those surveyed feel that U.S. originating travelers pay higher business and first class fares when compared to travelers from other countries traveling to the U.S. Slightly more than half of the participants (54.4%) feel that U.S. travelers would benefit from government regulation of international premium class fares.

-- Just over half (52.8%) of survey participants believe that the U.S. Airline industry will request a financial bailout from the U.S. government within the next six months. However, more than three quarters (80.7%) of survey participants feel that the U.S. airline industry SHOULD NOT receive a bailout from the federal government.

FirstAir (www.firstair.net), with offices in Chicago and Singapore, offers first and business class international travel at savings of 20% or more in markets without competitive fares. Since 1998, the company has used its proprietary routing technology and alliances to deliver value to its membership. FirstAir focuses on serving the needs of self-managed business and first class travelers, whom managed their own travel arrangements.

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