Affluent Airline Customers

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US Affluent Traveler Psychographic Profile

Relaxation, adventure, culture, romance, and new experiences are some key motivators for affluent travelers.


  • Affluent travelers are travel enthusiasts, early adopters, experimenters, and heavy spenders.
  • Affluent travelers are leading the way in experiential travel, with more of them seeking to have more authentic, unique, and immersive travel experiences.
  • Social media plays a significant role in their vacations, particularly for millennial women in this category. It is also a source of inspiration for many of them.


  • Affluent travelers have 13 key motivations when traveling. They include "relaxation, adventure, culture, romance, new experiences, meeting new people, learning about other cultures, learning about themselves, eating great food, physical activity, learning new things, personal growth, and connecting with family."


  • Affluent travelers exhibit six travel attitudes, including pioneering, transforming, learning, pampering, indulging, and challenging.
  • PIONEERING — They want to be the first in their circle of people to visit a destination, try a new vacation, or accommodation.
  • TRANSFORMING — Some affluent travelers believe that their travel experiences should change them and the way they see things.
  • LEARNING — Some believe that a vacation should be educative.
  • PAMPERING — Affluent travelers are willing to pay premiums to be treated specially.
  • INDULGING — They see traveling as an avenue to focus on the things they love to do, e.g., eat and drink.
  • CHALLENGING — Affluent travelers want to engage physically and be challenged when on vacation.


  • By personality, affluent travelers can be classified into wellness seekers (17%), active challengers (38%), sightseers (59%), cruisers (35%), historians (17%), and gourmands (30%).
  • Wellness seekers are "confident risk-takers and opinion leaders, stylish and design-driven, tech-savvy early adopters, and extremely influential across multiple categories."
  • Active challengers are lovers of sports and automotive, environmentally conscious, risk-takers, and are concerned about their appearance. This category stands out from the average affluent traveler in terms of "physical activity, adventure, and learning new things."
  • The sightseers are usually very focused on their homes when they are not traveling. They love food and drink and are environmentally conscious. This category of affluent travelers prefers to see, learn, and experience new things.
  • Cruisers pay attention to their ethnic/cultural heritage and are considered to be very traditional. They are influential in the "financial, travel, and home categories", and prefer to travel in groups. They are stylish and appreciate fashion and design.
  • Affluent historian travelers want to broaden their knowledge and experience history. They are usually sophisticated and culturally savvy.
  • Gourmands love to try new foods and beverages and are attracted to locally sourced foods.


Affluent millennials value novelty, luxury services, comforts and amenities, and great food.

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US Affluent Traveler Consumer Behaviors

U.S. affluent travelers are seeking comfort and convenience. They crave personalization, seamless processes, and value for their money. Recommendation from family and friends and reviews are likely to influence their purchases. The following information presents details about this group.

Benefits Sought

  • Seventy-seven percent of affluent Americans believe that when traveling, comfort and service are worth paying for. Thirty-three percent say they seek out products and services that are truly exclusive.
  • Most affluent travelers (52%) in the U.S. are willing to pay premium prices to be pampered. Affluent millennials are more likely to pay premium prices for special services, as they value novelties, comfort, amenities and great food. This generation sees comfort and amenities as essentials, not extras.
  • Boomers, on the other hand, are less interested in amenities or being coddled", as they prefer familiarity and consistent instead of indulgence. Gen Xers, a slightly larger cohort among affluent travelers, are less demanding than their younger counterparts but are more likely to seek novelty and comfort than older generations.
  • When asked what would cause them to switch airlines if not provided, frequent premium leisure flyers mentioned fewer connections (59%), loyalty program or points (37%), seat comfort or option (36%), flexible changes (21%), and a superior in-flight service (21%).
  • Regarding extra amenities that influence their decision-making the most when choosing an airline, loyalty programs, seat comfort, excellent service, ground amenities, and onboard lounge were the most commonly mentioned reasons.
  • Priority boarding is the number one reason premium flyers join loyalty programs.

Purchase Patterns

  • High-value travelers are seeking useful, assistive information and assurance. Seventy percent researched the best time to book a flight online and 66% used an online service to track a flight.
  • Affluent travelers want the ability to book their flights on the device of their choice instantly, and at the moment they need it. Google research suggests that, particularly in North America, travelers expect a seamless and frictionless booking process across all devices.
  • U.S. travelers are more likely to use their mobile during their trips than in the planning stage. Sixty percent used during the trip, 40% use it when looking for inspiration on where to travel, 30% when researching where to go, and around 20% use it to book the travel, as reported by Expedia.
  • Research of leisure travelers discovered that in the 12 weeks leading up to the trip, there are eight times more experience searches than air searches. Air searches peak six weeks prior to a trip.
  • For visits to online travel websites in the US (including airlines and aggregators), 53% of visitors will make more than three visits, accounting for 94% of transactions. With an average user making 19 visits over an average of 10 days
  • Research on tourism specific applications confirms that impulse buying occurs when a website or app is found to be functionally sound, convenient, and pleasurable.
  • Google revealed that the most common travel queries are related to consumers wondering what they can bring on an airplane, weather conditions, wait times, and safety.
  • Research conducted by Amadeus has shown that implementing live chat improves conversion rates by 211%.

Drivers and Barriers

  • Fifty-seven percent of U.S. travelers believe brands should tailor their messages based on personal preferences or past behaviors. In fact, 76% would be more inclined to sign up for a loyalty program if the travel brand tailored its information and experience based on personal preferences, and 36% would be willing to pay more for it.
  • Fifty-five percent of travelers surveyed by Google agree that they have to check too many sources of travel information before making a decision, which makes the process stressful. Over 60% of U.S. travelers would consider an impulse trip based on a flight deal.
  • When asked about obstacles for international travel, high-income travelers said the cost was the number one reason, closely followed by safety concerns, travel time to and from the destination, accommodations, access to quality health care, language, and connectivity.
  • Fifty-seven percent of affluent Americans say that a company’s CSR commitment is important when buying products/services.
  • Thirteen percent of upper-income American travelers say they’ve selected a travel service provider based on perceptions of their focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility, up from 8% in 2018.
  • Out of the 13%, 80% are willing to pay 10% higher fares to patronize travel service providers who demonstrate such efforts. Travelers expressing sustainability concerns are more likely to travel than most upper-income travelers and spend more on each trip as well.


  • When asked what influences their travel choices, value for price took the first place, followed by the food and drink scene, bucket-list status, photo opportunities, and a sense of tradition.
  • Overall, recommendations from family and friends are the number one influence for the affluent traveler, followed by search engines, consumer review sites, articles, travel guides, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • For women, recommendations and reviews carry more weight than for men, as they are far more likely to say that good reviews from prior customers are a crucial factor when choosing travel service providers.
  • Social media is more likely to influence millennials than older cohorts. Millennial men are more affected by Facebook, while millennial women are more inspired by Instagram. Gen Xers are influenced by reviews, articles and search engines, while travel guides and articles reach Boomers the most.


  • Two-thirds of elite U.S. air loyalty program members would pick different airlines for better conditions, such as price, route or schedule.
  • As reported by Google and Greenberg, a high-value traveler (frequent flyers with high expectations likely to be in the affluent group) are unlikely to sacrifice comfort for a lower price.
  • For these frequent flyers, loyalty programs aren’t the main priority, even though they have status with one airline at least. Customer service is the central point (60%), followed by easy-to-use websites (55%), online reviews (50%). Loyalty programs show up in fourth place, with 46%.
  • Google demonstrates that there are two different types of loyalty: Attitudinal loyalty and behavioral loyalty. Attitudinal loyalty refers to how loyal the customer feels towards an airline, a feeling that may not result in actual bookings. Behavioral loyalty, on the other hand, is related to action, whether or not the consumer will act loyal by frequently booking with the same airline.
  • Attitudinal loyalty is cultivated by the image of the brand and the differentiators. As the tech giant exemplifies, is the customer experience at different channels so compelling that people will remember it?
  • Behavioral loyalty is about the efficiency and value, meaning, is the consumer receiving the tailored content/services they need it the most, across all channels and devices when he or she needs it?
  • Forty-nine percent of high-value travelers have an attitudinal loyalty for an airline, while 53% have behavioral loyalty.
  • Forty percent of high-value travelers who demonstrate behavioral loyalty will book with the same airline primarily because they have the most flights out of their home airports, and many airports in the U.S. have one hub airline.
  • Google points out that the best way to win these travelers is by delivering assistance from the very first touchpoint, putting them in control, and enabling their experience.

Research Strategy

To provide a robust view of the consumer behavior of affluent U.S. travelers, the research team leveraged information about affluent American travelers, affluent Americans, U.S. travelers, and affluent travelers. We also used associations, as most sources don’t refer to these customers as affluent since airlines tend to use a different type of segmentation than income per se.
To ensure relevancy, we only included information from broader definitions when it was relevant to a large proportion of the group, therefore, likely to influence affluent U.S. travelers as well. We expanded our date scope to include one source from 2016, about ancillary products, due to the level of detail provided not publicly available in recent sources.
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US Affluent Traveler-International Vs. National Flight Differences

There is very little data available in the public domain that describes the differences between how affluent travelers in the U.S. travel internationally and nationally. There is some evidence that business class and first class are more popular on international flights and that the most expensive amenities are reserved for premium customers on long flights, but data on affluent travelers' actual choices proved elusive. Some helpful insights found during the research are below.
  • Business class is the top preference for affluent travelers for both domestic and international flights. This preference is followed by "Economy-Plus or similar, economy, and first-class."
  • Personal international travelers are two times as likely to purchase premium seating as those traveling domestically (56% vs. 28%).
  • In terms of airline services and amenities, 52% of people with household incomes of $150,000 or more prefer a la carte pricing compared to the 48% who prefer all-inclusive pricing.
  • A BMO Private Bank study found that overall, 70% of affluent travelers fly economy compared to 23% who pay the extra fare for first-class.
  • According to the LA Times, the "most expensive amenities and services are reserved for premium fliers on transcontinental, long-haul and international flights," which suggests that affluent fliers purchase more amenities and services on longer domestic and international flights.
  • Many affluent people still choose to fly economy or "coach," even on international flights as they cannot justify the extra cost even for the extra luxuries.
  • In fact, many affluent people will "use points to book travel [or] skip the first-class plane ticket."
  • While not strictly based on U.S. travelers, an affluent flier stated that when traveling, "the general rule seems to be that you’ll fly business class during the day on long haul and first class overnight."

Research Strategy

In an attempt to determine the differences between how affluent travelers in the U.S. travel internationally and nationally, we began by searching for surveys of affluent travelers to see if they provided objective data on how affluent travelers differ when it comes to flying internationally or domestically. We searched surveys from Total Advantage,, JDPower, Conde Naste, and others. We found general affluent traveler preferences, but they were not separated by type of flight. The percentage of all travelers who choose first class over economy when traveling either internationally or domestically was also available, but there were no breakdowns of this data by household income. There was also some data on the percentage of affluent travelers who fly economy versus first-class, but again, there was nothing that indicated how those percentages changed based on type of flight.

We then turned our attention to trusted media articles with the hopes of backtracking to official studies of affluent travelers. Sources like the LA Times, CNBC, Fast Company, and Financial Times provided us with a few hints of how affluent travelers fly, such as the airlines reserve the most expensive amenities for premium fliers on international flights, which suggests that affluent fliers only select certain high-dollar amenities and services on longer flights, and the fact that many wealthy individuals still choose to fly economy class because they cannot justify the higher costs of first-class for a trip that only lasts a few hours. However, there also appears to be an unspoken rule that affluent fliers choose business class for longer flights and first class for overnight flights.

The final strategy involved attempting to find anecdotes from affluent travelers to see if we could triangulate a response based on qualitative data. We found a forum where one traveler provided the percentage of time they fly business class, but they did not expound on whether that was all for domestic travel or if some was for international travel, nor did they provide any type of hint on what amenities they purchased while in business class. Another traveler said they try to avoid business class on longer flights, but they did not indicate what they considered a "longer flight," nor did they provide the class they do fly in on longer flights. One apparently affluent traveler stated that he flies business class for "short and medium haul," but we could not verify they were truly affluent and it appears they are not from the U.S. A poster with an income of $115,000 to $125,000 stated they always fly business class on overseas trips, but did not mention how they fly on domestic trips.

After examining these sources, we determined that the data requested on a breakdown of the differences in how affluent travelers in the U.S. travel internationally and nationally does not exist in the public domain. There is some anecdotal evidence available that business class and first class are generally more popular for international flights and that many wealthy people choose economy class to save money, particularly on shorter flights. However, there is nothing conclusive and no data to support those claims for affluent travelers specifically. We did provide some potentially helpful insights that were found during our research, but differences in international and domestic travel for affluent fliers remain unattainable.