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Barcelona And IAG Gains New LEVEL Airline Launching In June 2017

LEVEL A330-200

International Airlines Group (IAG), parent company to British Airways, will start a new long haul low cost carrier (LCC) named LEVEL based at the Barcelona El-Prat Airport (BCN). Taking a page off another LCC, WOW Air, introductory fares start at  €99/US$149 one way.

“LEVEL” Introduction

In a statement, Willie Walsh, IAG Chief Executive Officer, said LEVEL would become its fifth airline brand alongside Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling Airlines.”Barcelona is Vueling’s home base and this will allow customers to connect from Vueling’s extensive European network onto LEVEL’s long-haul flights,” he said. While starting its roots in Barcelona, the new airline will look into other European bases that are underserved by international routes or with a high concentration of low cost carriers flying domestically. “We’re really excited about the opportunities for expansion,” Mr Walsh added.

Route Network and Introductory Pricing

Flights will start on June 1, 2017 onwards with the following schedule:

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (June 1, 2017) and operate twice per week
  • San Francisco / Oakland International Airport (OAK) (June 2, 2017) and operate three times per week
  • Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) (June 10, 2017) and operate twice per week
  • Buenos Aires (June 17, 2017) and operate three times per week
Introductory fares start from €99/US$149 one way plus tax and fees. Tickets go on sale March 17, 2017 at flylevel.com.
LEVEL introductory pricing to four destinationsLEVEL introductory pricing to four destinations (Image courtesy of the airline)
The lowest fare group (LEVEL) includes a seat in the economy cabin and one piece of hand baggage with a maximum dimension of 22 x 17.5 x 10″ (56 x 45 x 25 cm) plus personal belonging. Even at this tier, passengers are allowed to change their ticket for a fee (€150 / US$200), earn Avios miles, and hold prices for 72 hours with a fee. Iberia Plus frequent flyer program members can further reduce the price by redeeming Avios miles. Like other LCCs, seat assignment, meals and checked baggages are not included in this tier.
LEVEL Fare Tiers
LEVEL Fare Tiers (Details collected from the website)

Aircraft and Cabin Amenities

Iberia will take over the flying duties for LEVEL using two Airbus A330-200s. The aircrafts will be reconfigured from 288 seats (19 Business + 269 Economy) to 314 seats (21 Premium Economy + 293 Economy). That is a capacity increase of 26 or 8.2%.  The aircraft features a mainly white fuselage with its logo, color branding and name shown at the forward section, tail and belly.
LEVEL aircraft livery
LEVEL aircraft livery (Image courtesy of the airline)

Economy

Located behind the Premium Economy section, this cabin has a 2-4-2 configuration. Each seat will have 30″ (76 cm) pitch, 18.1″ (46 cm) width and limited recline.  Passengers will have access to a 10″ (25 cm) audio/video on demand inflight entertainment system. This is an improvement over Iberia’s current long haul economy product of 9″ (23 cm). 

LEVEL Economy Cabin
LEVEL Economy Cabin (Image from the airline)

Premium Economy

Located in a separate front cabin, each premium economy seat will have 37″ (94 cm) pitch, 18.9″ (48 cm) width, more recline and a foot rest. Additionally, passengers can enjoy entertainment with a 12″ (30.5 cm) screen and noise cancelling headphones. Pillows, blankets and amenity kits would be provided.

Other Amenities and Frequent Flyer Miles

Wi-Fi

Since LEVEL uses Iberia’s aircraft and infrastructure, its Wi-Fi fee structure is likely the same starting at €8.99 with a small data allocation). Voice functions from messaging applications (FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp calls) are not allowed.

LEVEL Wi-Fi tentative pricing
LEVEL Wi-Fi tentative pricing (information courtesy of Iberia and suggested to change at launch)

Frequent Flyer Miles Earn and Redeem Rates

LEVEL does not currently has its own frequent flyer program. Passengers can instead earn and redeem Avios miles for LEVEL flights within the Iberia Plus program.

Members will earn Avios miles and elite tier points at a rate of:

Cabin Booking class Avios (by distance flown) Elite Tier Points (by segment flown)
PREMIUM ECONOMY (FLEXIBLE) W 150% 225
PREMIUM ECONOMY (PROMOTIONAL) E, T 100% 160
FLEXIBLE Y, B, H 100% 140
OPTIMAL K, M, L 50% 75
BASIC+ V, S, N 25% 75
LEVEL Q, O, A 10% 40


AVIOS REDEMPTION CHART (per one way) – PEAK SEASON

Bands Economy Full Fare Economy Premium Economy Upgrade
6 (4.001 – 5.500) 25.000 Avios 35.000 Avios 43.750 Avios 18.750 Avios
7 (5.501 – 6.500) 30.000 Avios 42.000 Avios 52.500 Avios 22.500 Avios

AVIOS REDEMPTION CHART (per one way) – OFF-PEAK SEASON

Bands Blue Class Full Fare Economy Premium Economy Upgrade
6 (4.001 – 5.500) 21.250 Avios 27.750 Avios 31.750 Avios 10.500 Avios
7 (5.501 – 6.500) 25.500 Avios 33.250 Avios 38.250 Avios 12.750 Avios
Destinations by band (origin Barcelona):
– Band 6: Los Ángeles, San Francisco y Punta Cana.
– Band 7: Buenos Aires.Since LEVEL is not part of the oneworld alliance, flights flown will not have any earn or redeem value outside of Iberia Plus.

Observations and Conclusion

IAG created LEVEL to feed passengers primarily from its Vueling subsidiary to long haul operations. Here is an initial list of observations from the new venture:

  • The new airline takes on many characteristics of a traditional network carrier including free meals (except for one fare group), free in flight entertainment and one free full size carry on baggage.  These features are typically add ons or not offered by long haul LCCs.
  • The new airline will be operated by Iberia crew and pilots intially. This may lead to higher operational costs at launch.
  • Passengers initiate booking inside LEVEL’s website but finish at Iberia’s website. This could lead to brand confusion. It was not immediately clear that frequent flyer miles / elite tier points can only be earned with Iberia Plus instead of all Avios airline partners.
  • Passengers whose fares did not include seat selection can pay €15-30 (US$17-33) to select one in advance.
  • Passengers whose fares did not include a meal can pay €35 (US$37.5) in advance to receive one on board. No choices are given. Special meals are shown to be free for the time being.
  • Passengers whose fares did not include checked baggage can pay €40 (US$44) in advance for one. There is no option to pay for more during initial booking.
  • No fuel surcharges are added to the ticket price. During the introductory period, ticket prices are at least 30% less for each fare group on LEVEL versus other oneworld options listed by Iberia. It is possible that total price for a LEVEL fare ticket with check in baggage and meal options added could be higher than the BASIC+ fare ticket which includes these options for free.
  • It was not immediately clear that passengers would have to pay more at the airport for amenities not paid in advance. Additionally, passengers are not given choices to buy WiFi access, VIP lounge access, tours, hotels, car rentals or duty free products. Additional advanced purchase features are typically offered by long haul LCCs. Some options like VIP lounge access and car rentals are available by Vueling.
  • While the goal is to connect Vueling’s passengers to the long haul network, these passengers cannot currently use that airline’s website to book the new flights. However, LEVEL’s customers can connect onto Vueling’s flights when booked through Iberia. All flights are coded as IB26xx.
  • Third party booking sites or search engines such as Expedia, Kayak and Google Flight all showed Iberia’s logo or the word “Iberia” first. None showed LEVEL’s logo. This could confuse passengers. Additionally, Expedia incorrectly showed that an S fare ticket would only get “food for purchase”.
  • There is no standalone mobile application for LEVEL. Passengers can book flights through the Iberia app but cannot pay for seat selection, meals, check in baggage in advance.

 

Expedia booking on LEVEL
Expedia booking on LEVEL (Information from Expedia.com)

IAG is operating a new virtual airline named LEVEL. Passengers would be happy to know that they will enjoy free amenities that are not typically provided by LCCs while paying lower prices for the same flights operated by other network carriers. At the lower price points, they will have to forego earning some frequent flyer miles and elite tier points. In the next entry, we will examine how LEVEL fares against long haul LCC competitors with flights to North America.

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