Support Skift’s Independent Journalism

Skift’s editors and reporters produce over 150 exclusive stories every month. We are the leading source of news for the global travel industry.

Thanks to the plethora of mergers in the airline industry — a bankruptcy judge just last week cleared the marriage of US Airways and American Airlines — things aren’t looking good for the hoi polloi. As a recent Slate article pointed out, the era of cheap airfare is pretty much over, with four major airlines controlling 70% of the U.S. aviation market.

With the economy-class market locked up with fewer service and fare options, the lucrative premium-class customer is getting more marketing attention. That segment, according to a United spokesman, provides a “disproportionate share of total revenue.” At Delta, for example, the top 5% of passengers account for 26% of revenue.

“The consolidation you’re seeing is absolutely placing a premium on the business traveler,” said Jonathan Clarkson, a director of marketing at Southwest Airlines. “It is a high-yield, loyal and extremely knowledgeable traveler.” Corporate-travel demand is also rising: The Global Business Travel Association said it expects spending to rise 4.6% in 2013 to $266.7 billion.

American Airlines VP-Marketing Rob Friedman said its strategy is designed to make it “the airline of choice” for high-value customers, particularly important because the highest 20% of American’s customers generate 70% of its revenue.

So where’s the battleground for the business traveler? In perks.

Greeley Koch, exec director at the Associate of Corporate Travel Executives, said that flat, 180-degree seats are now becoming standard for airlines. Once those are in place, “marketing emphasis is shifting to other service elements.” For example, an express-meal service that lets premium passengers get meals served and cleared quickly, or an option to eat while in the airport lounge.

Marketing these extras is usually done via in-airport advertising or direct-to-consumer communication. Last year, Delta toured a “Cube” around Europe, which let people try out its new flat-bed seat. The airline is also marketing its “Sleep Experience” initiative, which partnered with Westin to provide “Heavenly In-Flight Bedding” — special pillows, comforters, and on some flights, a lumbar-support pillow — to its business-elite passengers.

At TED2013, the airline went futuristic, hosting a talk and demo with sleep scientist Russell Foster, who showed off the “world’s first Photon shower” — a light chamber to help people recover from jet lag. Although just a concept for now, Kristen Manion, managing director-worldwide marketing communication at Delta, says the shower might “be on planes one day, “in the form of goggles,” or more realistically, in airport lounges. Delta is investing $2 billion on enhancing its products and services in 2013 — including putting Malin & Goetz and Tumi goodies in amenity kits.

Last year, United made a $550 million investment on aircraft-interior improvements, and another $50 million to revamp its United Club lounges. Perks include a “turndown” service on United Global First and celebrity-chef-prepared gourmet meals. Turn-down service is also offered on American.

adage_200x200This story originally appeared on AdAge, a Skift content partner.

Additional links from AdAge:

Photo Credit: Interior cabin of a Boeing 767 showing Vantage business class seats. Delta Air Lines