Airport check-in line

Airport Check-in: Why Do They Ask Business or Pleasure?

For business or pleasure? It is a simple question you often hear at the airport check-in or when you reserve your plane ticket online. You may think it is just a nice way for the flight attendant, security personal, or the baggage carrier to make conversation and provide good customer service. In reality, the airport workers are asking this question mainly for two reasons; marketing and immigration.  

First, let?s take a look at the difference between traveling for business and traveling for pleasure.

Travel for Pleasure

When they say ?pleasure? they mean ?holiday? or ?vacation?. The primary purpose of the trip is for fun or relaxation. It is not company mandated!

Travel for Business

Traveling for business means that the primary purpose of the trip is…business. You may be attending a business conference, meeting a CEO, making a business deal, etc. When the primary purpose of traveling is because your company sent you, is paying for your trip or you are going for professional purposes, then you are traveling for business.

Why is this important?


Airlines are conducting simple marketing research to understand our travel habits. Most travelers fall into one of two categories, business or holiday goers. Business travelers and holiday travelers have different habits and as such buy flights differently. Thus airlines want to market differently to both groups. Let?s closely examine the differences between these two markets.

Date flexibility

For instance, a holiday traveler is usually looking for the cheapest flight they can find to their destination. Sometimes this means that they are more flexible with booking flight dates. After all, when planning a vacation, one often can choose the days or the time period that they plan to travel during. As such, if they are researching their holiday and find that if they schedule their holiday one week sooner than the week they were already considering, that their flight is going to be cheaper, there?s a good chance they?ll choose the cheaper flight as the vacation date!

Business travelers don?t always have the luxury of flexible scheduling.?

Though not impossible, when traveling for business, often the dates are more precise. After all, an individual can?t reschedule an international business conference just because they?d get a better flight deal during the next week. Business travel often requires an arrival or departure time on a specific timeline. This limits the ability to choose a cheaper flight based on the date. 


But it?s not just the flexibility in dates that make a difference. It?s the price itself. I already mentioned that holiday goers are looking for the cheapest deal. Business travelers are not nearly as concerned about the price. Don?t get me wrong, the price is a consideration, but it is not the defining factor for the flight purchase.

Airport customer service desk
Airport Customer Service Desk

Depending on the situation, businesses are more likely to buy extra perks for their employees representing them on their travels. After all, you want to keep your employees happy so that they positively represent your company and are not exhausted or unprepared when they arrive at their destination. Companies are more likely to spring for extra legroom, internet, or a better food selection. For vacationers, higher service levels are not necessarily their top priority. This brings me to?

Seat selection and perks

Holiday goers tend to fly ?economy class? whereas business flyers fly ?business class? or ?first-class.? It goes back again to price. Businesses are more likely to pay more for their employers to fly business class and have perks like internet access etc. Hence when you see advertisements for ?elite flying? you typically see advertisements portraying business people. 

Buying your ticket

All these factors are taken into account as airlines market their flights because business travelers and holiday travelers buy their flights differently. 

Holiday travelers often plan their vacation months in advance. They use online price checkers and make travel arrangements early. 

Business travelers often travel with less notice. 

For example, a business may not know which employee they plan on sending to a business conference until a month before. As you can?t reserve a seat without having a name attached to it, you can?t buy your ticket. Companies have to wait until everything is scheduled and the selected person is chosen to represent them. 

As such, airlines take this information into account for marketing and pricing purposes. So when airlines and ticketing companies ask you ?business or pleasure? they are conducting free and valuable marketing research. 

Why does it matter?

Not only are airline marketing executives targeting their audience and building ad campaigns for two different groups, knowing this information gives the airline companies the ability to set prices appropriately. Airlines tend to make prices cheaper when you book early, thus, they advertise these cheaper prices towards vacationers. Business travelers, however, pay a higher price, but also receive more perks. The lower prices on one end, the holidayers, make up the majority of travel, but then the airlines get a larger payoff from the more expensive prices paid by the business-class travelers.?

But there?s one other place where you may hear the question ?Business or pleasure? and it has nothing to do with marketing or prices. 

Customs and passport control

Whether it?s TSA, customs officials, passport control, or international border crossing, you?ll often be confronted with officials who ask a different variation of ?business or pleasure? and that is… ?What?s the purpose of your visit?

In this case, this has nothing to do with marketing. 

They are asking for immigration reasons. These officials are here to track and see if anyone is entering the country illegally, being trafficked illegally, are carrying smuggled goods, or are committing business fraud. When they ask what your reason is for visiting, they want to know if you are using the correct visa to enter the country. Thus, when you are questioned by these officials about the purpose of your stay, it?s best to be clear in your response to avoid long drawn out conversation that will further delay your journey, or worse, get you detained! 

The moral of the story is, if it?s an airline company or airline worker asking you the question, it?s probably for marketing research, whereas if it?s an official security worker, they?re assessing if you?re a security threat. 

So next time you are buying your ticket, or waiting in line at customs and you?re asked ?Business or Pleasure? take into account who is asking the question, and that will tell you if you are providing marketing research or are being assessed as a threat to national security!

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