What next for Jet2holidays?

In recent blogs, I have looked at the strategic options of some of the UK’s largest travel companies, and it would be remiss not to comment on Jet2holidays, the UK’s most successful tour operator, over the last ten years.

I was involved in the set-up of Jet2holidays in 2007, having pitched Philip Meeson, the CEO and owner of Jet2.com, the opportunity to leverage its strong northern branding to step into the gap left when Thomas Cooks dismantled the  MyTravel / Airtours operation in the North of England, as part of the supposed “Merger” between the two business.

On Holiday Group business initially provided the booking platform and hotel purchasing for Jet2holidays, but Meeson quickly realised the strategic importance of the tour operation and quickly recruited an experienced management team headed by Steve Heapy and other ex-Airtours staff.

As they say, the rest is history, with Jet2holidays creating a market-leading short-haul tour operation, carrying 6.7m passengers.

However, the success of their unwavering focus on the UK market may now be a strategic weakness.

How much bigger can they become in a market where Easyjet Holidays and Tui also seek to expand rapidly?

Here are a few of the moves that could come next:

New London Gatwick base.

Jet2 operates out of all the major UK departure airports, except Gatwick, having chosen initially to access the lucrative London market via a large base at Stanstead.

Easyjet dominates Gatwick departures with over 50% of outbound flights, and even Ryanair failed to make a dent, so Jet2 would face heavy competition entering this marketplace as an airline. However, EasyJet Holidays is less established, potentially leaving the door open for a Summer 2025 entry for Jet2holidays.  

I know slots are tight at Gatwick, but any airport commercial department with one airline with a 50% share will want to encourage its major competitor to arrive to balance the economic power. A heavy branding investment would be required to convince southern customers brought up on EasyJet flights to switch, but Jet2 ‘s low-cost and high-quality holiday packages should be attractive enough to allow them to gain a foothold.

More Exclusive Hotel Stock.

The strength of Jet2’s balance sheet means that, unlike Tui, they can strike multi-year exclusive guarantee deals with beach hotels in prime locations to create a branded and high-margin “differentiated” product. However, after the collapse of Thomas Cook and the dismantling of Tui’s relationships, many hotel groups now prefer multiple suppliers rather than having all their eggs in one basket, making the development of differentiated products harder.

Long-haul Expansion.

Jet2holidays grew out of the ethos of a short-haul low-cost carrier, and neither Jet2’s current 737 Aircraft nor A321 Neo replacements  (25% more capacity per plane) can operate long-haul routes. However, many third-party airlines with long-haul aircraft would love to cooperate with Jet2holiday to access their established online and retail trade distribution networks.

A strategic partnership or the direct leasing of long-haul aircraft would facilitate introducing a long-haul tour operating program to Jet2holidays’ existing 6m customer base.  A definite no-brainer, in my opinion.

Cruise Division.

MyTravel and Tui developed profitable cruise divisions by repurposing older, smaller cruise ships as the major cruise lines replaced them with new mega-ships.  A strategic alliance with one of the major cruise lines to use their existing capacity would be lower risk and make more sense, so watch up for a tie-up with MSC or Royal Caribbean for more mass-market products.

UK acquisitions.

Given Jet2’s healthy £390m 2023 profit and £1 billion of cash in the bank, they could afford most UK travel businesses, but is there much worth buying?  Strategically, it makes little sense to acquire a UK OTA that would compete with its online holiday sales, and owning high street shops would find little favour with the city. However, purchasing a strategic stake in one of the retail consortia to take greater control of third-party shop distribution to slow the trade growth of EasyJet holidays could be effective and relatively cheap.

International Expansion.

After Brexit, obtaining European AOCs is more complicated; however, it should be easy for an established airline like Jet2.

Extending its operations from Northern Ireland into the South seems logical, with Ryanair lacking a tour operation to compete with them.

Expansion into larger European source markets, like Germany, will likely be on the back of acquiring existing tour operations with an established customer base and distribution, as it’s much easier to swap out flight providers than to establish the Jet2holidays brand in new markets.

Jet2 as an acquisition target.

As a publicly quoted, cash-rich business, Jet2 can acquire but also represents an attractive proposition for a business wishing to enter the European tour operating market.

However, the American super brands of Expedia, Booking.com and Tripadvisor have shown little interest in the package holiday market, and with the slowdown in the Chinese market, the likes of trip.com appear much less likely to splash the cash in Europe, particularly on a business that is so UK-centric.


My overall conclusion is that Jet2 Holidays will spend the next few years defending its position as the UK’s largest holiday business by continuing to focus on a quality lead business with a high level of repeat customers rather than radically re-inventing its model. As its fleet replacement scheme rolls through, it will naturally increase capacity on each route as the A321 Neo has 25% more seats than the A737 800s they are replacing, so more of the same seems likely.

 There is nothing wrong with more of the same if you are making £390m profit a year!

Will Easyjet Holidays “Paint” the lates market Orange

Gaining an accurate view of the volume of “late availability” holidays has become much more complex since the evolution of the holiday market away from the major integrated tour operators, whose ownership of charter airlines dictated a relatively fixed capacity of “pre-manufactured” holidays.

Traditional tour operators like Airtours would sell Holidays at “Brochure” prices, based on the customer choosing a specifically named hotel, before switching to heavily discounted unnamed “late Availability” deals graded by star rating. With budgeted load factors of 99.8%, we would discount these holidays to as low as £99 to fill seats at the last minute.

No tour operator entered the “lates” market, defined as holidays sold after April 1st within the Summer season, better than 54% loaded. It was, therefore, relatively easy to estimate the number of holidays left to be sold, and we also knew that 80% of these would be sold at a loss. Still, the size of this loss varied massively depending on the UK weather, the availability of cheap hotel beds and how the remaining capacity was balanced across the big four tour operators.

This yield model was also sub-optimal because it encouraged customers to wait for last-minute bargains rather than committing early, eroding early brochure sales and, as a quoted PLC, made it impossible to give the city any certainty about profitability ahead of the summer late market.

Not surprisingly, the city preferred the yield model of low-cost airlines, with their ultra-low initial prices that moved up in buckets of 4 seats based on historical yield curves and current sale rates. Low-cost carriers try to reward early bookers and do their discounting early, using “below costs” seats to create sufficient base load factors that then allow them to increase prices closer to departure.

However, this yield model works best when demand exceeds supply and can easily become unstuck if excess seats close to departure still need filling.

Overall flight capacity from the UK is forecast to remain at 98% of 2019 levels in 2024, primarily due to weaker demand for business travel post-COVID-19’s mass adoption of video conferencing as a feasible alternative to face-to-face meetings and a reduction in demand for city breaks.

Low-cost carriers have instead shifted large amounts of capacity onto leisure routes. Exactly how much capacity has been added is hard to estimate, but with bonded ATOL carryings having increased by 5.32M or 20% since 2019 to 31.6m in 2024, the overall increase will likely be more than 10m seats.

Fortunately, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the UK public experienced a “life” shock that made them appreciate more the time they spend with loved ones, and this has been reflected in a marked increase in holiday demand, with the average spend on holidays increasing by 30%.

The outbound holiday market continues to ride this wave of demand, with early sales for Summer 2024 remaining strong; however, with the UK set to enter a technical recession this week, inflation remaining stubbornly high and interest rates still at 5.25%, consumer spending power is weakening.

I have long talked about the “Have’s” and the “Have Nots”, with the latter group dominating the lates market. These customers are forced to book late based on financial circumstances and often use credit cards to fund holiday expenditures. It is this group of customers that will be hit hardest by the current financial squeeze, indicating that demand could be weakened in the late market when low-cost carriers have record seats still to sell on leisure routes.

Jet2 Holidays invented the game of disposing of “distressed” seats on routes not performing to their desired “price curve” by dumping them into “opaque” holiday packages, making them invisible to competitor airlines monitoring their prices or early booking flight customers.  But, with package holiday sales representing 80% of most leisure routes, Jet2 is now more of a tour operator than an airline and has limited access to this useful yield tool.

However, Easyjet Holidays’ passengers, at 1.9 million, are a small fraction of EasyJet’s 93 million seats, making it much easier for them to dispose of excess seats as opaque holiday packages.

Given the airline’s sophisticated yield management, this decision will be made well ahead of departure. As we approach the summer, these discounted prices are likely to give Easyjet Holidays a unique price advantage over both OTA competitors, who will be paying the full published seat price plus API booking fees and its biggest holiday competitor Jet2 Holidays.

The most interesting airline to watch is Ryanair, now that they have finally started cooperating with OTAs like Love Holidays.

I have been very critical of Ryanair, charging customers massive marks up’s of up to £50 per couple for the privilege of booking their flights as part of OTA’s holiday packages, but it’s interesting that since my last blog, these fees have started to drop by £5 on average as we come closure to departure.

It will be fascinating to see if Ryanair realises the benefit of this new sales channel and starts dumping excess seats with no markup or even negative markups.

This would be a very smart move, but I just can’t see Michael O’Leary eating humble pie just yet, and as such, it’s my prediction that it will be Easyjet Holiday that will turn the late market “Orange” this summer with the best late deals in the market.

Tui Short haul – powered by Ryanair.

Tui won the battle of the “Vertically Integrated” tour operators with the collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019, but had the spoils stolen from them by the Covid-19 outbreak shortly thereafter that brought the UK travel industry to a halt.

Unlike Thomas Cook, the management of Tui had protected themselves from the growth of OTAs and the expansion of low-cost airlines by securing exclusive access to the best-located large beach hotels around the Mediterranean, allowing them to create holiday concepts such as Holiday Villages and Sensatori Hotels. This “Exclusive” hotel stock, combined with a fleet of 13 “Dreamliners”, created a high-quality “Package Holiday” product that built strong brand loyalty and relatively high margins.

However, the “bigger you are”, the “harder you feel” during the Covid-19 closure and Tui’s high level of hotel commitments and empty aircraft quickly created a “debt mountain” that required a major intervention from the German Government to secure Tui’s survival.

Post Covid-19, the impact of this debt mountain meant that Tui could not afford the massive hotel pre-payments and guarantees required to retain their “exclusive” access to their hotel stock, allowing newcomers like Jet2 Holidays to gain access and pick up much of the Thomas Cook former capacity as the holiday market rebounded in 2022 and 23 seasons.

At one point, it looked like Tui would “run away” from their short-haul beach heritage and use their Dreamliner aircrafts range advantage to  focus on long-haul and mid-haul destinations like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cape Verde, which their narrowed-bodied low-cost carrier competitors could not reach.

However, in Summer of 2024, due to the arrival of a new fleet of the replacement 737 Max short-haul aircraft, Tui is now attacking Jet2 Holiday’s market leadership by adding a whopping 12% or 1.1m more ATOL bonded packages to their short-haul program.  

This, combined with 1,500 new hotels, clearly indicates that Tui intends to remain a volume short-haul beach player, and means it will have its hands full, filling this capacity in a Summer 2024 lates market that has seen an increase of 10,000 million holidays to sell.

Whether the lates market becomes a “blood bath” or not remains to be seen, but the timing of signing a deal with Ryanair to add even more capacity seems very odd and probably indicates that it is based more on the convenience of PR timing for Ryanair than a major new strategic alliance.

Cleverly, Tui will protect itself from Ryanair’s poor customer service ethos by selling its flights under its secondary “First Choice” holidays brand, keeping  the Tui brand based on its in-house airlines flying. Tui intends to increase its relatively low mix of Dynamically packaged holidays from its current 2.5m passengers and could easily sell 1m Ryanair seats by boosting its city break offering or adding more duration flexibility to its beach holidays.

Out of small Dynamic Packaging “Acorns”, major strategic alliances can be grown, and competitors will rightly fear the coming together of Europe’s strongest tour operating brand and cheapest airline, Ryanair.

Once Tui gets to 1m plus seats, Ryanair is bound to wonder what a full-fledged strategic alliance could add to their passenger volumes as it seeks to increase market share dramatically to fill its large orders of new aircraft. At the same time, the Tui commercial team will have become addicted to Ryanair’s cheap early fairs to create early demand and the ability it gives them to put on their own internal airline’s transfer pricing seat rates.

Therefore, although in the short term, I think the relationship will be more “huff than puff”, in the longer term, we could see the next evolution of the Tui brand if, by default, it becomes the tour operating arm of Ryanair.

This factor could keep Tui in the fight for UK market leadership. However, the future will still be Orange and dominated by EasyJet Holidays, as most partnership deals with Ryanair fall away due to their excessive demands.

The evolution of the UK holiday market is happening fast, and it will be a fascinating watch for the next few years.

CMA need to investigate “Rip-off” Ryanair API booking fees.

Love Holidays are proudly claiming to be the “World first Ryanair-verified package holiday provider” but fail to mention the whopping premium customers are required to pay Ryanair for the privilege of booking “officially”.

In their joint press release with Ryanair, Love Holidays misleadingly state “Loveholidays has agreed to only display Ryanair’s real prices, without mark-ups and will only pass accurate customer contact and payment details to the airline.”

However, it appears that Ryanair’s “Real Prices” are not the ones stated on their direct website, but ones that contain a considerable Ryanair booking premium. As illustrated in the three examples below for departures on the 1st of Oct 2024, a couple of 2 adults must pay a “whopping” premium for the privilege of an “official” package

  • Bournemouth to Majorca = £50.90 Extra per booking
  • Manchester to Tenerife = £36.78 Extra per booking
  • Liverpool to Ibiza = £47.60 Extra per booking.

Unlike other low-cost carriers who charge OTA’s a fixed API fee per flight sector, Ryanair seem to be yielding the charge depending on the competitiveness of the route and charging fees far in excess of any possible cost of operating the service.

Although I have no insider knowledge of Ryanair’s costs, it is generally accepted that distributing fairs via API to third parties, costs a maximum of £2.00-£3.00 per return flight, meaning that Ryanair are clearly “profiteering” at the expense of their customers.

Ironically, the Love Holidays deal and Ryanair’s ridiculous booking premiums, will strengthen the legal and moral arguments of other OTAs who continue to “Screen Scape” Ryanair’s fairs from its website.

Judges often base their decisions on preventing “Customer Harm”.

Ryanair has always accused OTAs of acting as “Pirates” illegally marking up the fair’s customers would pay on their direct website, to the detriment of customers. However, Ryanair has taken these fees to never-seen-before levels, charging Love Holidays customers a massive £50 premium to book their flights as part of an OTA package compared to their website.

In my opinion, few Judges will look upon this kindly!

However, it is the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that needs to wake up and fulfil its stated remit of “promoting competitive markets and tackling unfair behaviour”.

Ryanair has bullied the OTA market for many years, introducing extra “Facial Recognition” check-in steps to disadvantage customers booking via OTAs and blocking thousands of attempted bookings from OTAs. I believe this to be an “abuse” by a dominant market player, who is using these tactics to enforce unreasonable contractual terms for selling their flights via their official XML API’s.

I have today written to the CMA providing evidence of these unreasonable fees and hopefully will find support for this stance, within the remaining OTA community who are yet to buckle to Ryanair’s terms.

As stated previously, I completely understand that Love Holidays needed to secure guaranteed access to Ryanair’s flights ahead of their impending sale, but I do fear that unless Ryanair is successful in bringing other OTA’s like On the Beach to the table, that their price competitiveness will be badly damaged.

Historically, Ryanair was often provided the lowest fare lead prices for OTA’s, specifically, because the OTA’s where screen scraping and avoiding API fees. This led to 50% of many OTA’s holiday sales being based on Ryanair flights, making any sudden price increase in price due to API fees either highly damaging to price competitiveness or a massive opportunity if you continue to screen scrape.

The Ryanair V OTA battle is therefore like to escalate further, rather than be resolved by this API booking option.

Who will win remains to be seen, but a CMA investigation seems inevitable.

“Love Holiday”, caving into Ryanair to save their Sale?

Initially, I was pleased to see that Ryanair has finally succumbed to common sense and decided to work in conjunction with Love Holidays to create “officially” authorised Ryanair Holidays.

Seats are being provided via an API integration, with Love passing all customer details to Ryanair so that customers can login to “My Ryanair” to check in, download boarding passes or amend flights.

Love Holidays, which has been looking for new owners for the last 18 months, needed this deal urgently to reassure potential buyers that they will have access to airline flight seats moving forward.

With Easyjet Holidays rapidly expanding its Holiday division, Love suffered from a strategic risk regarding how many seats Easyjet will allow OTA’s to access when the OTA is effectively creating a package to compete with the airline’s in-house tour operation. Combine this with Jet2, now selling 80% of seats as packages on many leisure routes, and you quickly see how important access to Ryanair seats is.

However, what cost is this access coming at?

The Love Holiday site now explicitly tells the customer how much of the package is being paid to Ryanair, so comparing these prices with the equivalent flight-only prices on the Ryanair site is relatively simple.

Amazingly, unlike Easyjet, which charges a fixed per passenger per sector API fee, Ryanair appears free to yield the fee as it sees fit.

For example, the fee is £27.00 on many flights, but on routes with little competition, like Bournemouth to Majorca, it jumps to £50.90 for a booking of 2 adults. Knowing Ryanair, these “Surcharges” will only get bigger.

The fee is also highly hypercritical, given that Ryanair has been campaigning against OTAs, accusing them of being “pirates”, marking up prices and charging customers more than they would have paid if they booked on the Ryanair site. However, it’s OK for this to happen if Ryanair receives the surcharge in their pockets!! 100% typical Ryanair customer service attitude.

I have long thought that Ryanair’s anti-OTA stance was nothing more than a tactic to push agents into a corner so that Ryanair could impose terms of their choice to allow agents to package their flights.

Love’s need to find a new owner has clearly forced them to do a deal with the Ryanair Devil on the Devil’s terms.

I must confess that I would have done the same in Love’s situation, but the winner is clearly Ryanair and the other low-cost carriers’ holiday divisions, whose packages suddenly look better value. 

Unfortunately, as usual, the biggest loser is the customer, who will end up paying more for their Love Holiday packages.