Do these prices fluctuate much? I am hoping to fly business class to France in the fall, but wanted to know if there are ever price changes closer to departure.
Everything fluctuates, but unpredictably. Maybe about ten percent. Business will never get as low as the higher coach prices. The differential will always be about the same.
You can't be sure what will happen in the wake of the United merger, but Continental used to have one or two business-class sales in the pre-summer season, which often included future travel during a portion of the high season. It used to be as low as $1,600, (Newark-London or Paris) AFAIR, but was more like $2,800?? last year, maybe. I don't know how their service is from Houston, but it's a major hub. Beyond my ken, you do often read about "bucket shops" that sell lots of business class, and I see their ads in the NY Times Sunday Travel section. I'm sure you can sign up for the United emails if you'd like to get them.
I mostly fly American and sometimes a randomly good deal pops up on a business class seat on some of the less convenient flights (longer layovers, etc). But this is not consistent. And the cheap seats obviously sell first.
Have you tried looking at some of the European based airlines? While looking at flights to Rome for the summer, I discovered that a business class seat on Aer Lingus cost about as much as an economy seat on American. Virgin Atlantic flights are also nice- their premium economy tickets are cheaper than business class but as nice in my opinion. But I am pretty sure they only go to London. You would have to book another flight or train to France.
Air France reduces the price of business class seats during the summer holidays when there are fewer business flyers, but fall is a big season for business flights between Europe and North America. However, with a Premium Economy seat on Air France, you can buy your way up to a business seat if one is available. The offer will come by email about 48 hours before departure. You can get more info on business class at flyertalk.com.
Lufthansa does sales on Business Class and many in the Fall. Look to their site in mid-summer and keep an eye on it usually would be $2500.00 and up. We have done this twice with them...and would never go back to coach (at 6'4 it is such a relief to have LEGROOM and lie flat seats, not to mention the food and service).