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Is it Worth the Money to Fly Business Class?

Is it worth the money to fly business class? My answer is a very helpful “it depends”.

Here are some issues to consider when making the cost vs. comfort analysis:

1) How tall are you? 

One of the few times I’m happy to be short (5′ 3″) is when I board an airplane. There are some economy airplane seats where even my knees are almost touching the seat in front of me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to contort oneself into an economy airplane seat for someone six feet tall. It’s probably lucky for professional basketball and football players that they can routinely afford to fly business class. However, college players and garden variety tall people are relegated to being scrunched into the cheap economy seats with us short people. 

View from an airplane

I took this photo from an economy class window seat. They’re not charging for the view — yet.

2. How long is your flight?

As some Midlife Boulevard readers have noticed, I like to travel to faraway places. Most of the time, unless the trip itself is the “there there” (for example, a cruise or a scenic road trip), flying is the best option.

I can grit my teeth grin and bear flying across the USA in an economy seat (see, #1); however, when crossing the really big Pacific Ocean is required, I might am likely to start whining about wanting to fly business class. This brings us to the next consideration:

3. How much does a business class ticket cost?

Obviously, how much a traveler wants to or can spend on airfare is a very individual factor. A business class seat on a trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic flight can easily cost 3-5 times as much as an economy ticket.

Some airlines also offer the option of “Premium Economy”. Read the fine print for the particular airplane you expect to be flying on so you’ll be able to compare the benefits offered by Premium Economy. You can find a wealth of information about airplane seating on SeatGuru.com

I usually research our flights using Kayak or Skyscanner; however, unless these sites show me amazingly inexpensive fares through a third party booking site such as Expedia, I prefer to book through the airlines’ websites. My experience has been that if there are any issues during a trip due to flight cancellations or delays, the airline is more helpful when you’ve booked your ticket through them.

Today, most travel agents charge something to research and book airline tickets because they no longer earn commissions from the airlines. However, a good travel agent who is experienced in the area to which you want to travel, may be able to find a routing or an air fare you won’t find yourself online. Further, if you have a relationship with a travel agent, they may be willing to waive the fee for booking your flight(s) if they have been making decent commissions on other travel products they have sold you such as cruises, hotel rooms, and tours.

The adage that “sometimes you get what you pay for” also applies to purchasing business class airplane seats. All business class seats are not created equal. We flew business class on an aging Philippine Airlines 747 (jumbo jet) at which point I realized why the tickets were relatively less expensive than other airlines. Read reviews of whatever airline and specific flight route you are planning on taking.

4. Do You Have Any Long Layovers?

On our five flight trip from Philadelphia to Chiang Mai, Thailand, we had a seven hour layover in the San Francisco Airport. Being confined to an airport for seven hours can be a soul sucking experience. It is infinitely better if you have access to a “lounge” where there is usually “free” food; good wifi and work stations; places to recharge your devices; and maybe even a place to take a shower or a nap. A business class ticket is almost always paired with access to a pre-flight lounge. 

airline lounge

My new favorite airport lounge is the one in the Venice, Italy Airport which also had a media room and a place to take a nap.

5. Can you pay for your business class seat using something other than your hard earned money?

If you are a member of an airline loyalty (frequent flyer) program, you may have enough points to acquire a business class seat from points you have earned. Even if you aren’t a frequent flyer, you can use an airline affiliated credit card to acquire “points” with a particular airline. Many of these credit cards offer “sign up bonuses” of airline points for new customers.  I’ve seen 50,000 points on offer.

Many airlines are part of “alliances” such as Star Alliance or One World which will enable to you to use points from one airline to book flights on another alliance member airline. If you anticipate wanting to be able to use points for a business class seat on a very long haul flight, check to see which airlines fly the route you want and consider applying for an affiliated credit card with that airline or one of its alliance partners.

Some credit card companies have their own travel agencies. You acquire generic points via credit card expenditures which can then be used towards travel expenses booked through that travel agency. I am particularly enamored of our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which also permits cost free point transfers to certain airlines.

The best option is if you can use someone else’s money. As some of our elected and appointed government officials are finding out, taxpayers do not like to fund business class travel. However, sometimes you can wrangle negotiate a business class ticket if you are traveling for business or to a conference where you are an invited speaker.

So, what’s so great about flying business class?

First of all, you know those bigger seats up front you pass on your way to the cheap economy seats in the back of the plane? Keeping in mind that I’m short, I don’t think it’s worth paying for one of those for a domestic flight. However, I still have fond memories of our first ever business class flight experience on 13 hour flights between Toronto, Canada and Tokyo, Japan.

Thanks to a real live travel agent, we discovered we could fly business class to Japan on Air Canada for about half the price of other airlines. Air Canada, being Canadian and therefore as least “classist” as possible, does not officially have a “first class” section.

In our business class section, we all had our own personal touch screen entertainment system, and best of all, the seats could be configured to lie completely flat! Alas, even the possibility of horizontality did not induce me into slumber on an airplane, but I was able to become very mellow. My relaxed state was probably at least influenced by the fact that every time a flight attendant passed my seat, my glass of chardonnay was refilled.

Even though I did not completely make it to the Land of Nod, I did try out the many possible configurations of my seat; read a novel on my e-reader; did crossword puzzles; and watched a movie. I dimmed my personal lighting and listened to Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” album on an Air Canada music station, a blast from the past at 37,000 feet.

Then there was the “free” food. Actually, most legacy airlines provide “free” food (and even wine) for economy class passengers also on long haul international flights, but trust me, business class passengers are not eating the same meals nor drinking the same wine.

Pizza on Lufthansa

This was the economy class pizza served on our last Lufthansa flight. I can guarantee they weren’t being served this in business class.

The food on our flights was actually appealing. The Air Canada menu described my chardonnay from the Wente River Ranch in Livermore, California as “exuding fresh melon and pear fruit, with a hint of vanilla derived from new oak barrels. Gregarious, round and full on the palate.” (I knew that — NOT).

For my main course, I passed on the “sauteed breast of chicken accented by Maple Cardamom Sauce” (hey, it’s Air Canada). I also demurred on the “steamed mero fish accented by Japanese truffle broth with pumpkin au gratin, sauteed eringi mushrooms and cauliflower” since the only ingredient I was 100% sure about was the cauliflower – not my favorite vegetable.

After my exposure to real Japanese food, I am now permanently suspicious that someone might try to feed me “salted fish guts of salmon’s internal organs“. For all I know, “mero” is Québécois French for fish guts.

I also skipped the squid appetizer that came with the Japanese meal on the menu. I have a very rigid rule–“No squid on airplanes!” Instead I enjoyed my rosemary crusted lamp chops served with a pear puree.

I passed on the post entree cheese course (camembert, yellow rock cheddar and emmental) served with gorgeous red grapes, saving what was left of my appetite for the “warm signature chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream”.

After such a flight, even standing on line for an hour to clear US immigration and customs in Toronto (they let the US do its thing in Canada) could not extinguish the warm glow.

Have you ever flown business class? If so, how was your experience? In your opinion, is it worth the money to fly business class?

Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Suzanne Fluhr, Midlife Boulevard's travel editor, is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer, empty nester, wanderer, dog person and Zentangle® enthusiast. She also writes about Baby Boomer travels for the body and mind on her personal blog, <a href="http://www.boomeresque.com">Boomeresque</a>. Instagram: Boomeresque2

Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Suzanne Fluhr, Midlife Boulevard's travel editor, is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer, empty nester, wanderer, dog person and Zentangle® enthusiast. She also writes about Baby Boomer travels for the body and mind on her personal blog, Boomeresque. Instagram: Boomeresque2

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Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Wednesday 2nd of May 2018

Thank you for for reminding me about another benefit of flying business class which is access to airline lounges before flights. I've added it to my post because if you have a long layover, being able to spend it in a lounge rather than in the general airport waiting areas can turn a poor experience into at least a tolerable on.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com

Wednesday 2nd of May 2018

Hi Suzanne! The worst thing about flying business class? You will NEVER ever be able to take a long-haul flight in economy again. Seriously. Back in the early OOs and even the early 10's my husband and I was able to use skymiles for about 4 different trips to Europe and back. It so spoils you that you can't imagine. Yes we are both tall and not petite by any means and that makes a difference. But using the lounges and having comfortable enough space to sleep in for a long flight is priceless. So, now even though Skymiles are difficult to redeem, we've ended up paying for the last couple of long-haul flights with cash. As long as we can reasonably afford it we do. Domestically (and even Hawaii) we fly regular but as long as we can afford the long ones we will keep doing it. Beware if you don't/can't get addicted! ~Kathy

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