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Last weekend, TPG intern Kevin Song managed to fly American Airlines’ 757 four times across the Atlantic, including one leg in coach. Here are his thoughts about traveling in both cabins.
Frequent flyers often glorify premium-cabin travel, with many willing to pay well over double the cost of economy for a long-haul flight. Meanwhile, others think that as long as the plane gets you there without any issues, that’s good enough.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is, “Is business class really worth it?” After all, it’s often significantly more expensive to fly in business than in coach on an international flight, and spending that money on the flight means less money to spend at your destination.
Last weekend, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean four times between New York-JFK and Dublin, as part of a 22,778-mile trip I booked as a mileage run. While most of my flights were in business class, my first flight to Dublin was in economy, since business class on that flight wasn’t available at the cheaper level (and AA wasn’t willing to process an upgrade).
The plane I flew on for all four legs was an old-style American Airlines Boeing 757, with an angle-flat business class. Angle-flat means that, while still flat (or mostly flat), the seat doesn’t lie perfectly parallel to the floor and instead sits at an angle. Oftentimes, this means you’ll wake up having slid down a few inches toward the ground and bunched up — it’s definitely less comfortable than a true lie-flat seat.
In most cases, it can be a great value proposition to spend your miles on these premium cabin redemptions, as a business-class flight that might cost five times that of one in economy might only be twice as expensive in miles with fixed award charts.
So, is it worth it to shell out your hard-earned money (or miles) on a business-class flight? On an ultra-long haul flight, such as US to Hong Kong, on a brand-new plane with lie-flat reverse herringbone seats, sure. You’ll get much better food and a good night’s sleep, and won’t get to your destination feeling like you need an appointment with the chiropractor.
But what about medium-haul flights like mine? In the past year, we’ve seen carriers offer cheap business-class fares to Europe, on what amounts to often a flight no longer than six hours. At that length, you don’t need to sleep on a flat bed (or you might not even sleep at all!), and you can always eat before you hop on the flight.
And then there’s the food. Airplane food has long been the sore point of modern aviation; plastic spoons, TV dinner meals and flavorless salads have come to epitomize air travel. Food in business or first class is often much better — some airlines even offer caviar, Krug or Dom Perignon (or both!).
Sadly, I had no such fancy meals on American, but the food was still much better than what was served in economy class. It was pretty hit or miss; sometimes the food was barely edible, like a particularly dry piece of beef I ordered (at least they didn’t call it steak — it’s not worthy of that designation!). But I also had a fantastic curry chicken that’s among the best airplane meals I’ve had a in a long time, and even starts to compete with some international carriers!
Singapore’s Book the Cook service may make in-flight dining an experience, but is great food really all that necessary? You can get fantastic food on the ground for much less than the price differential between economy and business, or even take some to bring on the plane with you, like at Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food restaurant’s takeaway picnic baskets at London-Heathrow.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether spending the extra money or miles is worth it. It may not be if you can spend that money on a better vacation experience at your destination.
Some things you’ll need to consider before deciding whether or not to book business:
- Length of flight: I wouldn’t pay a dime more for business/first on a 45-minute flight anywhere.
- Plans on arrival: If you have a business meeting or vacation plans as soon as you land, it can certainly be worth booking a premium cabin to be refreshed upon arrival.
- Hard product: I’d much rather pay for an upgrade when it’s on a nice, lie-flat reverse herringbone suite than an aging angle-flat seat.
- Your body: The Points Guy is 6′ 7″ and can never fit into an economy seat well, but I’m 5′ 4″, so economy is often just fine.
- Food: Let’s face it, airline food isn’t the best, but some options are better than others. But who can turn down caviar? (Note that this was first class, not business class.)
In the end, as much as we like to glorify premium-cabin travel, it’s not always the best idea to fly in business class when you could put your money or miles to work in better ways. Ultimately, you’ll need to consider your individual preferences, but a business-class award or upgrade might not always be worth it.