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5 Easy Ways to Avoid Booking Bad Business-Class Seats

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Not all business-class products were created equal. It’s disappointing to shell out business-class prices — or award rates — and end up with a sub-par premium experience. Here, TPG Contributor JT Genter offers some tips to help you avoid this particular predicament.

Just recently, a former co-worker excitedly emailed me about a “great” fare he’d gotten — a business-class flight to Dublin, Ireland (DUB) for just $2,500 round-trip. He had seen biz fares over $4,000 to other places in Europe, so this was indeed an awesome deal to Europe… right?

If he’d been following TPG a bit closer, he’d know that there have been much better business-class deals to Europe recently. But, was his experience even going to justify the premium price? I checked SeatGuru for his flight and found that he was likely in for some disappointment. With economy fares to DUB often on sale — sometimes as low as $316 round-trip — you’re going to need a great business-class product to justify spending $2,000 more. And, he wasn’t going to get one.

Some transatlantic American Airlines 757 business-class seats are just standard domestic first-class recliner seats.

On the return, he was going to be flying American Airlines’ 757 business-class product from DUB to Charlotte (CLT), on a plane typically used for US domestic flights, with the same recliner seats. While that’s certainly better than flying in economy — and he’d still earn elite mileage bonuses for flying in business class — it’s sad to see people pay a premium price for a sub-par business-class seat. Let’s take a look at some easy things you can do to avoid the same fate.

1. Compare Flight Options on RouteHappy

<a href="https://www.routehappy.com/" target="_blank">RouteHappy</a> is a great way of easily comparing flight options.
RouteHappy is a great way to easily compare flight options.

Checking RouteHappy is one of the easiest ways to compare flights on a certain route and date. It generates a score from 0 to 10 for each itinerary option based on comfort, amenities and duration. Then, you can decide if a higher-rated more-expensive option is worth the price.

The site will even let you filter out flight options that don’t match your needs. If a lie-flat seat is a must for you to sleep onboard, select the “full flat seat” option to filter out angle-flat seats entirely. Is no Wi-Fi a no go? Filter out flights that don’t offer Wi-Fi along the way.

2. Search Google Flights

Watch out for the sub-par "extra recliner seats" on transatlantic flights.
Watch out for the sub-par “extra reclining seat” on transatlantic flights.

There are plenty of travel sites out there, but I always prefer to start with Google Flights. In addition to easy and quick searching, Google Flights presents essential data like the aircraft type, info about seat recline, Wi-Fi availability, power availability, in-flight entertainment options and if the flight is typically delayed. Even if you don’t know anything about the best business-class cabins, you can use Google Flights to figure out if the hard product you selected will be any good.

Typically, airlines don’t have different prices for different aircraft types; usually, the price is just based on the origin, destination and maybe the number of stops, so try different options until you find the best for you. Ideally, you’re going to find a lie flat seat rather than an angled flat seat or — worst of all — a standard recliner seat.

3. View Cabin Layouts on SeatGuru

<a href="http://www.seatguru.com/" target="_blank">SeatGuru</a> has a lot more detail about each aircraft, but you'll need to search each flight option individually.
SeatGuru shows you lots of details about each aircraft, but you’ll need to search each flight option individually.

While Google Flights is good for quickly comparing various flight options, SeatGuru is great for digging in deeper when you’re deciding between a select few. By plugging in the airline, flight number and flight date, SeatGuru will retrieve the aircraft type and arrangement. Check out the exact seat pitch and width measurements, seating recline, in-flight amenities, user reviews and photos of the business-class cabin to get a good idea of whether or not a certain seat is right for you.

SeatGuru has a comparison chart of all long-haul business class seating options. Image courtesy of SeatGuru.
SeatGuru even has a comparison chart of all the long-haul business-class seating options.

If you’re looking for more general information about which aircraft types to avoid (or seek out), SeatGuru has comparison charts for all long-haul business-class flights. If you’re tall like TPG, a 32-inch pitch just isn’t going to cut it — sort the comparison chart by pitch to make sure you end up with enough legroom.

4. Mine the ITA Matrix

The ITA Matrix is a very powerful search engine for finding flights, even if you’re fairly particular about your preferences. And now, thanks to BookWithMatrix, you can easily book the flights you find on it.

I used <a href="https://matrix.itasoftware.com/" target="_blank">ITA Matrix</a> to find a flight option on AA's 787 Dreamliner.
I recently used ITA Matrix to find a flight option on AA’s 787 Dreamliner.

Have your eyes set on a particular business-class seat? The ITA Matrix might be the best way to find it. When an American Airlines schedule change opened up my rebooking options on a recent itinerary, my first move was to check this valuable resource. I’d been wanting to test out American Airlines’ new 787 Dreamliner business class, but needed to figure out an itinerary where I could do so.

Since my flight required two connections, I couldn’t simply specify the 787 in my advanced routing codes. Instead, I needed to exclude all of the other long-haul aircraft types that were possibly transatlantic to leave just the 787 options. However, if you’re searching for a nonstop itinerary, you can specify the aircraft type(s) you’re seeking.

5. Check for Airline Equipment Changes on ExpertFlyer

Use <strong>ExpertFlyer</strong> to be alerted of any equipment changes.
Use ExpertFlyer to be alerted of any equipment changes.

Even if you’ve done all the research you could to get the perfect flight, sometimes you’ll be the unlucky victim of a last-minute equipment change. So you don’t end up surprised at boarding, make sure to set-up an ExpertFlyer Aircraft Change Alert for your flight so you’ll be alerted if there are any changes to the aircraft type. If the difference between the original and revised aircraft is significant, you may be able to convince the airline to rebook you on another flight.

Bottom Line

There are lots of resources to help you avoid flying in a crummy business-class seat. If you’re looking for a quick flight search, RouteHappy or Google Flights are going to be your best bets. If you’re looking to dig deeper into the options, use SeatGuru and TPG flight reviews to find your ideal option, then use the ITA Matrix and BookWithMatrix tools to find and book your itinerary. Either way, make sure to set-up an ExpertFlyer aircraft change alert just in case. Happy travels!

Are there other resources you use for finding and booking the best international business class flights?

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