My First Business Class Flight: Is it Worth the Splurge?
When I first started collecting miles and points, I swore I’d never spend them on first or business class seats. “That’s another trip or two I could take,” I told myself. But as I watched friends and bloggers fly in style and swear they could never fly long-haul economy again, that resistance softened. All the while, I wondered whether it would ever live up to the hype – or the price.
After a pair of business class flights across the Pacific Ocean, I can confidently say: Yes, business class is worth the extra miles (or cash, if you’ve got it). On long flights, the comfortable seat, extra space, solid food and extra goodies combined to erase any doubts I’d once had. Here’s what I learned, and what you should keep in mind as you weigh the same question.
Pick the Right Airline
I picked a great time for my first business class flight. My new wife and I splurged for business class on our way to and from our honeymoon in Bali, Indonesia. And our very first flight in business class was on a special airline, too: EVA Air, the highly regarded Taiwanese airline regularly ranked among the top 10 carriers in the world.
Its Royal Laurel business class is a favorite among frequent flyers. Having flown across the Pacific Ocean in EVA Economy before, I was sure we’d made the best possible choice. So just a day after tying the knot, we boarded the 15-hour flight from Chicago to Taipei. And not to spoil upcoming articles and reviews, but it was the famous – or perhaps infamous is the better word – Hello Kitty flight.
EVA Air truly set the bar high for what to expect from business class. And this is teaching point to ensure you make your cash or miles worth it: Not all airlines are created equally, nor are all business class cabins. Follow our reviews to learn what airlines do business class right. Read up on rankings, but don’t take them as gospel. Make the right choices to ensure your business class flight is worth the extra miles.
As a Star Alliance partner, EVA Air flights are easy to book with miles and points. I booked this flight with 78,000 Avianca LifeMiles, a South American airline that is transfer partners with Citi and also offers huge sales on buying miles that can make it relatively cheap to buy a business class flight.
Another great option to book EVA Air is Aeroplan, which charges 75,000 for a transpacific business class flight. You can get those miles by transferring them from your stash of American Express Membership Rewards points. United Airlines, meanwhile, charges 80,000 miles to book the same flight. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your United account.
Opt for Long Flights
There are certain laws in the world. What goes up must come down. Every cause has an effect. And then there’s the law of business class: The longer the flight, the more you’ll treasure flying up front. If you want to make the most of your miles, don’t waste them on short hops in business class. And especially not on flights within Europe, where business class is a just row of economy seats with the middle seat blocked off, anyway.
We had 15 hours to savor our first business class experience, and that was plenty. That meant several multi-course meals and snacks in between, and time enough to get some sound sleep and still enjoy the champagne-fueled service that sets business class apart.
That’s just not possible on short flights. But what’s the cutoff point lengthwise at which booking business class doesn’t make sense? That’s a personal decision – everyone will do that calculus differently. Personally, that’s a question of the price – in dollars or miles – and whether the flight is long enough to squeeze that much value out of it.
For some, any flight longer than a few hours is worth the splurge. That’s particularly true if you’ve got the miles or cash to spare. For me, a six- or seven-hour flight to Europe that costs at least 60,000 miles on nearly every airline isn’t worth it. I’d rather save some miles and fly economy. But those 12-to-15-hour transpacific flights to Asia? I’ll book business class every time I can.
Space to Spread Out and Sleep
I spent months researching every aspect of EVA’s business class, reading every review I could find. But all the pictures and words in the world can’t give you a sense of how much extra space you’ll truly have once you sit down. Will these spendy seats live up to the hype or be a letdown? It was, in two words, a game changer.
These seats were 26 inches wide – nearly 8 inches wider than a traditional economy seat. You can get comfortable anyway you want, never having to worry about nudging a neighbor.
And there’s legroom for days – I’m not joking. At 5 feet 10 inches, I’m not the tallest guy out there. But even someone with 6 to 8 inches on me should still fit comfortably in these seats, which are pretty standard for business class no matter which airline you’re flying.
Nowhere does all this extra space pay off more than when it comes time to sleep. If you’re flying a long distance business class flight, you’ll have a seat that converts to a lie-flat bed. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a cozy comforter to boot.
With this setup, I got a solid five hours of sleep. That may not sound like much, but seeing as I can rarely sleep more than an hour on a plane, the lie-flat bed was a godsend. And really, that was the biggest factor that made business class worth it for me. Fifteen hours is a grueling flight no matter where you’re sitting. But with some good sleep and a cozy setup in business class, it felt much more like seven hours.
Food You Want to Eat
I’m no stand-up comedian and I’ll gladly eat a meal in economy. But even on renowned carriers, standard airplane food is tough to truly enjoy. And while business class meals may be more Instagrammable, does the taste hold up at 37,000 feet?
In my experience, yes. Unless you get really lucky, you may not confuse your business class meal for a restaurant dish. But there’s no question the food is a step (or five) above the heated tins and heavy meals you get in economy.
Better plating on real cutlery helps make it feel a bit more refined, too. In all, the better food just helps elevate the experience and remind you that yes, it’s worth the extra cash or points.
Of course, the quality of your business class meal will vary greatly by airline. And even meals on a given airline will differ based on what airport you’re departing from, as the airlines use catering companies.
However, the whole dining experience gets even better on the growing number of airlines that allow you to pre-select your meals. Not only does this guarantee you your first meal choice, but it often gives you far more options to pick from. On Singapore Air, for example, there’s a list of more than 40 meal choices if you depart from the airline’s Singapore (SIN) hub.
And then there’s the drink selection. Even if you’re not a champagne snob, there’s no denying it’s cool to sip a glass at 37,000 feet.
However, there’s also beer, a wide selection of liquor, a variety of wines and specialty coffee and tea offerings. Even on a 15-hour flight, I’d never have time to have sampled all the options. And trust me, I tried.
If you’ve ever felt spurned by a flight attendant, business class could be your oasis. These flight attendants are specially trained to tend to high-value customers, and it shows. In ways big and small, the service on our flight shone. Drinks were topped off regularly, plates were cleared quickly and the “What else can I get you”s were frequent. Within just a few minutes of waking up, I was offered a snack and a drink.
But above all else, the flight attendant working my aisle was light, eager and funny. It made every interaction a joy. Just like back in economy, you may get a bad apple here and there. But in general, you can count on better service in business class.
After building up this flight in my mind for months, I alternated between excitement and nervousness that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. But within minutes of sitting down and several times throughout the flight, I had to pinch myself, with a huge smile on my face. It was truly a treat. It’s tough to part with your hard-earned miles or shell out more money. But do it right, and you’ll never regret it.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): byeangel
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.