Is Flying Business Class Worth It? It Depends.
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of sitting at the front of the aircraft in first or business class, enjoying the comfort and amenities as you jet off to your next destination. I’ve now flown in the “pointy end” of the plane several times, enjoying nearly every experience. However, given the points and miles outlay, is flying business class worth it in every case?
If you have the miles and points at your disposal, I say go for it. You won’t regret the choice if you’re earning miles faster than you can burn them.
This just isn’t reality for most folks. We generally have to be judicious with how we spend our miles, which means that business class often isn’t in the cards. But there are specific situations where I find it is very much worth it, and others where it absolutely isn’t, even if it may seem like a good “deal”. Let me lay out my reasoning.
When Business Class Isn’t Worth It
Business class (in general) isn’t worth it if you’re paying cash. At least it certainly isn’t for us. When you can snag a coach fare between the U.S. and Europe for $400 while business class is going for $3,000, which would you pick? So let’s rule out cash completely and only talk miles redemption here. Business class for cash is a no-go, unless it is a crazy deal or mistake fare.
Even if we’re talking miles, business class isn’t worth the premium in some cases. First, I wouldn’t burn the miles for intra-U.S. business or first 99% of the time. Sure, I’ll make an exception for a crazy deal now and then, such as my flights in United premium cabins using Turkish miles, but this is a big exception. That was actually the first time I’d ever shelled out points for anything other than economy domestically.
These are reasonably short, daytime coach flights we’re talking about. We can schlep it in economy for a few hours, no problem. Sure, it sounds nice to travel up front, but I will almost never shell out the miles for it.
Day Time Long Haul Flights
The other time business class isn’t really worth it is when you’re flying an all-daytime long-haul itinerary. If you’d normally be awake for the bulk of the trip, I don’t really see a point to booking business. Sure, it’s a larger, nicer seat and (sometimes) excellent food, but is that really worth 50%-100% more miles? I’d argue it’s not.
When Business Class Is Worth It
The appeal of paying the extra miles for business class comes down to one thing for me: sleep. Can we sleep on the flight? And will it work with our schedule and time change? These are the questions I most commonly ask when deciding whether a business class option is worth it.
Let me lay out two examples. First, we have our Cathay Pacific business class trek from Hong Kong to SFO. It’s a long flight, and we flew business class. The kids were tired, as the flight departed around 12:30 AM. It was very nice to sleep.
But we landed at SFO around 9:00 PM, ready to sleep again. Couldn’t we have just powered through? There were beds waiting for us very shortly after we landed. Sure, it would have been quite a bit more miserable, but we would have saved a total of 45,000 miles for another trip. I’m not sure flying business class was worth it.
Contrast this with the China Airlines business class flight that I flew with one of my boys in May. We departed SFO at 1:30 AM and landed in Taipei around 6:00 AM. We had the full day ahead of us! Sleeping on the flight was amazing and critical to our plans, as we only had three days to enjoy Taipei. I would never have booked the trip had we not been able to fly business. We were rested and ready to go explore. In this case, flying business class was absolutely worth it.
It all comes down to sleep for me. If I really want to be able to sleep on an overnight flight, then business class is well worth it. If not, then I’m far less eager to book a ticket up front.
Daytime Flight? Fly Economy.
This has become my general rule. If we’re going to be flying a daytime flight, even if extended (e.g. returning to the U.S. from Europe), then economy is perfectly fine. We flew Air France A380 economy from CDG to SFO and felt pretty good on arrival, even though it’s a long trek. My one mistake was assuming I could manage driving home that evening.
The rule still holds true, even if we should have gotten a hotel in that case. Pushing through a westbound, long-haul, daytime economy flight also helps with jet lag. Keeping yourself awake and crashing at a hotel (or home) helps you adjust to your new local time. Allowing yourself to sleep on a return from Europe just might mess you up more.
Premium Economy…Best Of All Worlds?
I’ve really started to see premium economy as the best of all worlds: larger seat, more legroom, more recline, ability to nap, etc. But not the full lie-flat bed of business class.
There’s just one hurdle: many premium economy products either aren’t bookable with miles, or they aren’t competitively priced as awards. I’ve often seen United premium economy going for more than business class! It makes no sense. Delta Premium Select is a bit better, but even then, it’s generally a lot of miles.
In the future I may be looking at premium economy deals/awards as the way to go, if there is an economical way to book them.
Flying business class is a treat more than anything, and I want to maximize it whenever we do book up front. For me, that means sleep. If the schedule doesn’t include a real need or desire to sleep, I’m very hesitant to shell out the miles.
What do you think…is flying business class worth it in more than the cases I’ve described?