Is Business Class Worth the Extra Miles Compared to Economy Class?

While my memory is still fresh from my trip to Papua New Guinea, I want to reflect on the question – is business class worth the extra miles compared to economy class?

Clearly, I can’t (and won’t even attempt) to answer this question for you.  Instead, I’ll share my thoughts and experience on the subject.  Hopefully, through my musings you’ll be able to decide if pulling the trigger on a more expensive award redemption is worth it.

For perspective, I traveled as far as Brisbane, Australia in business class.  Unfortunately, since I missed my flight home, I needed to rebook new flights and ended up booking economy class tickets home.

The Case for Business Class

Better sleep means you’ll arrive better rested.

There is no doubt in my mind that if you fly business class you’ll arrive better rested.  As an example, on my flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, I fell asleep right after meal service and woke up for breakfast.  That’s a solid five hours of sleep without waking up once.  That has never happened to me in economy class.  The fact that I could lay down fully flat made a big difference.

It feels more like a vacation.

Look, I don’t need a fully flat bed.  I don’t need better service.  I don’t need any special treatment.  But, I won’t deny that it’s nice.  If you want a trip to feel like you’re going all out, then using more miles for business or first will definitely help achieve that goal.

You could get a terrible economy class set up.

Earlier this year, I flew in economy from Seoul (South Korea) to Chicago.  That was brutal.  Due to some confusion with our family seats, I ended up sitting in a middle seat between two complete strangers.  The lady at the aisle slept the whole time so it made getting up more awkward.  I would have gladly used my miles to fly in business (if it didn’t mean abandoning my kids and wife).  I’ve been on packed flights domestically where I couldn’t even use my computer because I didn’t have the elbow room necessary to reach my keyboard.

However, when I flew from Brisbane to Los Angeles last week, the plane was pretty empty.  I had a window seat, and there was no one occupying  the middle seat.  I should also mention that they came through the cabin three times offering different snacks.  In some ways, my economy experience on Qantas was better then my business class experience on Thai.  I’m actually glad that I didn’t upgrade to business.

You get better food.

If eating high quality food is important to you, you’ve got a better chance of that happening in business class.  My meals on ANA were delicious.  Best food I’ve had on an airplane.  Still, at the end of the day, as long as I get enough food to fill my stomach (and it doesn’t give me food poisoning), I’m happy.

The Case Against Business Class

Higher expectations lead to more opportunities for disappointment.

When I was in high school I hated every one of our formal dinners.  Why?  I’d have such high expectations for how ‘perfect’ everything would be.

The same can certainly be true of business class.  While flying from Bangkok to Brisbane, I was hungry and asked the flight attendant (as she walked by) if they had any sort of snacks.  She rolled her eyes and asked why I was hungry.  I explained that in the States it was the middle of the day, and I felt like having a little snack.  She had a snarky replied and said, “I don’t know what I can do, but I’ll see.”  That’s the kind of experience I’d expect in economy class, but I definitely felt it was much worse because I was in business class.  Surely, if I was paying several thousand dollars for a plane ticket and they didn’t even have a pack of peanuts for a hungry passenger, that would be a little more frustrating.

Economy class is outstanding compared to other forms of travel.

I’ve been on jam packed buses for day long trips.  That’s what I call uncomfortable.  Remembering that when I fly I get food, access to a clean toilet (usually), and a personal TV helps me realize that flying in and of itself is an AMAZING way to travel.  After coming out of Papua New Guinea and being away from my family for a month, I was perfectly happy just to have a place to sit where I could get home in 12 hours.

Economy class may be better when traveling with others.

Depending on your business class product, you will be able to feel more accessible to your travel partners when you’re in economy class.  In fact, when I travel with my family I like flying economy class.  If we get a flight where all five of us can just take up a middle row, then we’re happy.  The kids are so small that they can stretch out, and the chances of getting a good night sleep with kids is pretty slim any ways.  Sitting beside someone you know or a family member is completely different than being crammed in a seat beside a stranger.

Questions to Consider:

Will I be traveling overnight?

When my wife and I went to Europe last year, we flew over in business class (at night) and back in economy class (during the day).  I thought that was the perfect way to do it.  During the day, there is about a 5% chance I’m going to sleep regardless of my class of travel.  For an eight hour flight, as long as I’ve got a personal TV, I’m probably just going to watch TV all day – regardless of class of service.  However, I’m probably 75% more likely to get a good night of sleep in business class compared to economy class.

Will I have long layovers?

When you fly business or first class, you have access to the airport lounge.  In my experiences, lounges make a big difference in the overall travel experience.  Between flights you have a chance to shower, get caught up on work (with free internet) and have a snack.  Even when we’ve travelled as a family, we’ve found the lounges to be extremely nice.  If we can find a lounge with a kids play area, they get to play in privacy while my wife and I can enjoy a little snack and a very relaxing environment.  There are many ways to get lounge access aside from traveling in business class.

Can I get a direct economy class flight?

If you’re in the process of booking your flights and there is no business class availability or direct flight, yet there is availability with economy class, I would certainly give some consideration to the economy class flights.

How long is the trip?

The longer a trip, the more value you’ll get out of a business class upgrade.

How many miles do you have?

If you have more miles than time off, then it makes sense to use them for business or first class.  However, if you don’t have very many points and want to stretch your points as much as possible, economy class is a great option. Hey, you’re still traveling for free.

My Personal Conclusion:

I’m perfectly content to continue traveling in economy class with my family.  When I’m traveling alone or with my wife, if we have the miles to buy a business class ticket, we probably will.  The longer the flight, the more likely I am to use extra miles to get a business class flight.

Business class is great, but economy class travel is still (by world standards) a perfectly endurable way to travel.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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