A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew in business class from Denver to Denpasar Bali and flew home in first class.
On the way home, we paid an extra 12,500 American Airlines Aadvantage miles to book first class tickets. Since Denpasar to Hong Kong only has business class, the only segment we actually flew first class was the 15ish hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago. I decided that it was less than 1,000 points per hour, and at a one penny value it would only cost $10ish dollars an hour to fly first class versus business class.
For quite some time there has been an ongoing discussion online about the ‘value’ of first class travel vs business class travel. For example, Rick at the Frugal Travel Guy claims international first class travel is the worst use of miles.
I’ll put my conclusion up front – I agree.
To be fair, I’ll start with what I liked about traveling first class:
- You get access to nicer lounges. The Pier in Hong Kong even has private cabanas. It’s probably the only time I’ll take a bath in an airport lounge.
- You get pajamas.
- You get a better seat (wider) than in business.
- You get better service because there are three flight attendants attending to six passengers.
Here are a few pictures so you can get the idea of what first class travel is like:
Why I Likely Won’t Travel First Class Again
1. Business class is a dramatic improvement from economy, and I feel like a king in business class.
With business class tickets, you get access to airport lounges, you get (depending on the airline) fully flat beds for sleeping, you get nice meals, and you get great service. Translation – even business class exceeds my expectations! I’ve spent most of my life flying internationally in economy so being able to fly business class seems like such a dramatic improvement.
2. I can find a more valuable use for the miles.
Between the two of us, our tickets cost an extra 25,000 miles to fly first class instead of business class. With those same miles I could fly in economy round trip to anywhere in the US, I could fly to South America one way, or I could fly to Japan one way. There’s a lot of cool stuff I could do with 25,000 miles.
For me, value is the ability to go places for free – not the number of miles per dollar you save. In other words, I’d rather get two trips valued at $4,000 than one trip valued at $8,000, even though that seems like I’m getting half the value out of my points.
3. I’m definitely not that important.
Air travel is an amazing aspect of modern transportation. It’s utterly unbelievable that in 10-15 hours I can get from a US hub to almost any airport in the world. I hope I never lose that awe and amazement about the absolute inherent luxury (even in coach) of being able to travel so far in such a short period of time.
4. I don’t do well with the attention.
I really didn’t like the feeling that I was more important that I am. It was awkward to be so carefully watched over on the plane. When the flight attendant forgot to bring some tea, she was overly apologetic. I don’t care. When they set the table, they strove for the perfect perfection of every item. It was a nice gesture, but honestly, a little too much for me.
5. It’s only a day of your life, and you’ll probably sleep half of the time anyway.
When I slept (going was about 8 hours and coming back about 6 hours), I couldn’t tell the difference between business and first. I didn’t arrive feeling more refreshed because of flying first. I can say that when I fly business class I arrive much more refreshed than when I fly economy.
6. Expectations are everything when traveling.
Earlier this year, I flew to Australia in business class and had a disappointing last flight because a flight attendant on Thai couldn’t believe I was hungry for a snack in the middle of the night (even though that was the middle of the day in the States). I asked if she had any crackers or chips or anything, and she acted so offended. It was a definite turn off. However, on the trip home I only had the option of flying economy, and it was great. With economy, you always have room to be impressed. With business or first class travel, there’s a lot more room to be disappointed by even the smallest things.