I know the feeling all too well. Sitting alone and confused while booking tickets for a flight, staring at the screen trying to justify to yourself if business class is worth it or not. We’ve all been there.
Personally, I value comfort and convenience more than money (to a point). I have no problem paying extra for a business class seat if it will help to ease the stress of a hectic trip.
That being said, there are some times where I just can’t justify the expense. It’s rare, but it happens.
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How I decide if business class is worth it
I’ll be honest – it’s not very often that I’ll decide that business class isn’t worth it. It happens sometimes (and I’ll explain those reasons in a moment) but for the most part:
- I’ll always opt for business class if the cost to do so isn’t completely obscene. I understand that everyone’s definition of “obscene” is different, so there’s a pretty good chance that you might think I’m crazy for paying what I pay sometimes for the upgrade.
- I’m of the age now where business class on long haul international flights is more of a need than a want. I had no problem flying around the world in economy class back in my 20s, but my body can’t handle that sort of abuse anymore.
- If I have no choice but to take an inconveniently timed flight (such as 5:30 AM or 1 AM), business class is worth it so that I’ll be able to recover at least a few hours of sleep.
- Special occasions are also a great reason to choose business class. It’s OK to splurge every now and then, so don’t feel guilty about spending more for a nice business class seat on a trip you’ve especially been looking forward to.
- If it’s a long flight that occurs mostly during daylight hours, business class is generally worth it because you’ll be awake to experience more (food, in-flight entertainment, drinks, etc).
- Some airlines have far better business class seats and service than others – and for me, it’s worth trying at least once just to see what it’s like. For example, choosing business class over economy in Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines is a no-brainer. You just know it’s going to be a five star experience, and you’ll have an interesting story to tell for the rest of your life.
- I realize this won’t apply to everyone, but it’s worth noting since it’s one of the reasons why I fly business class so often: Basically, I review airlines for a living, and business class reviews get a lot more eyeballs than economy class reviews.
Examples of business class experiences that were worth it:
- Spending $1000 for a last-minute upgrade for Emirates A380 business class (Los Angeles to Dubai) several years ago was money well spent. That’s a 16 hour flight, and I felt as if I was getting a good deal considering how comfortable and well-fed I would be for that length of time. It should also be noted that $1000 was a steal considering that those seats can normally go for more than $10k on ultra long routes such as LAX-DXB.
- Spending 95,000 American Express Membership Rewards points for Singapore Airlines A350-900 business class from Singapore to Los Angeles was totally worth it. Again, this was an extremely long 15 hour flight, and the cabin service wish like nothing I have ever experienced.
How I decide if business class is not worth it
I’m a bit more loose with my money when it comes to travel compared to others, I know. I have friends and family who think paying for anything more than a basic economy seat (for a flight of any length) is a total waste of money.
After all, in the grand scheme of things, even the longest flights in the world are relatively quick. Some people just can’t stand the thought of paying a lot of money (or points) for something that only last a few hours. I understand that, but as I said, I value my comfort and time more than dollars.
That being said, there are some instances where I think that business class isn’t worth it:
- There comes a point where it’s just too expensive to justify. For example, a quick search on Delta.com for flights from the US to Europe using SkyMiles always gives me a migraine. It’s not uncommon to see the cost of a Delta One ticket from Atlanta to London (or any major European destination) for 350,000 SkyMiles. That’s insane. Delta One is good, but not that good.
- If I know that the aircraft that I’m flying on doesn’t have very good business class seats, I’d be tempted to skip it altogether if I knew that I could get an exit row seat back in economy class instead. Be careful though – exit row seats aren’t always as nice as they may seem.
An example of a business class experience that was not worth it:
My TAP Portugal A320 business class experience from Frankfurt to Lisbon a few years ago was not worth it at all. FYI, business class seats on intra-European flights are exactly the same as economy class seats.
Not only that, even though the middle seat is supposed to stay empty, a lonely husband took it upon himself to sit in the one next to me so that he could be next to his wife (who was seated in the aisle seat). They were both dead asleep the entire way.
It felt exactly like economy class, and it was a total waste of money. I should’ve just flown economy class instead.
Let’s be honest – how much better is business class compared to economy?
Most airlines seem to be stuck in a never ending race to the bottom when it comes to business class. Sure, we’ve seen some international business class products continue to get better and better, but at the same time, domestic business class (in airlines from all over the world) keeps getting worse.
On long-haul international flights, business class is almost always worth it. You’ll get a lie flat seat with a decent amount of privacy. You’ll also be fed one or two meals depending on the length of the flight. These meals will be far better than what you would receive in economy class.
On domestic flights in all parts of the world, business class isn’t all that much better than economy (in my opinion). You’ll get a slightly wider seat, nearly the same amount of legroom, and (if you’re lucky) a decent meal. Because of this, there are many times where I tend to think that domestic business class isn’t worth the additional cost over economy.
Have I ever regret spending more to fly business class?
Other than my example of a disappointing business class experience above, I’ve never regret spending extra (whether it be money or points for business class).
Personally, I’m happy that the memories I have from each and every one of my business class experiences will live with me forever.
I know many people who consider flying to be a necessary (and annoying) thing to get them to wherever it is they need to be. It’s not only until after arrive that they can start enjoying themselves. I’m not like that. I enjoy flying just as much as the destination itself, and therefore, I am willing to splurge to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Even on the rare occasion where a business class product didn’t live up to my expectations, I don’t usually regret it. I chalk it up as a learning experience and consider it another interesting travel tale to tell somewhere down the line.
Pros and cons of flying business class
If you’ve reached this point in the article and you’re still not sure if you can justify business class for your next trip, this handy list of pros and cons includes a bunch of stuff that you might not have thought of. I hope it helps you to make a decision:
- If you’re paying with money instead of points, the bonus points you’ll earn will be massive. Not only will the airline give you up to 2X the number of miles flown, you can even earn up to 5X the dollar amount that you spent if you use a reward-based card such as the American Express Platinum. That’s what I do, and the points add up fast.
- Airport lounge access is a really nice perk when flying business class. For example, I never would’ve been able to hang out in the Air New Zealand Lounge at the Sydney Airport if I never flew Thai Airways business class from Sydney to Bangkok.
- You’ll be the first on and off the plane.
- Having a lie-flat seat will help ease the pain and suffering of flying through multiple time zones.
- Sometimes, it just feels good to spoil yourself. Every long-haul business class flight that I’ve ever experienced left me feeling happy to have had the chance to try it.
- Having a lie-flat business class seat on a long haul flight isn’t a cure for jet lag. Yes, it will help, but it’s still mentally and physically draining to fly around the world – no matter how comfortable the seat is.
- Other than the memories, you can’t take it with you. Some people have a hard time justifying spending thousands of dollars for an experience that lasts mere hours. If you’re that type of person, business class might not be worth it for you.
- Sitting in business class is not a guarantee of a comfortable flight. For example, in China Eastern 777-300/ER business class from Los Angeles to Shanghai, the person sitting two rows behind me had a crying baby that screamed bloody murder for nearly the entire flight. It happens sometimes.
First time reader of the blog. Great article. It’s such a tricky thing to quantify. I always manage to convince myself, even if I don’t have a rock-solid rationale. I use a ‘$50 per hour of flight’ rule for domestic US, but transatlantic/international flights are a different level.
Glad you enjoyed it! There are no right or wrong answers to this, but it’s a fun debate nonetheless. I like the $50 per hour of flight rule. I can agree with that!
Some things I liked:
“Sometimes, it just feels good to spoil yourself.”
“Some people have a hard time justifying spending thousands of dollars for an experience that lasts mere hours…”I am one of them! But I like your rationale.
“Other than the memories, you can’t take it with you.” This remark is making me think again.
“I’m of the age now where business class on long haul international flights is more of a need than a want.” I am getting to think that sounds like me.
“I’ll always opt for business class if the cost to do so isn’t completely obscene.” I think we are at that point now, as I have concluded after being online for a few hours shopping for a flight.
Yeah, the justification will be different for everyone, but overall I think it’s worth the splurge sometimes. Anyway, I hope you found a good flight at a decent price! That’s not an easy thing to do at the moment…
Very helpful article. We’re looking to fly from SFO to Narita in the spring. The flight is long and we hate the tiny United seats. Is Nippon air business class worth the extra money?
Hi Mindy – yes, ANA business class is fantastic!! Although I don’t have a review of it, I did get to try it once and it remains as one of the best business class experiences of my life. The seats are pretty good, but it’s the onboard service that makes it better than all the rest.
Great and helpful summaries. We are considering business class from Seattle to Rome. Turkish does not have a first class. Does that mean their business class will be compared to first? What are your thoughts on Turkish, Condor for business class?
Hi Sabine – good question. Most airlines are doing away with first class, and making their business class better than ever (equivalent to what first class used to be). Turkish Airlines long haul business class is fantastic BTW, and it’ll be a much better experience than Condor Business class. Condor is still pretty good though, and a decent option if you can’t get into Turkish Business class for whatever reason.
I splurged for Business on a LAX to Johannesburg flight. BIG splurge, like double the cost of upgraded economy. It was two 11 hour flights, ugh. I just knew if I didn’t I would be kicking myself all of those 22 hours. I remembered how on a previous long haul I would have given my left arm for some comfort and sleep! So – no regrets, it’s part of the cost of the vacay.
Sounds like you made the right decision! I’ve definitely put a higher value on comfort and convenience as I’ve gotten older, so I likely would have been right there with you in business class on those flights lol.
Hi Scott, thank you I found your article really interesting and super helpful. I’m flying from London to Brisbane alone to visit family in April and having an internal debate about whether to treat myself to business class….. I’ve flown to Oz many times before but always economy and haven’t flown there for 5 years. I have flown business with Virgin for a work trip to Japan a few years ago so know how good business can be. Any recommendations?
Hi Carrie – that’s a long flight, and a perfect route to justify business class IMHO. Yeah, it’ll be expensive (whether you pay in cash or points), but the convenience, comfort, and the memories will be priceless. I’d recommend flying Qantas if you can. Have fun!
This is such a really nice article! For my curiosity, what are your thoughts on First Class seat in Korean Airlines, or Asiana Airlines, from the U.S. to Asia, if you have ever had an experience?
Hey An! Thanks! Yeah, I’ve flown both Asiana business class and first class from the US to Asia before, as well as Korean Air business class from Korea to the US. The Asiana experiences are still (to this day) my most memorable. The only major difference between first and business was the seat – everything else (food, service, etc) was equally phenomenal.
Korean Air business class wasn’t quite as refined as Asiana business IMHO – but it was still one of my best flights ever. You can’t go wrong either way!
I just upgraded on Air Canada from Premium Economy to Business Class for a flight from Toronto to Athens for $550. I was slightly stressed out about the decision but after reading this article I think I’ve made the right choice 🙂
Wow…$55O to upgrade to business class from YYZ to ATH is a fantastic deal! I totally would have done that as well. Enjoy it!
Just booked my flight before reading this article. Going from JFK to Finland with Finnair. 4 people premium economy and return business class from Copenhagen to JFK. Saving $4000 Going with fin airlines. Concern about their old planes and seats in business class. Can anyone respond regarding my decision, still have time to change my premium economy to business class. Can sure use the 4K for car rental for the two weeks. Kind Regards.
I’ve never flown Finnair (not yet anyway), so I can’t comment on the seating situation. However, I will say that even the worst business class seats are better than any premium economy seat. You’ll get nearly unlimited leg room, better blankets/pillows, better food, and unlimited drinks. The ground experience will be better as well (lounge access, priority check in, priority boarding, etc).
It’s a nice way to fly, and totally worth it on longer routes IMHO.
flying to cairo from philadelphia in jan 2024. too early to book flights yet, but looks like business will run me about 3500 compared to 1000 economy. Have the option to go Qatar air at only a little more than others in business or economy Sounds like a lot of money for business… but even economy on Qatar may be worth it
Hi Mary – IMHO, if it’s an important / special trip, $3500 for business in Qatar Airways is absolutely worth it! It’s easily one of the top 5 business class experiences in the sky at the moment, so that’s a really good price for such a good product.
Qatar economy is pretty good as well. I actually prefer Emirates economy over Qatar Airways, but you can’t go wrong with either.
If you’re willing to gamble a bit, book economy and keep your fingers crossed for a discounted offer to business class as the departure date nears. For example, I once booked Emirates economy from Los Angeles to Dubai for a really good price, but they presented me with an offer to upgrade to business class for $1000 as I was checking into the flight online. I did it, and I had no regrets.
Emirates seems to make these offers more than Qatar Airways will, but it’s worth considering.
My sentiments exactly. For me, my journey begins the moment I leave my house so why would I want to be miserable for 14+ hours in an economy seat to Asia or Europe?! Like you, my body just can’t take it in my 50s.
I love that sentiment – the journey starts when you leave the house
I don’t travel much, but my last experience flying from New Zealand to Spain, then Spain to South Africa (with 4 different airlines and self-checkins on that leg which included not being able to find a boarding pass issuer at Lisbon airport, then getting stuck in the wrong processing queue and almost missing my flight at Angola’s very 3rd world airport), then travelling from South Africa to Singapore with a 19 hour layover at Shangi with no hotels available), then having a 5 hour wait at customs at New Zealand airport, almost pushed me to the point of breaking.
Instead of coming back rested and restored from what was supposed to be a fantastic holiday attending a wedding in Spain and seeing family back in South Africa, all I did was curse and praise the heavens once I arrived back, grateful to be home.
I went through all this travel without getting a wink of sleep, which I have come to accept, is not possible for me in Economy or even Premium Economy.
I would like to go to Spain again this year, and this time it will be Business Class only, with one airline, with no additional trip to Africa this time.
I think Business Class is a small price to pay for one’s sanity…
Yikes – that seems like an exhausting trip, but the good thing is that you learned an important lesson from it. There is nothing wrong with paying extra for comfort and convenience while traveling. I hope your next trip is a much better experience!
This is just the information I was looking for! Thank you for including the “sweet spot” of 30-90 days to look for deals. We were originally flying business class on AA with points from JFK to FCO but due to a personal scheduling conflict we had to cancel that (knowing I would get refunded my points) and pay cash to book BOS-AMS-FCO/FCO-BOS on Delta. Prices were pretty high when I booked so I chose premium select for outgoing and business class for return. I’ve been offered a few upgrade opportunities so far – starting at $2700, then $1800 pp – both were an easy no from me! Latest offer is $920 pp, and now they have my attention. This is on an A330-300, so not delta suites and the cabin has 30 out of 34 seats open. Do you think the upgrade price will drop? I have been enjoying your videos! Thanks for the great work
Hi Grace! You have more patience than I do! lol – I probably would have jumped all over that $1800 offer considering how substantial of a discount that is (compared to purchasing it outright at the time of booking). You are correct in that the A330-300 seats aren’t as good as the D1 Suites on newer aircraft, but I still think it’s a decent long haul business class option.
I’d definitely take the upgrade for $920!
One more question – I’m traveling with my daughter and she is a nervous flyer. Do you think we would be better off in the middle two seats, or should we both take windows? Thanks for your input
If you choose window seats, she’ll be on her own (talking / having a conversation will be nearly impossible unless one of you is out of your seat). Sitting in the middle section is better for two people traveling together – it’s much easier to share the experience. I’d recommend that!
I just booked a business class from SFO to Tokyo for 4.5 times the economy fare. The tickets that I booked was categorized as “deep discounted business” fare from United. Do you know why it’s so much more expensive to fly business to Asia than Europe and other areas.
Hey Mike – I’d assume it’s because there are enough people who are willing to pay those higher fares. Cheaper fares do pop up every now and then, but you’ve got to be watching (like every day) to take advantage of them.
We’re flying SFO to Singapore and then Hong Kong back to SFO. At more than 17 hours, I’m convinced business class is the way to go and really appreciated your article that confirmed what a great experience it can be on Singapore Airlines. My question is whether you think it’s best to book business now or are there any incentives to upgrading later from premium economy. I would love to get 2 of the business bulkhead seats but they’re not available until 3 days out. I definitely don’t want to get shut out of business but I just don’t know how likely that is in early February flying from San Francisco non stop. Any thoughts are appreciated. And thanks again for your insights!
Hi Marian! The only incentive from upgrading to business class from premium economy at the time of check in is that you’ll very likely be able to get it at a highly reduced rate. The downside (of course) is that there is no guarantee that business class seats will be available. Especially on a long route such as SFO-SIN. Those business class seats are going to go fast!
I recommend booking business class now if you can afford it. Then, be ready to pounce on those bulkhead seats the moment they become available for selection. Good luck! And enjoy Singapore Airlines business class – it’s very (very) good.