A reader recently emailed me asking if I had any advice for his first-ever trip in business class. He had read extensively about flying in premium cabins on this blog and others, but now that he was actually using his Miles & Points to try it out for the first time, he was curious if there was anything else he should know to “make it the best experience possible”.
After replying to the email, I realized that there are probably many of you among my readers who are in a similar position. Economy class is how the vast majority of people travel, so leveraging the power of Miles & Points to fly business class for the first time is quite a special experience indeed.
As someone who very clearly remembers grinning ear-to-ear onboard Brussels Airlines business class (my first-ever long-haul flight in anything higher than economy), I wanted to share with you a few pointers on how to savour every moment of your maiden premium flight and make it an occasion to remember.
1. Choose Your Seats Carefully
Depending on which airline you’re flying with, you might have to think long and hard about the exact seats in the business class cabin you want to choose, or you might not have to give it much thought at all.
On one end of the spectrum are airlines like Swiss, SAS, and TAP Air Portugal (on their newer A330s). Take a look at the seat maps on Swiss, for example – they’ve got couple seats in the middle, “throne” seats in certain rows on the left side, and single seats on the right side that alternate between being closer to the window and closer to the aisle.
Furthermore, they’ve got a mini-cabin consisting of Rows 4 and 5, which is quite a bit more intimate than the larger business class cabin behind the galley.
You’ll want to think carefully about where you want to sit. If you’re travelling solo, a throne seat might be quite the novelty – but be aware that you’ll have to play the “Game of Throne Seats” by snatching these seats 48 hours in advance, since Swiss will charge you a few hundred dollars for reserving them before that.
If you’re travelling as a couple, maybe both of you want to go for a throne? Or you’d prefer to sit together? In that case, will you aim for the more intimate mini-cabin, or the more spacious main cabin? And will you choose the seats on the side, or the seats in the middle so that both of you enjoy direct aisle access? Clearly, there are lots of questions to consider.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum is a product like the LOT Dreamliner or the Turkish Airlines A330, whose business class seats are less cutting-edge and simply come in a 2-2-2 configuration. Every seat is basically the same, so the only question is where in the cabin you’d like to sit.
No matter what, though, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the seat map before your flight and ensure that you’ve assigned your seats, especially if you’re travelling as a party of two or more. If you leave it to the airline at check-in, there’s a chance you’ll get assigned seats that are very far apart and business class happens to be full, meaning you won’t get the chance to enjoy the experience side-by-side!
Typically, if you’ve booked an award ticket on multiple airlines, you’ll have to grab each airline’s booking reference to select your seats on their website (or when calling the airline to do so, in case their Manage My Booking functionality doesn’t allow for it). You can usually find the booking references for partner airlines on the confirmation email you received from the frequent flyer program you booked with.
2. Browse the Menu
After getting your seats confirmed, it’s time to start thinking about the onboard dining experience. Some airlines routinely publish their business class menus online and allow customers to review them beforehand, so check the airline’s website (specifically the page showcasing their business class product) to see if that’s a possibility.
(Off the top of my head, ANA, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and Emirates are a few airlines that do this.)
Some of the world’s best airlines also allow you to pre-book a special meal from a more wide-ranging menu before your flight. For example, Singapore Airlines offers the Book the Cook service, and EVA Air also lets you choose premium dishes like Lobster Thermidor for your in-flight meal in advance of your flight. You won’t want to miss out on such opportunities to enjoy gourmet dining at 37,000 feet in the air, so make sure you’ve locked in your selections before the deadline passes.
Additionally, most airlines should be able to accommodate you if you have any special dietary restrictions, so be sure to indicate those ahead of time to avoid any mishaps while onboard.
3. Delve into the Beverage List
Don’t just think about what you’d like to eat, though. A big part of the business class experience is an airline’s drink selection, since the satisfaction of sipping on your favourite beverage only amplifies the “wow factor” of sitting in the fancy seats.
If you’re a wine or spirits connoisseur, you’d probably be tempted to take a look at the airline’s beverage selection beforehand, if it’s available, to decide which poisons you’d pick after takeoff. Prefer beer instead? Check if your airline serves up any local specialties, like SAS’s Danish IPAs and sour beers in addition to the more nondescript Carlsberg.
You’ll also want to think about whether you plan on going full tilt on the alcohol consumption, or if you’d just like to take it easy after the welcome champagne. There are merits to both approaches – some would say it’s not a complete maiden business class experience without at least getting a little tipsy, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide how much of a buzz would maximize your comfort and enjoyment throughout the flight.
Of course, alcohol consumption will also affect the quality of sleep you’re able to get, which we’ll touch on further below.
Lastly, even if you prefer not to consume alcohol, the non-alcoholic beverage list is worth a quick look as well. Personally, I love it when airlines differentiate themselves by offering specialty espresso drinks, teas, and juices, and I’m partial to the houji-cha (roasted green tea) on the Japanese airlines, the matcha milk tea on EVA Air, and the Caesar mocktail on Air Canada.
4. Plan Your Sleep
When you’re flying business class, you’ll most likely have a lie-flat bed all to yourself, which you can use to get some sleep of at least passable quality. It’s worthwhile to plan ahead of time when you’re going to rest your head and how much sleep you’d like to get while onboard the flight, in order to arrive at your destination in optimal condition.
The flight’s schedule will play a large part in this. For example, EVA Air’s flight from Toronto to Taipei leaves in the wee hours of the morning, meaning that almost everyone passes out immediately after the meal service, gets a full night of sleep, and arrives in Asia at 5am fully recharged and ready for the day.
On the other hand, I usually find it impossible to get any proper rest on eastbound transatlantic flights, which almost always depart from North America in the evenings and land in Europe the next day. Since these flights are only about 6–7 hours long, and a few hours are taken up by the meal service and the takeoff and landing sequence, I’ll probably only get 3–4 hours of sleep at best.
Comparatively, westbound transatlantic flights are much easier to deal with, since they’re typically blocked during the daytime and evenings, instead of overnight. Simply stay awake the whole time, and you’ll arrive back in North America feeling tired and ready for an early night.
Some airlines, like Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways, also advertise a “dine on demand” service, in which the meal can be served whenever you want instead of after takeoff as it’s usually done. If this option is available to you, think about how you might take advantage of it to get a better night’s rest.
5. Know What to Expect
Seats, dining, drinks, sleep. I’d say those are the most important components of business class, so you’ll have set yourself up for a great time already by adequately preparing for each of these.
Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth scouring the web for a few reviews of the airline you’re about to fly, because each airline has its own “little things” that you might not expect if you’re a first-time premium cabin passenger.
One example might be turndown service. Some airline crews expect you to make your own bed in business class, while others will come around to make your bed for you as part of their in-flight service procession.
Another example? Some airlines hand out little gifts to all their premium passengers, like a complimentary bag of chocolates on Brussels Airlines or a travel essentials kit on Singapore Airlines short-haul. These are the kinds of things that make a business class flight particularly memorable, so look for a few reviews of your upcoming flight to scope out which perks and benefits you can expect.
6. Lounge Around…
Business class takes place in the intimacy of the forward cabin, but it begins and ends with an elevated ground experience at the airport. If you aren’t accustomed to relaxing in a business class lounge before your flight, it might be worth arriving at the airport a little earlier just to sip on some bubbly and savour the experience!
A tool like the Star Alliance Lounge Finder can help you figure out which lounges you’ll have access to at your departure point and at any of your connecting airports.
You might see that you’re eligible to access more than one lounge before your flight (or perhaps you have a Priority Pass membership that grants you access to a few other lounges) – in this case, time permitting, you’re more than welcome to “lounge hop” and indulge in the full breadth of what every single lounge has to offer.
Don’t forget to hunt down a few reviews of the lounges as well, so you can decide which lounge has the coolest features – shower rooms, nap rooms, open bars, made-to-order cooking stations, sit-down dining, etc. – for you to fully maximize!
7. Calculate Your Value
Lastly, as a fun exercise, take a look at the business class flight you’ve booked and calculate the value you got from your miles.
It’s likely that the flight retails for thousands of dollars if booked with cash, and while it might not be fair to say that you saved thousands of dollars by redeeming miles (since you likely wouldn’t have paid that amount in the first place), it’s certainly fair to say that you redeemed your miles for something that’s worth a small fortune.
Five cents per mile, 10 cents per mile – whatever that number is, make a mental note of it so you can reflect on it with some well-deserved smug satisfaction as you’re sitting in your posh seats for the first time, sipping on your welcome champagne and making intense eye contact with the economy class passengers shuffling past you.
You’ve earned this. Enjoy and savour every minute of it. Then, when the trip’s over, it’s back to the Miles & Points grind so you can do it all over again next time.
While some of you might be seasoned luxury travellers, I’m sure there’s plenty among you who are working towards redeeming your miles for your first-ever business class flight. If you’ve already booked your maiden premium cabin experience and are now counting down the days in anticipation, make sure you’ve covered all your bases as I’ve outlined above – choose your seats, food, and drinks; gobble up some reviews; and plan out how to optimize your sleep – to ensure you treat yourself to the best business class experience possible.