Fresh off the jet bridge from my first couple of flights in business class, I thought it'd be useful to lend some perspective on travelling in a premium cabin versus economy class. Obviously the overall experience is much more comfortable and enjoyable, but is it worth the increased cost, and could there even be some unexpected sacrifices to make?
Business vs Economy
While I'm a self-professed travel junkie and there are few things I love more than spending time in new places, I also love the experience of flying itself.
For me, it's always been as much about the journey as the destination – and yes, this was true even back when I was flying in economy class on 12+ hour hauls around the world.
There's just something almost magical about modern civil aviation, and I'd always get caught up in a feeling of permanent astonishment when I'm aboard an airplane, to the point where the screaming babies, broken seat recliners, and rubbery dinners never managed to bother me.
Having said that, I recognize that many people don't feel the same way, and that there's many aspects of the flying experience that actively frustrate many passengers. And that's where there's no question that business class blows economy class out of the water.
From premium food and drink and lie-flat seats, to the priority ground services at the airport, and everything in between, business class was a far better experience by many orders of magnitude.
Add to that the individual touches of flair from each airline you fly with. Brussels Airlines's complimentary box of Neuhaus chocolate. The incredible throne seats on Swiss. EVA Air's impeccable service and attention to detail.
I won't rehash everything about business class too much – check out the individual reviews to hear more of my clamoring.
The main point is that if you "hate flying" – if every long-haul flight you've had in economy class has left you hungry, tired, and craving a trip to the masseuse – business class makes all of that go away.
It improves your trips beyond measure, and makes the journey itself worth looking forward to, in addition to the destination.
Is It Worth It?
To people who take their travel rewards points game seriously, premium class travel is everything. That's because it's by far the best way to get the most "value" out of your points, a concept I've discussed at length here on the blog.
But I've also spoken to many travellers who swear by redeeming their points for economy class only. They say that they'd rather spend the same amount of points on two trips in economy class, rather than one trip in business.
I actually sort of agree with their point. After all, business class is nice and all, but it's over in a handful of hours. The real experience, and the reason we feverishly collect points in the first place, comes when you arrive at your destination.
But I think an important detail gets overlooked here, which is that you can always earn more points! There are so many ways to earn points out there, from credit card signup bonuses, to referrals, to getting the signup bonuses over and over again ("churning" cards, as it were).
Because you can always earn more points, you shouldn't be forced to choose between two trips in economy and one trip in business – you're able to earn the points required to get two trips in business!
So the parting thought here is that if you're genuinely happy with flying in economy class and genuinely indifferent about the perks of business class – perhaps you possess an iron stomach and can drift off to sleep in the most awkward of positions – then more power to you, and enjoy taking many more trips around the world!
But if you do want to fly in business, or if you'd just like to try it out once or twice, but you feel as though it's not "worth it" given how many more miles it'll cost you? Then I'd say that you should definitely splurge on it, keeping in mind that you can always earn more points for your future trips.
There's no doubt in my mind that as you're sipping on a pre-departure champagne in the pointy end of the plane, looking forward to a gourmet five-course dinner, and enjoying the serene ambience free of screaming babies, you'll find yourself quite happy with your decision.
But At What Cost?!
Warning: "First world problems" ahead.
As I flew business class for the first time, I couldn't help but take note of a few small "sacrifices" – little things which, looking back, I guess I did appreciate about 10-abreast economy cabins, surprising as they were.
A large portion of these grievances – if you can call them that – relate to travelling as a couple. For one, it's much easier to be close to your partner in economy class, given how cramped everything already is. Just raise the armrest and you can cuddle up and get more comfortable.
It's also easy to watch an in-flight movie on the same screen while sharing earbuds, or to lean your head on the other's shoulder as you drift off to sleep.
In business class, these cutesy behaviours are next to impossible. Forget cuddling up, how are you even going to be close to your partner in EVA Air's "pod"-style reverse herringbone seats, for example?
You can either sit across the aisle from your partner, or one behind the other. Either way, you're quite far apart, and it's difficult to even say a few words to your partner without getting out of your seat and going over to them.
This brings me to my next minor headache: selecting seats. On Brussels Airlines and Swiss, for example, the business class seat configuration is such that there are seats beside each other, as well as singular "throne" seats.
While the "couple" seats allow you to at least see your partner and talk to them easily (they're still not much good for being physically close to each other), they inherently have less privacy, surface space, and storage room than the throne seats.
So if you're travelling as a couple in business class, keep in mind that you'll often come to a dilemma when selecting seats: do both of you grab the best seats in the house for yourselves? Or do you stick together at the expense of enjoying the "complete" business class experience?
It really comes down to personal preference. In the case of our round-the-world journey, Jessica and I split the difference: we picked neighbouring seats on Brussels Airlines and throne seats on Swiss. And in the end, we both agreed that going forward we'd probably stick with snagging the best seats for ourselves 😉
Of course these gripes are a slight bit tongue-in-cheek, but it was something that stood out to me as I was sitting in business class for the first time, which I wouldn't necessarily have thought about before.
Is There a Silver Lining to Economy Class?
My last thought is perhaps more philosophical, but it's a discussion I've had quite a few times with fellow Miles & Points buffs. It's the question of whether the glitz and glamour of premium class travel comes at the expense of the authenticity of the travel experience.
Remember when I talked about the "magic" of modern civil aviation? For me, part of that magic stems from the sheer amount of people who fly, each going their own way with their own stories. And face it... most of those people are sitting in economy.
I find that it's a genuine privilege to form a connection with a fellow passenger, however fleeting it may be. One of my fondest memories in this regard is from an EasyJet flight a few years back from Naples to Venice. Jessica and I found ourselves sitting next to a friendly Neapolitan guy named Simone and we chatted the whole flight. We got a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for in another part of the world, for someone who was otherwise quite similar to ourselves.
Another lasting memory is from a flight between London and Toronto – my seatmate was a guy living in Edmonton who was coming back from visiting his family in India. We chatted on and off during the flight, and as we were beginning our descent, I got around to asking his name... and it turns out he was a Ricky as well!
When you fly business class, you're chilling in the lounge before your flight. You're relaxing in the throes of luxury, away from the masses of common folk seated in the back of the plane. You're in your own private space.
And that also means that you aren't striking up conversations with your fellow passengers near the gate. You aren't exchanging words with your seatmate, since everyone has their own little pods. Conversations and connections – ones that might otherwise flourish in economy class – are less likely to happen.
Now, of course I would be lying if I said that I'd give up business class in favour of economy just because of this! But it's something worth pondering – does flying in premium cabins, with its inherent privacy and exclusivity, take something away from the overall travel experience in terms of the opportunity to form connections with our fellow travellers?
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this one. I know there's probably some of you who hate making small talk and would rather not fly at all than mutter one word to your seatmate, so if that sounds like you then business class might be right up your alley!
Business class is no doubt an excellent way to travel. It transforms the mundane experience of flying into a taste of the upper echelons of luxury. While there's a few "first world problems" that are sure to crop up along the way, I can unequivocally say that I'm immensely happy with my business class experience, and that it'll definitely be tough to go back to flying economy!
Now if only I had a first class trip coming up...