I’ve had the pleasure of travelling in premium cabins for a good few years now, so I thought it’d be fun to sit down and compile a “Top 10” list of the business class airlines I’ve flown so far.
There are of course still many airlines I haven’t flown yet, but I’d like to think that I’ve tried most of the airlines that are straightforward for Canadian Miles & Points collectors to book (with a few exceptions), so hopefully you’ll find the ranking helpful as you look ahead on your future travels and think about which products you’d be most excited to try.
Before we begin, I should acknowledge that ranking premium cabins is an inherently subjective matter, and my preferences will be different from that of many other travellers out there.
For example, large families might value the ability to sit and chat together over a high degree of privacy, families with young children might pay special attention to the amenities in the restroom or the bassinet situation, business travellers will highly value the in-flight wifi, etc.
While the ranking is based on my own views, I’ll do my best to mention any strengths and weaknesses of each business class experience that others might find useful to know as well.
Moreover, let’s clarify that this is a ranking of business class airlines (e.g., ANA) rather than products (e.g., ANA’s new “The Room” vs. their older staggered seating), so I’ll be focusing on the best product that each airline has to offer, while also mentioning how they compare against their distant cousins as well.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the ranking…
10. Brussels Airlines
Coming in hot at the #10 spot is Brussels Airlines, which offers a strong but understated business class product for crossing the Atlantic and travelling to Africa as well. The product on their Airbus A330s offers staggered seating with a few “throne” seats, competitive catering in both food and drink, and plenty of quirky Belgian flair – although the airline does not offer wifi on any of their planes.
The airline is also quite generous in providing complimentary gifts to its business class passengers at the end of the flight, and Jessy and I had each received a full-sized box of Belgian chocolates at the end of our Toronto–Brussels flight in May 2017.
Their flagship lounge in Brussels, known as The Loft, is one of the better European lounges I’ve visited, with several useful features like a nap room, showers, and a dedicated room for Skype video calls.
Even better, Brussels Airlines is one of the Aeroplan partners that does not impose fuel surcharges, and redemptions will begin at 55,000 Aeroplan miles one-way between North America and Europe. Availability is very sparse, though, and you’re much more likely to find business class award space on the New York JFK or Washington DC routes than the Montreal one.
To be honest, there were several other airlines that could’ve also taken the #10 spot (with LOT Polish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines being the closest contenders), but I’ll always have a soft spot for Brussels Airlines as the first long-haul business class product I ever flew, and you know what they say – you never forget your first time. 😉
9. Air Canada
As I’ve mentioned before, I view Air Canada as the “Mr. Reliable” in terms of business class products.
It’s never over-the-top spectacular, but the pod-style seating on the Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 are quite nice in terms of privacy, visual design, functionality. And as much fun as it is to try out foreign airlines, there’s something to be said about knowing exactly what’s on the drink list and being fully in tune with the unmistakable warmth and humour of our Canadian cabin crew.
The hard product does have a few shortcomings: on the Dreamliner, the footwell is almost unbearably tight, and the fact that you cannot lower the central divider between the middle seats to chat with your companion can only be described as a gross oversight.
For the most part, though, I do enjoy the food and service on Air Canada more often than not, I find the wifi to be stable and reasonably priced, and I’m happy to go for a ride onboard Mr. Reliable – where I’ll often take proper advantage of the lie-flat bed and maximize my sleep rather than trying to stay awake and maximize every moment – when I can’t make any more exciting plans happen.
Long-haul Aeroplan redemptions on Air Canada come with huge fuel surcharges, unless you’re able to enlist the help of a friend with Air Canada Super Elite 100K status. Alternatively, consider booking 787 business class on transcontinental flights within Canada or to the US, where the surcharges are minimal.
In terms of the overall quality, Swiss is kind of like the European version of Air Canada in my books, and I rank them slightly higher purely because of their impeccably Swiss design touches and the hint of arrogance that they carry themselves with.
If you’re flying with Swiss, you’ll definitely want to book their Boeing 777 if possible, which is larger and more modern than their Airbus A330s and A340s. The seats are stylish and comfortable, especially if you can book yourself on one of their “throne” seats when they can be selected free of charge 48 hours in advance.
(Having said that, like most other throne seats, you’ll have to deal with a tighter footwell as a result. The solution might be to hope for less-than-full capacity on your flight so that you may sit in the throne seat and make your bed elsewhere.)
While I had enjoyed a decent soft product onboard my Swiss 777 flight in 2017, other accounts report that the food is sometimes disappointing and the service sometimes rude, so this could be a weak point.
Meanwhile, wifi is available but rather expensive, and the business class ground experience in Zurich’s Concourse E is among the world’s best, with live food stations and a gorgeous terrace overlooking the runways for you to enjoy in a tastefully-decorated setting.
Swiss is one of the easier products to book using Aeroplan miles, starting at 55,000 miles and zero fuel surcharges, and availability is plentiful on most of their routes to the East Coast (including Montreal, their sole Canadian destination).
SAS has one of the more underrated business class products in my view. The Scandinavian airline equips its Airbus A330s and recently-delivered Airbus A350s with staggered VantageXL seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The “true” window seats (that is to say, those that are closer to the window rather than closer to the aisle) are highly private, and the finishes are among the most visually stunning that I’ve encountered too.
Dinner and breakfast on my Chicago–Stockholm flight in 2018 was tasty, if not overly memorable, but what really stood out to me was the personalized service flow – I was allowed to choose my own salad ingredients, for example, which were then mixed and served in front of my eyes.
For a journey from North America to Western or Northern Europe, SAS would be my preferred choice in terms of the onboard experience itself, with free wifi for business class passengers being another plus.
However, its ground experience was more bare-bones compared to Swiss and Brussels Airlines, and for Canadian travellers there is the added inconvenience that SAS does not operate any routes to Canada, so you’ll only be able to fly with them – most likely using Aeroplan miles with zero fuel surcharges – out of a US gateway.
6. Turkish Airlines
I had previously ranked SAS as my favourite transatlantic business class, until I had the pleasure of flying Turkish Airlines’s new 787 business class in late 2019.
Turkish has selected the Stelia Opal seat for their newly delivered Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s, which addresses the major shortcoming of their older Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s: older-generation business class seats in a 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 layout, which lacked privacy. The newer seats all offer direct aisle access, ample storage, and again, the “true” window seats feel like your private little cocoon for the duration of the flight.
Where Turkish has historically shined is in its food and drink, which is the catered by the world-famous DO&CO. Each passenger can customize their meal from a highly varied menu, which typically includes at least three or four different cold appetizer items that can be mixed-and-matched, followed by a larger main course and then a selection of desserts.
(I’ve enjoyed many exceptional cuts of meat on Turkish flights, as well as some heavenly helpings of pistachio-flavoured Turkish ice cream – if you know, you know.)
Free wifi in business class is always appreciated, as is the renowned Turkish Airlines Business Lounge in Istanbul, which deserves a solid few hours to explore in its own right.
Throw in its complimentary Istanbul layover perks, its distinction of flying to more countries than any other airline, and its lack of fuel surcharges and semi-reliable award availability via Aeroplan, and it’s no wonder that Turkish Airlines business class is one of the most popular and worthwhile points redemptions that one can make.
5. Japan Airlines
There’s a big jump in quality from #6 to #5, which unsurprisingly coincides with the transition of our focus from Western carriers to the airlines of Asia and the Middle East.
Japan Airlines business class is a wonderful way to cross the Pacific, especially onboard their 777s and 787s that features Apex Suites seating.
This unique 2-2-2 seating arrangement puts particular emphasis on the window seats, which have their own “walkway” in front of the aisle seat that gives the passenger a level of privacy that no other business class product can match, to such a degree that the seat can even begin to feel claustrophobic at times.
When you combine this with the superb Japanese cuisine, which can be enjoyed as part of the main meal or my personal favourite indulgence when flying with Japanese airlines – raiding the snack menu for bottomless bowls of udon and ramen – you have a winning combination. Service is personalized and attentive, while wifi is fast and reasonably priced, too.
In terms of the lounges, I’ve found that Japanese airlines tend to have a more functional than luxurious offering on the ground, so I’d say that the onboard experience is where Japan Airlines really shines. For as little as 60,000 Alaska miles, 61,000 Asia Miles, or 77,250 Avios for a Pacific crossing, Japan Airlines business class is a product that you really must try.
4. Singapore Airlines
I’ve only ever flown Singapore Airlines business class on regional routes, which were more than enough to convince me of their overall quality and consistency. My regional flights have largely been limited to the Boeing 787-10 and their Stelia Opal seats thus far, but I’d love to try out the Airbus A380s, Airbus A350s, and Boeing 777s that they use for long-haul flying someday.
Consistency in the soft product is the key to Singapore Airlines’s success: from the crew’s distinctive sarong uniforms, to the chicken satay before dinner, to the cabin service manager accompanying the crew in serving bread out of the breadbasket, you’ll always know exactly what to expect.
Then there’s my absolute favourite thing about flying with Singapore Airlines: choosing my Book the Cook meal from over 50 possible dishes beforehand.
No other airline offers comes close in terms of the pre-ordered meal selection, which spans Singaporean, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Western delicacies, and it’s a guilty habit of mine to pore over the meal selections as soon as I book a Singapore Airlines flight.
Free wifi is limited to 100MB for business class passengers before you have to pay. Meanwhile, the ground experience in Singapore is good, but perhaps not quite as outstanding as one might expect, although the airline is taking steps to revamp their business class lounges at this moment.
Overall, I think the elusiveness of Singapore Airlines business class my be one reason why I haven’t ranked it higher. If you want to fly with them on long-haul routes to North America, you’ll either need to rack up Singapore KrisFlyer miles, spend an exorbitant number of Alaska miles, or wait for one of the very rare windows when select space is released to partner programs.
3. EVA Air
You never forget your first time, they say.
But you also never forget your first love, either, and mine would no doubt be EVA Air business class. I flew with EVA Air from Taipei to Toronto and then back again in 2017, and was instantly enamoured.
The reverse herringbone seats on EVA Air’s Boeing 777s are spacious and comfortable, with the middle seats allowing couples to easily hang out and chat across the central divider.
And recently, I also had the pleasure of trying out their new ultra-modern staggered seats on the Boeing 787, which I found to be one of the best all-round business class seats I’ve come across, effortlessly balancing privacy, style, and ergonomics and all dressed up in a crips, futuristic look.
In terms of the soft product, I’ve found the food on EVA Air (which, like Singapore Airlines can be pre-ordered before your flight from a wider menu) to be somewhat hit-or-miss, so there’s still some room for improvement considering how much they excel everywhere else.
That’s more than offset, however, by a huge variety of drinks including my favourite matcha milk tea, a set of premium amenities including pajamas by Jason Wu and a hard-shell amenity kit by Ferragamo, and a flawless service culture in which you can expect crew members kneeling by your seat to take meal orders and topping up your drinks without you even realizing it.
EVA offers reasonably priced wifi packages, albeit with data caps, as well as a set of lounges in Taipei with unique offerings like beef noodle soup and Mövenpick ice cream but can often get overcrowded too. Business class award space is tougher to find these days, but can reliably be found either well in advance or within five days of departure and booked for 75,000 Aeroplan miles with no fuel surcharges.
All Nippon Airways revolutionized business class travel in mid-2019 when they introduced their new “The Room” business class concept, and earns #2 spot purely for this revolutionary new product that most recently flew on the New York JFK, London, and Frankfurt routes.
ANA’s new business class seat is exceedingly wide, and easily rivals several First Class products out there in terms of personal space. There’s about enough room for a small family of three for you to spread out and relax, and a set of double doors gives you maximum privacy as you do so.
While we often talk about all the bells and whistles that airlines throw into their business class, ultimately the most important factor is the seat itself, and ANA knocks this out of the park with The Room.
Now, other stuff like the food and service are a bit of an afterthought when you’re so blown away by the hard product.
ANA’s Japanese cuisine is always top-notch, but I’ve experienced both good and mediocre service in the past, especially when the cabin is relatively full and the crew members are kept busy.
Meanwhile, paid wifi is available, although the AeroMobile service isn’t the fastest, and ANA also runs a more understated business class lounge in Tokyo than many of its Star Alliance peers.
Note that since ANA has only recently begun the rollout of these new seats, it’ll be a while until we see them available on more of ANA’s route network. Until then, you’re also likely to find a significantly older staggered seat type on their 777s and 787s, and if that’s the product we’re considering, then I’d probably rank it at #6 on this list – still a very good flight, but The Room is just so much better.
1. Qatar Airways
Ever since its introduction, Qatar Airways Qsuites has been touted as the world’s best business class, and even though ANA’s The Room threatened to knock it off its perch, I can safely say after flying both of them within a few weeks of each other that Qsuites still takes the #1 spot by quite some margin.
While ANA’s new seat revolutionized the business class experience in terms of personal space, it can be argued that Qsuites was a revolutionary of its own back in the day as well.
It’s not quite as wide as The Room, but the Qsuites seat has ample space of its own, and more importantly, it’s a hugely innovative product for anyone who’s travelling in groups of two or more.
When flying as a couple, the central divider between the middle seats can be removed and replaced with a mattress pad, creating a pseudo-double bed in the sky (your legs are still separated by individual footwells).
Moreover, when travelling as a group of four, the entire set of walls across all four seats in the middle section can be removed too, creating a space for all of you to eat, drink, chat, and watch movies and TV shows together.
(Of course, even if you’re travelling solo and the cabin service manager sees that you’re super enthusiastic about the product, they’ll let you try it out for yourself as long as the seats are empty too.) 😉
While its closest challenger earned its rank on the basis of its hard product alone, Qatar Airways goes far beyond that. The airline’s soft product is indisputably among the world’s best, with a wide-ranging menu full of delicious Arabic, Western, and local specialities depending on the route; a stellar wine list; plush loungewear by The White Company; and highly personalized service including touches like dine-on-demand and turndown service.
On the ground in Doha, there’s no shortage of ways to occupy yourself in the sprawling Al Mourjan Business Lounge, although if you want to truly indulge, you can pay US$165 to upgrade to the Al Safwa First Class Lounge as well – it’s a lot of money, but then again, it’s also one of the world’s leading First Class lounges that everyone should experience at least one.
Qatar Airways business class styles itself as “First in Business”, and it naturally lands itself the top spot on my list. You can try it for yourself quite easily too – the most straightforward way would be via the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program, where 90,000 miles will earn you not one, but two very memorable flights on Qsuites.
As I write this article, I can’t help but reflect on how lucky I’ve been over the past few years to try out all these premium cabins. Before launching Prince of Travel, I’d never imagined I’d be in a position to write a single article about flying business class, let alone a Top 10 ranking of the best ones.
Qatar Airways, ANA, and EVA Air are my top three picks for the world’s best business class, and I think most people who’ve flown with them as well would be likely to agree.
Nevertheless, there are still a few notable names in business class that I’ve yet to fly, like Cathay Pacific business class, Etihad’s Business Studio, or most of the SkyTeam airlines. I hope I’m able to check off a few of them sometime soon, and I look forward to updating this article in the future with the latest edition of my rankings.