Almost anyone who flies economy class frequently has a very dim view of the big airlines. You know who doesn’t complain about them? The people with a business class ticket.
Getting a seat in business class on a flight isn’t easy or cheap for us normal mortals who don’t fly around the world selling high-priced goods or services for a living. So we’re jammed into a steadily more cramped seat with a few hundred other people, praying we don’t get deep vein thrombosis as a result. While those other travelers kick back in comfort, we feel the effects of the legacy carriers’ race to the bottom to compete with Spirit Airlines.
We walk past those happy people stretched out in the front and think, “One of these days when I win the lottery…”
Today’s Business Class Flights
Yes, it’s a different world up there.
A few airlines still offer first class on long-haul international flights, but it’s more common these days to just have a larger, more luxurious business class section. When I flew business class on South African Airways once, a flight that was more than 18 hours, I was pretty darn psyched about what I experienced: a lie-flat bed, great food with real plates and silverware, a bathroom that never had a line, and better wine than I usually order in a restaurant. When my wife asked how long the flight was after I said, “Hmmm, I’m not sure.”
You won’t usually get all this on a domestic flight, of course. If you’re flying within the USA you’ll probably have to be content with a wider seat, more legroom, a cocktail or two, and some food when us schmucks in the back can “purchase food and drink for a fee.” Sometimes these short hauls can be a great deal though, especially in the current climate when so few business travelers are up in the air.
You’ll find some of the best flight bargains on foreign domestic flights where there’s a competitive airline climate. A Hyderabad to Mumbai flight in India can be as low as $43 on an airline like Indigo or Vistara. That’s certainly a deal if you don’t have a lot of luggage to check since a direct flight will only take an hour and a half instead of a whole day on a train or bus.
But if you want to stretch out in comfort and keep your distance, you could buy a business class ticket on Air India instead, also non-stop, starting at just $78. Rather than a cramped ride akin to a bus, your experience would look like this:
This strategy of checking for business class tickets when demand is low is top of mind for me because I just bought a few business class tickets for a trip next month. I was researching flights from Mexico to Florida. If I flew from my home airport to where I wanted to get to eventually—Tampa—the price was more than $450 and involved a change of planes in hub city.
After poking around though, I found business class tickets on Aeromexico direct from Mexico City to Orlando for $216 each, so I snagged them for all three of us! I’ve got a seat number starting with “3” on my boarding pass, which certainly doesn’t happen very often on a big plane.
Yes, we’ll have to rent one-way cars at both ends to make this work, but we’ll still save hundreds of dollars and won’t have to worry about the next passenger breathing behind us only being 32 inches away. Plus we can each check bags with no extra charges.
On flights across an ocean though, there’s been a big arms race going on between airlines to attract those VP-level and up business travelers who are willing to pay a premium for comfort (and for arriving well-rested for their meetings). We’ve seen a pause during these travel lockdowns, but on most of the good international carriers and even on some U.S. cross-country airline routes, the biz class cabin is getting more luxurious all the time.
Some international business class seats now come with private cabins that have a closing door, onboard showers, or something akin to butler service instead of just a flight attendant. You might get binoculars for window gazing, an iPad loaded with entertainment, nice Bose headphones to us, or a fancy amenity kid loaded with high-end toiletries.
With all that in the mix, wouldn’t you feel a lot less stress in your air travels?
Business Class Deals for Non-millionaires
There’s a widespread belief that a business class ticket is automatically going to cost you five or ten times what an economy class ticket costs. So people think the only way to upgrade if you’re not a millionaire is to accumulate enough frequent flier miles to purchase an upgrade that way.
While the latter may be a good strategy if you’ve learned how to play the travel hacking game with credit cards, it can still take years to build up the 50,000 to 200,000+ it can normally require for a business class flight–one way.
Always look at the business class option if your seats are going to cost you at least a grand each anyway, as they often are if you’re headed to Asia or the bottom of South America. I’ve found that business class deals are especially easy to find between the USA and countries in Latin America. The longer the distance the higher the price, in general, but that’s not always true.
You can frequently get a round-trip business class ticket from New York to capital cities such as Bogota or Lima for under $1,000. That’s often only a 30-50% premium over the economy class ticket price, which is a steal. From Los Angeles, I just found a $546 biz class ticket on Delta to Los Cabos, a $750 non-stop one to Liberia in Costa Rica on Delta, and an $1,809 one to Cusco on Avianca. For less than $1,100 round-trip you can get from Chicago to Mexico City (2 airlines), Guatemala (3 airlines), Jamaica (American), Panama City (2 airlines), or Cartagena (Delta). And those are prices looking six months out to when more people should be traveling.
On some routes, you can find a business class ticket for a lot less than you probably think it’s going to cost. Sure, it’ll be a lot more than an economy flight, but not exponentially more. I frequently see flights from North America to countries to the south where a business class ticket is less than twice what an economy ticket is. If you can afford it, the extra few hundred bucks (or extra points) is a terrific value.
Don’t forget about this factor as a bonus: the road to elite status. Most airlines now use several factors to determine elite status, including how much you spend and the class of your ticket. You can often get to your annual goal on two of those factors much faster just by taking a long-haul business flight. After all, the people airlines are really trying to court with those loyalty programs are business travelers, not us leisure travelers. The best way to reward them more is to give more expensive tickets more value. So while you are stretching out, you can think about being able to do this more often in the future with an automatic upgrade.
Need more justification for your spending? A business-class boarding pass is also your ticket to the airline’s executive lounge. So you can chill out in style there before your flight, a glass of wine and a snack in hand, or you can enjoy a layover instead of dreading it.
Have you ever purchased a business class ticket when the price premium wasn’t so bad? Tell us how it went!