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Business vs. economy

I know this question is going to come down to a matter of personal tastes and priorities but I'm going to ask for input anyway...

My husband and I are planning a special trip for our 40th anniv. and my 60th b-day which both occur this year. We have been to Italy once before and are planning to make this trip really special. We have saved for this trip since our last one and I squirreled away enough on the side so that we could fly first class (which seems to be business class nowadays).

So we have the money to do it if we choose. My feeling is this....that this will probably be the only time in our lives that we will do it and I think it is worth it. We have found a flight that puts us on the Airbus 330-300 on the long leg going over there and the 767 on the long leg coming back. Having heard that business class varies greatly from airline to airline, etc. we spent a great deal of time shopping flights to get the type of set-up that we wanted.

So now we are sort of chicken to pull the trigger because it is such a great amount of money for such a small amount of time. My husband especially wonders if we would be better off spending the money on upgraded lodging and dining experiences while actually in Italy. I would appreciate input from any other couples that have wrestled with this question. What was your decision and were you happy with it once all was said and done and you look back on it now.

Thanks in advance. I know the answers are going to be interesting....

Posted by
1700 posts

I was under the impression that no one actually pays for First Class or Business anymore it is all travelers using someone else's expense account or using frequent flyer mileage.

For those with excess frequent flyer mileage it makes a ton of sense to upgrade.
For those paying with their own cash, I would much prefer to pay for the better level of economy with a good seat selection and use the rest of the difference on upgrading lodging or eating out. I imagine we are talking thousands of dollars here so to me a 6 hour comfort difference is not worth it!

Posted by
2353 posts

How long is the flight?

What is the cost?

Do you have time constraints?

I know my 1st class would have been $10000 each if I paid for them - yay miles! That is one way to Paris and Miami to San Antonio - we are cruising home.

My point is if you have no time constraints have you considered cruising each way - or even one? It is a wonderful way to get there or home.

Have you priced Economy Plus?

Posted by
3401 posts

If the flights you are on have the 'full flat' fold down seats so you can sleep better in business class, then it is WELL WORTH IT. You will not arrive with jet lag problems! Also the food is (usually) better and you have room to move around easier to get up and go use the restroom or just stand for a bit. Priority boarding is also a plus and fewer worries about having plenty of space for your carry-on and personal items. I vote go for it.

Posted by
1567 posts

You don't say where you are flying from. If I ever splash out on it (and that is pretty doubtful based on my finances), it will be on a long haul flight--like to Asia. For the amount of time in the air from most of the US to Europe, I would much rather spend that money on experiences in country--like adding a couple days to recover from the flight, etc. I know that I could probably take at least four vacations for what one round trip in business would cost.

Posted by
486 posts

My husband and I have flown business class on points and it is wonderful but I would never pay for that experience. I would and have paid for the upgrade to economy comfort class or whatever they call the area that has a little bit of extra leg room. It might be a different answer if you have any medical conditions or extra height/weight that makes business class that much better. To me there are just so many better things to spend my money on that I can be a little uncomfortable for 9 hours.

Posted by
7186 posts

The airline will certainly be happy to sell you Business Class seats. I take great satisfaction in thinking I would never pay an airline for that. Economy Plus...maybe.

Posted by
16788 posts

I would love to sleep in the flat beds on the way to Europe, but I'm not willing to pay the price and don't think I ever will be. On the way home, I don't need to sleep and can happily watch movies in Economy. The flight savings of Economy (or the small bump to Economy Plus) could pay for a lot of hotel nights. Since the worst problem for me in Economy is trying to sleep but not being able to, I'd rather pay for an additional night in the first hotel (max 200 euros) just to "waste" on napping, instead of trying to push through the jet lag by Rick's approved method of staying active.

Posted by
4090 posts

We have been fortunate enough the last couple of years to find business class sales noted on this Forum. (Thank, you Stephen!) We've been able to fly business class for just a few hundred dollars more than regularly priced economy or economy plus seats. The comfort difference is amazing, the food is real, and the drinks are included :-)

But I don't think I'd be able to pay thousands more for the benefits. I like Laura's idea of just springing for an extra night at a hotel to get caught up on sleep. The next time we have to fly coach, we will probably try it.

I noticed just the other day someone posted about a Delta sale; check out the Transportation section under "Tips and Trip Reports;" maybe you can find a business class bargain. It really does make for a much better travel experience. I find myself actually looking forward to the flight, rather than dreading it.

If you do fly coach, check to see if your airline lets you enjoy the business/first class lounge in the airport. In London last year we had all the breakfast, tea, coffee, and drinks we wanted, in a quiet setting. All part of the service!

Posted by
3481 posts

My husband & I flew 1st class to/from Paris, and I have flown 1st class a few times to Europe - all of those were last-minute upgrades by the airline. I didn't pay for the upgrades. The experiences were very special (great memories of really starting our vacation the moment we boarded the plane), and I especially loved the beds that fold completely flat since I'm a stomach sleeper. I arrived "ready to go"!

My advice would be to consider all of the options of how you could use that money during your trip (or to pay for an additional US trip) - on the flight, special tickets to a show, a destination hotel, etc. Whatever gives both of you the greatest pleasure for this celebratory trip is your best choice. I remember the 1st class experience fondly, but I also equally remember how special attending the ballet in Vienna or the opera at Venice was for me which is a lot less money. Your posting says you've saved specifically for the 1st class experience, so enjoy whatever you decide!

Posted by
903 posts

I usually fly business class because I either use miles or find a great deal. This coming October, we will fly JFK to Milan in coach but it's a relatively short flight so I'm good with that (plus we have the exit row seats with about 5 feet of leg room!). Business class hard products (the seats) vary greatly from airline to airline and plane to plane. Since you mention an airbus A330 and a 767, I will tell you the difference between those planes/seats on American Airlines can be tremendous! The seats on the A330 are fully lie flat and are only 4 across (1-2-1 configuration, 20 inch wide seats). You have plenty of privacy as well. The 767 seats depend on which version of the plane you are flying. The old version has 6 seats across in a 2-2-2 configuration and the seats are about 18 inches wide. They do not go 180 degrees flat. If you get a newer configuration 767, it's similar to the A330.

You don't say where you are flying from. If it's from the west coast - definitely get it. From the east coast - maybe, depending on cost. Another option for you is business over, coach return. That way, you can get a good rest on the flight over and be more ready to head out on the town (plus save some money for experiences in Europe. For the return trip, you are usually wide awake, so it's not that important to have a bed. As a reference point, my wife and I flew Charlotte to London for $3200 (total, not each) in business class on BA last August. They had a big sale that I managed to take advantage of so don't expect to find that sort of pricing unless you get lucky at the right time. There are a lot of bloggers that track flight deals, so keep your eyes peeled. Let me know if you want some suggestions. It would help to know where you are flying from/to as well as a time frame. Some deals only cover specific date ranges.

And Jane - you're welcome!

As Jane mentioned, if you have a layover, the business class lounge is a great place to hang out. I took my son to Germany last summer and we had a 5 hour layover at JFK. It was nice to hang out in the lounge and have a cocktail and a shower!

Posted by
11683 posts

We have flown business class on British Airways (flat bed seats) our last six trips. It make such a difference in how we feel when we arrive, and so far has kept my husband's back issues at bay ( sitting for long periods is not good). Plus we enjoy the lounge experience and the food and Simeon board.

But we do this on miles. I doubt very much that we would pay the $6000 these seats cost if we couldn't use miles.

How about a compromise, and book business class on the way over and economy on the return? (Assuming that is possible with your chosen airline). Since most flights from the US to Europe are overnight, it makes the best use of the flat-bed seat sleeping opportunity. It is a great way to start off a special trip, and you will arrive rested.

Posted by
2334 posts

You are right - totally subjective. I personally would use the thousands of dollars on some amazing experiences like meals, hotels, or even extending my trip several days. But I don't find coach all that bad. I mean, it's crowded but tolerable to me. Other people have medical issues and such that could make the cost well worthwhile.

If it's just jet lag you are worried about - add an extra day to your trip for some extra sleep. Call it a warm up day, and it will be much less than 1st class flight

If you have the money by all means, do what you like but if it's a trade off between experiences on the ground or a few hours in flight...I'd do more in Italy ;)

Posted by
2463 posts

We do this with miles. My husband is a fan of business class. I'm less impressed. The fold down beds feel like coffins to me. I would always pay the difference for Economy comfort. When we go to Lisbon/Madrid this summer, we are using miles to fly business on the overnight trip to Europe, but Economy Comfort on the daytime trip back. I cannot imagine spending the money it costs for Business-why not use the extra money to take two trips? Maybe Hawaii? For the benefit of others who may be flying to Heathrow, we find Economy Comfort on Virgin vastly superior to Economy Comfort on our US carrier(when you see where I live, you can probably guess the US carrier we use).

Posted by
11700 posts

My husband especially wonders if we would be better off spending the
money on upgraded lodging and dining experiences while actually in
Italy.

I suppose it can depend on where you're flying from (we're in the Midwest) but spending the $$ on fun instead of upgraded seats has been a no-brainer for us. If the plane is configured so that we can't sit together without one of us squished between 2 people, we book aisle seats directly across from each other.

As neither of us can sleep on a plane (or not much, anyway) this has the added advantage of being able to get up whenever we want/need to without waking people who can sleep! And no one has to feel like it's any problem asking us to let them out, either.

Posted by
6543 posts

The price difference between coach and business class would pay for a second complete trip to Europe--including rooms, etc.

We just suck it up and fly coach. And take two trips close together.

Posted by
486 posts

Some fifteen years ago, we decided to spend our children's inheritance and fly business class even though neither one of us can sleep on the plane. Our vacation usually starts when we leave security and on our way to the lounge.

Posted by
104 posts

The OP Drenn007 said ...

So now we are sort of chicken to pull the trigger because it is such a great amount of money for such a small amount of time. YES.
My husband especially wonders if we would be better off spending the money on upgraded lodging and dining experiences while actually in Italy. YES.

Why spend more money to lounge in a reclining seat on an airplane when that money could be spent on a unique and memorable experience in your destination? My husband and I are flying economy on our trip to Italy in April (on an Airbus A330-300 as well,) and we plan to wear comfy clothes for the flight and take melatonin to make us sleepy. We'll also be adjusting our sleeping schedule during the week before our trip.

In my personal opinion, I don't see first class on airlines being worth it. But that's just me. :-)

Posted by
106 posts

Echoing a few posters, you also have the option to split the baby: business there when you want to sleep, economy (plus) back when you want to mostly stay awake. That might save you a few grand to splurge in Italy.

Getting a good sleep on the way over is amazing - I feel about 60 percent less jet lag with a flat bed. But like others have said it's super pricey so we bank our ff miles for the flat seat over and pay for the econ plus seats returning.

Posted by
278 posts

You could also look at the differences in service offered by differing airlines. For example Air New Zealand's premium economy is suppose to be outstanding, no need for 1st class, don't think they fly to Italy. BA offers premium economy where the service and seats are better than what United offers. But United has a cheaper price for the added room but that's all your getting. BA PE is more expensive but they offer a higher level of service for it. We liked BA PE, but it was on an older 747 that needed some updating. We are trying United in the upgraded coach this time and Air New Zealand in Sept to London.

Posted by
1468 posts

Distance and physical condition are the deciding factors for us. My husband has passed the 70 mark,has knee and back issues and is tall. We are on the West Coast, so it can be a lot of time in the air. Having him arrive at the beginning of a vacation in bad condition can make the whole experience worthless. So, you have to evaluate your own situation. For us, business class is the only option. That doesn't mean we don't look to make it as inexpensive as possible. We collect miles, watch for deals, plug into Skyscanner, etc. I also check to see what plane is supposedly flying that route.

Have a great trip.

Posted by
263 posts

I have never flown business class myself. But I do know a retired couple who fly business class often, usually from Australia to places in Asia. They pay for it with their own money and they love it. They prefer to do it on a daytime flight rather than night time because they enjoy the service and the food.

Personally I am mean, and I always think in terms of what else I could do with that money. But I can see this couple's point of view. They have the money, and they can afford to do it, and their children are not in desperate need of their money, so why not.

Posted by
1846 posts

It sounds as though you would really like to fly business class, and it sounds as though you don't take overseas trips that often. It sounds as though you have budgeted for it, too. If 6 months to a year from now, you will forget about the additional cost, do it and don't look back.

Do shop prices to see if you can get the best fare possible within reason. You don't mention in your post where you would be flying from, but I think equally important to seat selection is reducing the number of connections (it can be exhausting waiting around for your next connection (when three or more connections are needed), especially on the flight home.

If you have to make a connection in the US first, consider just upgrading your overseas leg and flying coach for the domestic connections..

I learned a long time ago that in life it does not have to be all or none. I agree with the poster that suggested maybe just flying business class on your going flight and then do comfort class coach on your return (if you just can't bring yourself to book business both ways).

But, since you want this trip to be very special, you will also remember your extra-nice seats, and you will arrive not dragging as much since you will likely sleep a bit better. And, yes, the airline clubs are so very, very nice when you have a long connection.

Ask yourself what you would regret more. ONLY YOU can make that determination. You know your resources, you know your priorities, you know how special this trip will be vs. other priorities in your life.

Are the business class seats on the flights you desire beginning to fill up, or are they still half empty? Sometimes (not always) certain airlines will offer upgrades to those who have purchased economy comfort (we took advantage of a day-prior $200 or $250 upgrade to Ireland one year), but other airlines don't. It's a gamble. Last year, I played the game with a trip to Stockholm and a return from Copenhagen. After watching constantly, I was able to snag a somewhat reasonable upgrade; but I had to laugh, because the friends who were traveling with us got essentially the same deal by working with a travel agent (who was able to book them in some wholesale type business class tickets, and that sure did sound much easier to me). But, I talked w/ the travel agent later to find out if that would work on all trips, and it doesn't.

Congratulations on your milestone birthday and your 40th anniversary!! Safe travels. Make it a very, very special trip.

Posted by
991 posts

To me the expense is not worth it and I fly out of the west coast. I have used miles for first and business going and coach returning. The seats went flat and I still couldn't sleep. I no longer want to use miles for the upgrade as they usually want a million miles to do so. :)! I would save the money for another trip!

Posted by
671 posts

We flew business class on our last trip (on United from Newark to Vienna) and will do so again in an upcoming trip (from Newark to Naples on Lufthansa ) - both for about $2,100 round trip. I just kept checking prices each day, beginning months ahead of our trip, and pounced when the price dropped to around $2K. In my opinion, it was absolutely worth it (if you have the means and so desire) for a number of reasons, including lie flat seats, better meals and service, priority boarding, more leg room, lots of overhead bin space, etc. Plus, I can hardly ever sleep sitting up, even with a neck pillow, and almost never get any rest on the plane when flying internationally in economy. Another perk was that when we arrived at the Vienna Airport to check-in for our return flights to the U.S., we learned that our connecting flight from Milano to Newark was cancelled but, fortunately, there was a separate business class booking counter with no one on line, versus a huge line for economy. We also had free access to the Austrian Airlines lounge in the Vienna Airport, as we waited several hours for our (now) nonstop flight to JFK, instead of our connecting flight to Milano. The lounge had very comfortable chairs, computers (which allowed for an easy booking of a shuttle van from JFK to Newark Airport), and ample gratis food, beer, wine, etc. So, we felt that the extra $1,000 for a business class vs. economy was, in this situation, worth it in many ways.

Posted by
14014 posts

Are you limited on the amount of time you can spend in Italy? If you can extend your trip by a day or two and the cost of a hotel room for an extra night or two is less than the extra flight costs, then I would endure the flight in coach and dedicate the first day and night to recovering.

Objectively, how much time are you going to spend on the plane and how much of that time will it matter? You will be upright (in landing position) for the first and last 45 minutes (more or less) of the flight. Then there's about an hour for drinks and dinner service (maybe less with business than coach) and another 30 minutes or more before landing for breakfast service. That's at least 3 hours that you'll be sitting up. So how much flight time is left? From the 'left' coast, it could be a good night's sleep. From the 'right' coast, maybe not worth the money.

I'd always opt for spending the money on nicer hotels and restaurants in Europe - or private guides and some shopping, or splurging on taxis, concerts and other "indulgences."

Posted by
11170 posts

Do look into Economy Comfort, Economy Plus, or Premier Economy. These products vary from airline to airline, but you always get more legroom. You sometimes get a wider seat, fancier meal, early boarding, or other perks. However, you don't usually get admission to the lounges. While the seats are not as nice as true business or first class, the price is much lower as well (often only about $200 more each way than coach).

If you do fly business or first, you not only get lounges on departure, but sometimes on arrival. A friend of mine has used miles to fly British Air business class. His favorite thing is the arrivals lounge at Heathrow, where you get a shower, breakfast, and massage. He said that by the time you leave, you almost feel human again.

If you are interested in springing for the fancier classes and you have a choice of airlines or cities, be sure to go to Flyertalk to look at details of the differences among the products. Business class varies not only airline to airline as you say, but also route to route.

Posted by
47 posts

If you have any interest in visiting Asia, business class fare to, for example, Singapore is about the same as to Europe but with 48 hours of the business class experience and better cabins, service and lounges. The flights from the US to Europe are too short to pay the obscene fares that are inflated by planes full of Exxon and Shell types. I'd personally save my money and use economy plus.

Posted by
1666 posts

You've got some good advice and opinions.

We were fortunate enough to go to Europe twice in 8 months. Our first trip was to Tuscany in December 2015 and our second trip was a river cruise on the Rhine in July 2016. These trips gave me a point of comparison.

We had enough Skymiles from our AMEX card and my travel from work to fly First Class from Atlanta to Rome for less than the cost of an economy ticket. It was a wonderful experience, we were pampered by the service and we had seats that became a bed. We slept for most of the flight and arrived in Rome refreshed.

We bought our airline tickets through Viking River Cruises for a good price. Unfortunately, since they were a block purchase, we could not upgrade from Economy to even Economy Comfort. We were at least able to choose seats on the side of the plane instead of in the middle. We were able to sleep a little, but nothing like our previous trip.

My wife has decided that she'd pay the full amount for first/business class. I'd settle for Economy Comfort if first class would bump up the price by more than $1,000/$1,500. I agree with others, I'd rather plow that money into a longer stay or other experiences during the trip.

Posted by
364 posts

I travel a LOT for business and I receive fairly frequent upgrades to First domestically (which I'd NEVER pay for because they're definitely not worth it). That being said, I've cashed in miles to fly Business to Europe a few times. As someone who is 6'3", I cant sleep in economy, so if the flight is on my dime I fly Economy Plus. The extra legroom is priceless in my opinion. Personally I wouldn't pay for Business on a US airline on an intercontinental flight, but with Lufthansa or Swiss (my airlines of choice), I'd say yes. The service, lie flat seats, food and wine are great and the sleep and comfort are totally worth it. One tip I've learned over the years: Ask when you check in what the cost for an upgrade to Business is. If there are standbys forEconomy and empty Business seats, an upgrade can be had for cheap. It never hurts to ask but have a number in mind before you ask.

Another tip: follow ThePointsGuy.com. He does a lot of reviews on the First and Business Class products of the various airlines and his info can really help make your decision. Better yet, he publishes deals quite often. For example, through his site we found a $450 deal to Rome in May. Its Economy Plus on United, but I'll try upgrading it at the airport. He recently published fares on Swiss to Zurich for roughly the same price.

Also, if I splurge I always do it on the way over to Europe and fly Economy on the way back. Since you're awake and probably just reading or watching movies on the way home its no big deal, vs on the way over you want the nice dinner and wine, and most importantly, the lie flat seat so you can sleep.