When Flying Business Class Is (And Isn’t) Worth It

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is flying business class worth it

Is Flying Business Class Worth It? It Depends.

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of sitting at the front of the aircraft in first or business class, enjoying the comfort and amenities as you jet off to your next destination. I’ve now flown in the “pointy end” of the plane several times, enjoying nearly every experience. However, given the points and miles outlay, is flying business class worth it in every case?

If you have the miles and points at your disposal, I say go for it. You won’t regret the choice if you’re earning miles faster than you can burn them.

This just isn’t reality for most folks. We generally have to be judicious with how we spend our miles, which means that business class often isn’t in the cards. But there are specific situations where I find it is very much worth it, and others where it absolutely isn’t, even if it may seem like a good “deal”. Let me lay out my reasoning.

Singapore Airlines 777-200 Business Class Cabin.
Singapore Airlines 777-200 Business Class Cabin.

When Business Class Isn’t Worth It

Cash Bookings

Business class (in general) isn’t worth it if you’re paying cash. At least it certainly isn’t for us. When you can snag a coach fare between the U.S. and Europe for $400 while business class is going for $3,000, which would you pick? So let’s rule out cash completely and only talk miles redemption here. Business class for cash is a no-go, unless it is a crazy deal or mistake fare.

Domestic Travel

Even if we’re talking miles, business class isn’t worth the premium in some cases. First, I wouldn’t burn the miles for intra-U.S. business or first 99% of the time. Sure, I’ll make an exception for a crazy deal now and then, such as my flights in United premium cabins using Turkish miles, but this is a big exception. That was actually the first time I’d ever shelled out points for anything other than economy domestically.

These are reasonably short, daytime coach flights we’re talking about. We can schlep it in economy for a few hours, no problem. Sure, it sounds nice to travel up front, but I will almost never shell out the miles for it.

Day Time Long Haul Flights

The other time business class isn’t really worth it is when you’re flying an all-daytime long-haul itinerary. If you’d normally be awake for the bulk of the trip, I don’t really see a point to booking business. Sure, it’s a larger, nicer seat and (sometimes) excellent food, but is that really worth 50%-100% more miles? I’d argue it’s not.

flying business class - is it worth it?

When Business Class Is Worth It

The appeal of paying the extra miles for business class comes down to one thing for me: sleep. Can we sleep on the flight? And will it work with our schedule and time change? These are the questions I most commonly ask when deciding whether a business class option is worth it.

Let me lay out two examples. First, we have our Cathay Pacific business class trek from Hong Kong to SFO. It’s a long flight, and we flew business class. The kids were tired, as the flight departed around 12:30 AM. It was very nice to sleep.

But we landed at SFO around 9:00 PM, ready to sleep again. Couldn’t we have just powered through? There were beds waiting for us very shortly after we landed. Sure, it would have been quite a bit more miserable, but we would have saved a total of 45,000 miles for another trip. I’m not sure flying business class was worth it.

Contrast this with the China Airlines business class flight that I flew with one of my boys in May. We departed SFO at 1:30 AM and landed in Taipei around 6:00 AM. We had the full day ahead of us! Sleeping on the flight was amazing and critical to our plans, as we only had three days to enjoy Taipei. I would never have booked the trip had we not been able to fly business. We were rested and ready to go explore. In this case, flying business class was absolutely worth it.

It all comes down to sleep for me. If I really want to be able to sleep on an overnight flight, then business class is well worth it. If not, then I’m far less eager to book a ticket up front.

is flying business class worth it

Daytime Flight? Fly Economy.

This has become my general rule. If we’re going to be flying a daytime flight, even if extended (e.g. returning to the U.S. from Europe), then economy is perfectly fine. We flew Air France A380 economy from CDG to SFO and felt pretty good on arrival, even though it’s a long trek. My one mistake was assuming I could manage driving home that evening.

The rule still holds true, even if we should have gotten a hotel in that case. Pushing through a westbound, long-haul, daytime economy flight also helps with jet lag. Keeping yourself awake and crashing at a hotel (or home) helps you adjust to your new local time. Allowing yourself to sleep on a return from Europe just might mess you up more.

Premium Economy…Best Of All Worlds?

I’ve really started to see premium economy as the best of all worlds: larger seat, more legroom, more recline, ability to nap, etc. But not the full lie-flat bed of business class.

There’s just one hurdle: many premium economy products either aren’t bookable with miles, or they aren’t competitively priced as awards. I’ve often seen United premium economy going for more than business class! It makes no sense. Delta Premium Select is a bit better, but even then, it’s generally a lot of miles.

In the future I may be looking at premium economy deals/awards as the way to go, if there is an economical way to book them.

Final Thoughts

Flying business class is a treat more than anything, and I want to maximize it whenever we do book up front. For me, that means sleep. If the schedule doesn’t include a real need or desire to sleep, I’m very hesitant to shell out the miles.

What do you think…is flying business class worth it in more than the cases I’ve described?

24 COMMENTS

  1. Stupid to say that paying cash for J is stupid. I make 8-10 longhaul a year which on RT basis do not cost me more as 1200 USD (about 1000-1100 EURO. I am Europe based). Keep in mind with the miles i can fly at least 1 more RT in J longhaul.

    Please add to your article that MAYBE for US based this works.

    • Do realize that ex-Europe fares are often cheaper in both economy and business. That is still too rich for my blood, but I’d be looking at burning UR/MR as “cash” for such tickets, since, as you said, you’ll earn a chuck of additional miles.

  2. J/F is always worth it to me, no matter the flight distance. The only times I’ll book Y are when there’s no other award availability & dates are locked in. Points aren’t that hard to come by.

  3. As you said, it is very personal and situational. I am significantly older than you, which is a factor in what I can endure and how I handle insufficient sleep/comfort. I also mostly travel solo, so I only need to spend a fraction of the miles that a family would require. Traveling solo also means that in economy, I have to deal with unknown seat mates, and the idea of having someone too large for his/her seat or otherwise annoying in such close proximity for a long flight is a concern when flying economy. So, I prefer business class, for more personal space, better food/environment, and possibly sleeping, on any flights over 8 – 10 hours. I think that US domestic first class (transcon or to Hawaii) is marginally better than economy, but I usually only fly those routes in first if I am upgraded (based on status or applying upgrade certificates) or it is a domestic connection that is part of an international business class award. I previously have booked business class awards between the US east coast and Europe, although I question the value of these awards if paying more than 50K miles one way (especially for daytime flights) and would consider economy or premium economy, particularly if I found a good cash fare. For flights over 10 hours, business class awards are almost always worth it for me.

    • The difference between a 6-hour flight and 10-hour flight is significant, and one reason I’d be looking to book the latter in business. Still, if daytime, I find them totally survivable. But youth may still be on my side. We’ll see how long that lasts. 😉

  4. For me it isn’t the time of day it’s the length of the flight. To the West Coast or Europe I fly economy. Asia or the Middle East I’m using my miles. 12 hours plus in an economy seat and I will feel it the first couple of days of the trip. That’s not worth it. I need the freedom to move around and not be sore.

    • I guess I’m not quite there yet? I still survive economy fine, besides the lack of sleep. But I totally understand the desire for a far more comfortable trip!

  5. To each his own…My flight pattern is Havana Paris Tel Aviv Cochin Kuala Lumpur and this happens once every six weeks.. the thought of flying economy would be painful. For people flying occasionally Y flights are okay but i you are flying reasonably regularly, J class is better.. of course if you can fly Qatar airways, it is even better

  6. Booked the in-laws EWR-SIN-BKK-CNX in J on Singapore that leaves in three weeks. Leaves about 9am. I’m sure with almost 19 hours in the air, they will appreciate the lie flat business class seats.

  7. For me, I can sleep in an economy seat with no problem so transpacific or transatlantic flights don’t really bother me if flying in economy. In fact, regardless of the seat I sit in (F/J/Y), I always am tired after a transpacific or transatlantic flight. Why? Because of jet lag.

    Nowadays, I always always fly business or first when flying a longhaul flight within 2-3 timezones (ie JFK-EZE or JFK-SCL or JFK-GRU or LHR-JNB, etc.) as all of these tend to be redeye overnight flights so sleeping on the plane is great and I arrive with barely any jet lag! Win win for me!
    Other than that, I am ok saving my miles and flying in economy if given the choice. To each his own.

    • Definitely a major plus for north-south long-haul. My daughter and I flew business class to South America, and it was well worth it.

  8. Thank you for the awesome China Airlines (link) review!
    Traveling is extremely personal in terms of preferences, and this is a good example.
    You mention how there are so many variables, it is never a one size fits all.
    Using miles/points for business class is a waste with domestic airlines, and also intra Europe.

  9. My preference is to use miles on long-haul (transpacific) business or first, where one can sometime save thousands. I never use points or miles for domestic flights. The transpacific flights I choose are generally overnight flights. I recently used miles for an open jaw trip to Italy and Greece. The return flight on BA was terrible (ATH – LHR – LAX). The first flight on BA A320 (European), ATH – LHR, business was a screwing, 3 and 3 across with middle seat blocked and fitted with a tray (I guessed for one’s arms). The seat pitch however was more like economy class with a pitch of 30″. It felt more like 20″. I could not place my feet directly in front of me. BTW, same pitch for economy. So I need to pay more attention of seatguru. How can they say you’re in business when the pitch is the same for both economy and business? Never, ever fly BA again.

    I thought I’d have better luck on the LHR – LAX segment in 787-9 metal. No luck. BA has the weirdest business class seat configuration (see seatguru). Window seat faces aisle seat, very skinny, no shelf space at mid-body level. Just a small pull out drawer on the floor. When you extend the seat for sleeping, a small seat placed on the seat in front of you pulls down and theoretically meets the extended chair for one continuous laying area. When a person by a window seat in front of you wants to exit to use the bathroom, he needs to wake you to move your feet or try and hop of you! I wondered what BA management was thinking or smoking when they approved that configuration. Terrible waste of points on what should have been a comfortable flight.

    • Had you looked up the BA reviews/seating at all? What you got on ATH-LHR is the classic intra-Europe “business” class.

      British Airways’ long-haul business class product is severely outdated, and exactly how you describe. They are starting to upgrade to their new suites, but so far only on new planes.

  10. If is during my normal sleep hours, then I go for Bus. Class. I have travelled millions of miles in my career and sleep in a normal seat is just impossible for me. Give a lie-flat seat/bed I can get some serious sleep.

    A couple years ago, there was a transfer bonus from Amex to Virgin Air, where we got premium economy seats for 17.5K points coming back from Europe. There were fuel surcharges but not like business class. These were perfectly fine for those daytime flights.

    • Premium economy might be the new sweet spot for me. I’ve only flown it once, but if the value is there, I could see that being the perfect middle ground.

  11. Different strokes. To me my vacation starts right as I get on that plane and I love long distance daytime business class travel. I can enjoy some fine wine watch movies read books it’s all part of the vacation for me. I’m almost disappointed if I have to take an overnight flight. But again I can understand your reasoning it’s just obviously everyone has different priorities. Interestingly enough would never use points to pay for domestic first class but will use cash. Points are way too valuable for international travel!

    • I totally get that line of thinking. Many in the award travel space won’t fly long-haul in anything less than business.

  12. I agree completely. And I also have stopped using miles for business class on red-eyes to Western Europe from the Midwest or East Coast. To me it is not worth to spend my miles on a 6 hour flight from New York to London. I save my miles and use (a few more) for business or first on a 16 hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. The only exception being the ORD to MAD on Iberia during off-peak for 34k.

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