Although I’m a frequent flyer, I am not that keen on flying. However, flying business class does sweeten the pill.
From fast-track security to exploring the lounge to relaxing in a flatbed seat, sipping a glass of champagne, I love the whole experience. Now, it’s business class for me for any flight over six hours.
However, not all business-class products are equal and you need to do your homework to get the best bang for your hard-earned bucks.
Don’t make an expensive mistake. Here’s what to look out for when choosing a business class flight.
What Do You Get Flying Business Class?
So what do you get in business class? A lot of perks is the answer.
You get a dedicated check-in desk, fast-track security, priority boarding, extra baggage allowance and priority baggage handling where these services are supported. If you are a member of a frequent flyer scheme you will earn more miles and tier points.
But the main advantages of flying business class are the comfort and service this provides, from a spacious cabin and lie-flat beds on long-haul routes to upgraded catering and airport lounge access.
What You Should Consider When Choosing a Business Class Flight
So far so good. However, not all business class products are equal.
What you don’t want to do is hand over the best part of a month’s salary for a cramped premium cabin, indifferent service and poor food. Like anything else in life, it’s all about getting the best value for money
For me, the main differentiating factors are as follows:
- Seat comfort
- Cabin configuration
- Onboard service
- Business lounge
- Availability of a chauffeur service
I’ll first look at these factors for the product itself before moving on to consider convenience, cost and loyalty schemes.
1. The Business Class Seat
There are business class seats and then there are business class seats. What do I mean by this?
Well, business-class seats can come in various shapes and sizes, from fully lie-flat seats, the older cradle-style business seats down to economy seats with extra legroom.
For maximum comfort and the best chance of forty winks, it goes without saying that you should look for fully lie-flat seats.
Since their introduction by British Airways (BA) in the early 2000s, these seats have become the new norm for long-haul business class travel. Although business cabins on most airlines are now fitted with them, you still need to do your homework to identify which products to avoid.
Over recent years, some airlines have upped their game and introduced suites into their business class cabins, the type of seat usually found in first class.
I have been lucky enough to travel on Qatar Airway’s QSuite and British Airways’ new Club Suite. Other carriers that offer suites include Delta, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Oman Air.
Business class is the new first class!
So where do you go to avoid passing over your hard-earned cash in return for a duff seat? Luckily, there are quite a few resources out there to help you. Here are my go-to sources of information:
- aeroLOPA – a treasure trove of information airline cabins and seats.
- Airline Quality by Skytrax – the Trip Advisor for airlines. Provides a rating system for seats and more.
2. Cabin Configuration
This is another important aspect for me. There are two factors to consider: cabin density and aisle access.
One of the advantages of business class travel is a quieter cabin, so the fewer people the better. But do you really want to clamber over your neighbour’s legs to reach the aisle?
With some airlines that is still the case. To check out cabin configurations, visit Seat Guru which provides seat maps for just about any aircraft you can think of.
The ideal business class cabin configuration is 1-2-1, giving every passenger direct aisle access. American Airlines, Iberia, Emirates and Qatar, to name but a few, offer this on many of their aircraft.
Some airlines go further and offer a 1-1-1 configuration (e.g. Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic).
With its 2-4-2 configuration across much of its fleet, BA doesn’t cover itself with glory. However, the UK carrier is investing £400 million to give its long-haul business class cabins a long-overdue upgrade, providing direct aisle access for all passengers.
You should also consider if the airline charges for seat reservations.
Although many airlines allow business class passengers to choose their seat at the time of booking free of charge, some do not. BA should hang its head in shame, charging £60 for this privilege (unless you are a Silver Executive Club member or above).
3. Onboard Service
What comes to mind when you think of onboard service? For me, it’s the following:
- Customer service
- Eating & drinking
- Entertainment system
- Amenity kits
These elements vary widely between airlines. Whilst they might be secondary deciding factors, they are unlikely to be deal-breakers. For a sense of what you could be getting, check out the reviews on Airline Quality.
4. The Business Lounge
The relative sanctuary of the lounge is a perk of business class travel.
Broadly speaking, the best lounges are at the airline’s home airport or at one of its major hubs. A few airlines offer complimentary spa treatments (e.g. BA, Virgin Atlantic).
However, access to a lounge is not guaranteed and there are some airports that will not have a business lounge (e.g. London City). Check availability on the airline’s website.
5. Chauffeur Service
A number of airlines offer business class ticket holders a free limousine transfer. Unfortunately, many of these airlines exclude those travelling on promotional fares and the service may be restricted to certain routes.
The most inclusive is Emirates, with few restrictions and a generous mileage allowance. When I was visiting Abu Dhabi, I took advantage of this with a free taxi journey from their hub in Dubai.
Think about what matters to you.
Do you want a non-stop flight? Or would you prefer to break up your journey, even if this just means the opportunity to stretch your legs?
Whichever of these options appeals to you, what you don’t want is a torturously long flight duration or a complicated itinerary.
Try to avoid flying with different operators who do not belong to the same route network as you take the risk of missed connections.
Bagging a business class flight at a bargain price is viewed by many as the Holy Grail of luxury travel on a budget. But caveat emptor.
This may come as a surprise but cost is not the most important factor when choosing a business class flight. I’m not saying that price is not a consideration, but you shouldn’t automatically plump for the cheapest fare.
With the exception of sales times, it is a case of you get what you pay for. My view is that it is worth spending a few extra dollars for a better business class product or a more convenient schedule.
8. Loyalty Programs
Lastly, consider which airline loyalty programs you belong to. Flying with that airline, or a partner airline, will earn you destination miles and tier (status) points.
Every flier should sign up for at least one frequent flyer scheme. It’s not that often you get something for nothing, so it’s a no-brainer!
Which one will depend mainly on where you are based and your flying habits. For example; I am based in the UK and, for me, the best program is British Airways’ Executive Club which is part of the One World Alliance.
Is it Worth Flying Business Class?
By squeezing in more seats, many airlines are shrinking the existing limited legroom in their economy cabins. Therefore, now is as good a time as any to consider flying business class.
In most circumstances, shorter flights aren’t worth the extra pounds for more legroom and a glass or two of fizz. However, on long-haul flights, they are worth every last penny.
Finally, turning left on entering the aircraft is no longer the preserve of the business traveller, those with stacks of frequent flyer points or the very well-off. With a bit of research and by taking advantage of flight sales, a business class fare may not cost as much as you might think.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at email@example.com or follow her on social media.