You can get a one-way flight from New York City to Barcelona, Spain, in basic economy for as low as $250. It’ll cost you almost double — $450 — for a nonstop economy flight.
If you want to go in business class? You’re looking at about $900 at the low end, and a whopping $3,000 if you want a nonstop flight.
Yeah, for those who did the math, that’s a 7.5 times increase from economy to business. Which raises the question: What about flying business class can make it worth more than seven times the cost of a regular economy seat?
A lot — but it’s surprisingly hard to quantify.
What business class includes
Comparing various classes shows you really do get a lot of perks with a business class ticket.
Check-in and screening
Before you get anywhere near the plane, you get a couple of interesting perks. For one, your first two checked bags are free. Some airlines also allow an extra carry-on bag for free.
Checking in those bags can be easier, too. Most airlines offer priority check-in lanes for business class passengers. Depending on the airport and airline, you may also be able to go through a priority security line.
Before the flight
Once you’re checked in, you can hover at the gate before your flight — or you can enjoy an airport lounge. Most international business class passengers will also get complimentary access to the airline’s (or their partner’s) lounge.
Once your plane is ready, priority boarding will let you head to your seat near the front of the line.
On the plane
The onboard experience is where a lot of the value comes for most of us. To start, business class has dedicated overhead bins, so you usually won’t have to worry about finding space for your bags.
And then there’s the seat. Honestly, this is what it’s really about. All the best business class cabins include roomy lie-flat seats that, as the name suggests, fold flat into an actual bed. It’s not exactly a queen-size memory foam mattress, but it’s worlds better than anything you’ll get in the other cabins. If you normally toss, turn, and wind up with a sore back after a long trip in coach, a lie-flat seat is a marvel.
Oh, then there’s the in-flight meals. On longer flights, you’ll get two proper meals (typically both dinner and breakfast on an overnight flight). Dinner will undoubtedly feature multiple courses, including an appetizer and dessert. And the food will often be off of a separate menu from the rest of the passengers — a premium one usually curated by some renowned self or other.
Valuing the perks isn’t very straightforward
Some of the things I listed above are relatively easy to value. For example, your first checked bag will typically cost about $30. Your second bag is more expensive, usually $40 or so. (And, ironically enough, you’ll pay even more for checked bags on the “discount” airlines.) So, the two free checked bags you get from booking business class have a base value of about $70.
But not everything is so cut and dry. You can put a price on lounge access — but only sort of. A day pass to the American Airlines Admirals Lounge will run you $79 apiece, for instance. But not every lounge will let you buy day passes, and many lounges limit them if there are crowding issues (which is often). This means the access included with your ticket may have more than its face value.
Most of the perks that come with business class are simply impossible to value the same way. It will truly depend on how you personally value the perks.
If you’re someone who can sleep anywhere, then having a lie-flat seat is probably not as valuable to you as it would be to someone who has trouble sleeping on planes. And depending on what you need to do when you get off that plane, a good night’s sleep alone could be worth the extra $1,000 to upgrade to business class.
Similarly, folks who aren’t picky about what they eat or who prefer to pack their own snacks won’t get as much from the upgraded food choices in business class as people with pickier palates. (While the food wouldn’t be the only reason I’d upgrade, I definitely place some real value on the better quality — and quantity — of the food provided to business passengers.)
TL;DR: It’s up to you to decide
In the end, it comes down to this: You’re not going to make up the cost of the upgrade in checked bags and other easy-to-calculate savings. It’s down to how much you value all of the associated perks, and whether they’re worth the (much) higher cost of a business class ticket.
Or you could just use points and skip all that paying-$3,000-a-pop nonsense.
Airline frequent flyer rewards programs let you use airline miles to pay for flights, including business class flights and upgrades. You don’t even need to fly to earn airline miles; a lot of great travel rewards cards let you earn points and miles on everyday spending.
One or two big credit card welcome bonuses could easily cover a one-way business class flight to most places when redeemed wisely. Sure, it takes a bit of research, patience, and diligence to master using travel rewards. But it saves me $3,000 a ticket, letting me travel basically for free.
All of this isn’t to say that everyone will love business class and think it’s worth every penny. As I alluded to above, if you’re someone who can sleep no matter which part of the plane you’re on, then you absolutely can (and probably should) skip the upgrade and save your money. Put it toward a fun adventure at your destination!
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Read More: Is Flying Business Class Worth It?