When does flying first class make sense?

Points Summary and One Mile at A Time posted about why to fly/not fly first class and since they are both awesome naturally I had to write a reply of my own.

From a perspective of having flown some first class products and some business class products, I can see some definitely valid reasons for both sides. But sometimes you have to look at the big picture and to me it seems they are missing a few things:


Do you really need that Flagship Suite? Do you really need that lay flat bed? Do you really need to take an onboard shower in an A380? Do you really need that Sparkling Dom or Krug as a pre-departure beverage? Do you really need that caviar or handwritten note by the flight attendant? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then please go ahead and flame me.

You could apply the same argument towards business class. As long as you are not 6′ 7″ then premium economy is just crappier soft/hard product to business as is business to first class.

I’m completely satisfied with Business Class where I don’t have that privacy swivel. I’m not allergic to my neighbors. Yes, I might end up in a middle seat in a 2-3-2 configuration in J, but those are #firstworldproblems. I’m actually perfectly happy with an angled flat bed and don’t need a completely lie flat bed. I know some people can’t sleep in an angled flat, but those are #firstworldproblems.

I disagree with this too, because while these are #firstworldproblems, they are exactly why we nitpick how we use our miles and why we do the redemptions we do and choose the carriers after reading 18 different trip reports on flyertalk. For me especially, I cannot sleep in angled flats. Heck, I can barely sleep in full flat business class so that I end the flight relatively ready to hit the ground running! Even with the itinerary that I did (YVR-NRT-BKK-SYD) I would not have liked in business class. I would have died.

So to me the extra comfort is definitely worth it. The caviar and krug are all extra and additional benefits, but the crux of redeeming for international first class, in my opinion, is the superior seat comfort, superior lounges, and to an extent better soft product and in-flight/ground services that make your trip more memorable.

I’ve never flown in International First Class and will probably never will in the near future (unless I get op-upped). As a result, I save miles along the way and use them towards future Business Class redemptions. Yes, I will be doing you a favor by not taking your First Class award inventory, but go ahead and spend your precious miles.

All I can say is that you must must try international first at least once, and as a Canadian, I do think that saving miles and using them effectively are extremely important!


Of course I’d never pay the full fare cash price for first class, but using miles it’s such a marginal increase that I feel it’s totally worth it. Between the US and Asia United charges just a 10,000 mile premium for first class over business class, while American charges just a 12,500 mile premium. That’s potentially only a quarter of a credit card sign-up bonus, for example.

Yes, but that’s only in some cases. Look at Aeroplan for instance. A mini-rtw to Asia 1 in business class is 125,000 miles, while first is 175,000 miles. That’s a 40% premium, and further limits the routes you have access to.  Or even British Airways J/F using Avios. On a one-way on the A380 from LHR-LAX (or vice versa) First is a 50% premium over Business (75k vs. 50k). I think it’s not worth using valuable AA miles nor using the travel together ticket because they now require roundtrips. I can understand in some instances that the premium is a lot less (and in the comments View from the Wing did say that you probably could end up even based on how much you value the extra services and reselling pj’s/amenity kits/etc.). But that’s not in all instances.

Oh, and I actually might pay the full fare cash price for first class. On an BKK-HKG Emirates F fifth freedom flight.

My most memorable flying experiences have been in first class. When I think of the most memorable flights I’ve taken I think about the first flight I took with Janesis where she drew me a beautiful card that I woke up to.

Let me address each point individually. I personally think that with service and soft product it is definitely the luck of the draw. On one flight you will have an excellent flight crew and on the exact same flight on a different day you can get an atrocious one. Or maybe it may indicate the fact that you have much better socializing skills than me or that I suck at talking with people. I don’t know. I don’t disagree with the fact that Janesis just may be the best fa in the whole wide world but the chances that you get that are the exception and not the norm.

 For example, if you’re taking a vacation to a city, do you dine at the cheapest restaurant because at the end of the day it’s accomplishing the goal of filling your stomach, or do you sometimes splurge on a nice restaurant for a memorable meal? I don’t think this is any different. I think of the number of times I’ve been driven in a Porsche to my plane in Frankfurt, an experience that is any aviation geek’s dream. I think of how much I giggle every time I fly first class out of Bangkok on Thai Airways, and am literally driven through the business class lounge in a golf cart while enroute to the first class lounge…

When you talk about the amazing experiences you get from the LH FCT and the Thai Royal F lounge, they are absolutely great experiences. But if you do them over and over again, you really do have to ask yourself “is it really necessary?” Yes, if you are vacationing in a city you may splurge on a meal that will make your whole trip memorable. But that doesn’t mean you will do that every single time you visit the same city.

And heck, even though I don’t usually drink much, I think of the time I flew Emirates and put a good dent in a $750 bottle of Hennessy Paradis to the point that I passed out and missed my onboard shower appointment.

Ok this one I cannot really comment on 😉

Finally there is also the fact that the F service may not be that much better than J service, which is especially the case with United and American, and with a lot of destinations, that really is the case, especially with Oceania and South America.

So I can definitely see both sides. But the truth is that with each scenario it is different, depending on the carriers, flights, miles required, and all other alternatives. There’s no clear cut answer. So why flying international first class does or does not make sense will change depending on how you look and things and how you want to redeem your miles.

When do I think flying first class makes sense? In general, if the first class product is substantially better than the business class option and not at a significant premium.

What do you think?

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  1. Good read, Jeff! I think as always in this hobby, it’s the case of “to each his own”. I think it largely depends on how many miles one has. I would not redeem for first class. Heck, I’m debating whether to splurge on business class or not. I probably will for my husband for the red eye to Europe, because he is a big guy. I am very stingy with my miles, because I don’t have a ton.

  2. I can see both side but have to say that a great First Class experience really is something you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

  3. Thank you for your insight! I agree with milesforfamily that it really depends on how “rich” you are with miles. Heck if I had 3-4 million miles to burn, of course I’ll redeem them for first class all the time.

    Also, this is all relative. If there is something offered that’s even better than the current first class products, I’m sure people out there will argue it makes more sense redeem more miles to be in that “better” class.

    For me, I’m more of a destination kind of guy and don’t mind flying in economy class… though I do prefer to fly in a premium cabin if it’s a longhaul flight of over 8 hours (but am totally ok with flying economy since I’ve done it before and survived.)

  4. I think First Class is worth the extra miles. Especially with ground services in BKK with TG or FRA in FRA. I wish more airlines with First Class would service Canada.

  5. I haven’t flown Business or First Class but I’m not too tall and I sleep fine in Economy lucky enough.
    I do think splurging is okay once in a while and if you have the miles then burn them away. I guess it just gets to me when it seems like people are ‘too good’ for the lower class or ‘can’t fathom dealing with a lower class’
    But maybe I’m reading people wrong however smug people really get to me 😛

    I’m in Vancouver like you Jeff, you should know about the abundance of smug people =P

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