Business Class Airfares vs. First Class Airfares

With so many people crisscrossing the globe on a regular basis, airlines have to make an effort to secure new business, and they’ve managed to do this by dramatically slashing prices on economy fares, and by going the extra mile when it comes to their business and first-class passengers.

From road-side valet service to the personalized comforts available on board, there’s never been a better time to fly either business or first class. Airlines are competing with each other for fares like never before, and since there are so many airlines flying through the same hubs, executives in charge of customer experiences are getting extremely creative in order to retain customers long-term. The result is more attentive, more personalized service available to their frequent fliers and in-flight luxuries beyond belief.

If you’re trying to decide between business class and first class for your next flight, let us be the first to say that it varies wildly between airlines, but there is usually a discernable difference between these two levels of service, especially on international flights. There are several aspects of the flight experience where the two classes deviate from each other, including the lounges available to passengers, the food and drinks available in those lounges and on board, the seats on the plane, and the in-flight service from stewards and flight attendants.

Today, we’re going to explore all the different aspects of these flight experiences, and let you know whether it’s worth it to fly business or first class for your next international flight.

Airport Lounge

The differences between business class and first class start when you first arrive at the airport.

At many airlines, first class passengers will be checked in via a private concierge or attendant and whisked to their lounge. In contrast, business class travelers make their own way to the business class lounge after they go through security. Although there are many stellar business class lounges out there — like the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in London and the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge in Doha — the most personal levels of attention and service are reserved for first class passengers. Business class lounges range from rooms with a few snacks to elegant dining rooms complete with a full bar and exclusive meals — it really depends on the airline and the airport.

First class lounges go above and beyond most business class lounges in terms of their options. For example, The Wing, First, which is Cathay Pacific’s first-class lounge in Hong Kong International Airport, has a full buffet as well as a detailed menu, and serves three different kinds of champagne. From there, first class passengers are whisked to their plane, sometimes in a private car. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa ferries all of their first class passengers to their planes in either a Porsche or a Mercedes.

Food & Drinks

Food in airport lounges tends to be a snapshot of what’s going to happen once you step onboard the plane.

Business class passengers are often offered the same selection of meals as economy, except they’re complimentary, and come with a selection of fine liquors, wine, soft drinks, and usually dessert. There also may be a variety of upscale snacks served between meals, depending on the airline and the duration of the flight. For example, on domestic flights, Westjet serves a selection of Laura Secord chocolate and elegant bags of pretzels and snack mix.

In contrast, first class passengers should generally expect to see a completely separate menu, which are often designed by well-known chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants. Complementary wines for each course are usually selected by a world-renowned sommelier. If you’re traveling in first class, expect to see hors d’oeuvres and an upscale aperitif before you even take off. For instance, Singapore Airlines gives first class passengers a choice between Krug Grande Cuvée, and Dom Perignon 2004 champagne alongside an amuse-bouche of caviar.

As airlines seek to differentiate themselves from their competition, food and drink is one amenity that’s improving by the day. It’s easier to upgrade than the plane layout and goes a long way to making passengers feel comfortable and relaxed for their flight.

Seats

When it comes to the in-flight experience, many people who travel often end up choosing first class over business class because of the options given to them for seating arrangements. While business class seats vary in size and pitch (the distance from a point on your seat to the seat in front of it), generally only 57 percent of business class seats are capable of lying flat. In contrast, upwards of 90 percent of first class seats lie completely flat. On a long-haul flight, the difference between reclining and lying flat is huge. It can be the difference between showing up well-rested, rather than a half-asleep, exhausted wreck.

While business class seats are always going to be nicer than economy, most airlines are putting the bulk of their customization efforts into their first-class seats and cabins. Many airlines now offer the chance for passengers to fly in private cabins, complete with full double beds and bathroom facilities. Etihad Airways now offers a suite called The Residence that’s composed of three rooms, which includes a luxurious double bed, elegant living room, and bathroom. Granted, these suites are wildly expensive, but the thrill of being able to take a shower at 30,000 feet is for some, worth any price.

In-flight Service

Many people believe that the main difference between first class and business class service is that first class service will always be proactive, rather than reactive. In economy and business class, flight attendants are generally positive, helpful, and accommodating to any reasonable requests. When you’re flying first class, most flight attendants are trained to be proactive, and if you’re a frequent flier with that airline, chances are they’ve studied your preferences in advance, and are prepared to offer you exactly the level of service that you want, before you even have to ask. This means preparing your favorite drink and having it ready for you as you step on to the plane or topping up your glass before you request a refill.

Another way that airlines differentiate between their business and first-class service is with their amenity kits. Many airlines offer business class passengers on long-haul flights amenities like blankets, pillows, and little toiletry kits, which help them feel more comfortable. First class passengers can expect silk pajamas and slippers from well-known designers like Salvatore Ferragamo, comfortable duvets and feather pillows, as well as toiletry kits full of name-brand cologne, perfume, lip balm, and other products to keep them feeling refreshed.

Aris Suwanmalee / Shutterstock

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