Business Class vs. First Class: What You Need to Know

International air travel is back, with a growing number of passengers flying overseas for business or pleasure. More than 190.5 million passengers traveled between the U.S. and foreign destinations in 2014, up by 4.6 percent from the previous year, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.

plane in the sky

Air travel offers a variety of choices to travelers, including departure times, destinations, luggage handling, and more. One of the most important decisions travelers on international flights will make is whether to fly Business Class or First Class. Each accommodation level has its own benefits, and knowing a little more about Business and First Class international flights will help travelers choose the option that’s best for their circumstances.

What’s the Difference?

First Class and Business Class seating primarily differ from one another in terms of seating size and services offered to travelers. On domestic flights, most airline cabins are divided between First and Economy classes. On international flights, airline cabins are divided among First, Business, and Economy classes. Economy Class accommodations offer only barebones amenities and services, while Business and First Class seating options are more comfortable and spacious.

view from an airplane

On international flights, First Class accommodations offer large, comfortable seats that fold down to lie flat, offering extremely comfortable sleeping arrangements. At this level of accommodation, airlines fight to outcompete one another in terms of luxuries and services offered. The average First Class cabin offers the very best in amenities, practically acting as a hotel room in the sky. First Class passengers can avail themselves of great dining options, including ala cart menus, fine champagne, and more. Showers and suites are available on some flights, as is a bar/lounge area.

First Class also has the best of the best in terms of flight attendants. Staff for First Class are highly trained hospitality professionals, and there are more attendants per passenger at this accommodation level than there are in Business Class. Flight attendants in First Class truly pamper their passengers, offering turn down service and other great amenities.

Business Class on international flights is a little less fancy, but is still a step up from Economy accommodations. In Business Class, the seats are less roomy than in First Class, but are still quite comfortable. Business Class flights offer comfortable seats, and on many airlines they fold down to lie flat, just like in First Class. Business Class travelers have access to on-demand video and music, and they’re also offered top quality food and alcohol by the airline.

Another key difference between First Class and Business Class is price. Airlines don’t offer all that space and the best in wine and food to their First Class passengers out of a sense of altruism to the world’s well-heeled travelers. First Class accommodations are revenue generators for airlines and, thus, are priced accordingly. However, in recent years, the gap between First Class and Business Class accommodations has narrowed as airlines have reduced prices for their top accommodations.

international travel view

According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines have been reducing prices on domestic First Class flights, offsetting the revenue loss by offering fewer upgrades to rewards program members. There are also deals to be had for First Class international seats. In many cases, however, the price difference between Business and First Class international flights can be $15,000 or more.

What to Consider When Choosing

When weighing whether to fly First or Business Class, travelers need to think about more than just the price tag or the prospect of free drinks and neck massages. How we travel often impacts how we feel and perform once we reach our destination. For many travelers, a comfortable, luxurious flight can be helpful in helping them prepare for an important presentation or a week of intense work or training. Travelers considering purchasing international tickets should consider these factors when picking between the two accommodation levels:

  • Length of trip – If taking a relatively short international flight, travelers may do well to eschew First Class for Business Class, as the need for comfort may be less pressing on a short flight than a long voyage. However, for long international flights from the U.S. to Asia, First Class accommodations can be a real life-saver. The extra space and amenities provided to First Class passengers can help them arrive less stressed and better rested than passengers traveling in the tighter confines of Business Class flights. For top level employees making critical trips, flying First Class can help ensure that they’re ready to bring their A-game when they arrive.

planes flying by cities

  • Working Remotely – First Class may be more conducive to making an international flight a working trip. First Class provides plenty of space for travelers’ laptops, papers, and other important work materials. The comfortable seating also makes working in the air more comfortable. Also, the top quality food and drink will help keep travelers fueled and ready to do their best work while traveling. Getting work done in-flight can help employees put the finishing touches on important presentations or papers or make work on the ground easier once they arrive. While Business Class offers more room than economy class, the space available may not be enough for some workers laboring on important projects.
  • Mileage Points – Mileage points aren’t what they used to be. Many airlines are cutting back on their rewards programs or making it more difficult for travelers to cash in miles. When choosing between Business or First Class, miles really shouldn’t be that much of a consideration, as the reimbursement rate for First Class miles isn’t that much better than that of Business Class miles. For infrequent flyers, the incentive to try to rack up mileage is even less, as it takes many miles to obtain worthwhile rewards from the airlines.
  • Company policy – While companies requiring their employees to fly overseas will pay for Business Class or allow employees to write off the expense, many companies will not splurge on First Class accommodations. However, employees traveling on the company dime are often free to upgrade their seats if they pay the difference with their own money. For business travelers who’d like a little more comfort on an international flight, forking over a few dollars may be worth it.

First Class can be more attractive with the help of an experienced travel company. Companies like Ultimate Class Airfares can knock down First Class prices below those of Business Class seats. With this kind of pricing, business travelers may be able to convince their companies to reimburse them for top quality seats on international flights.

on the phone

  • Improving accommodations – In recent years, airlines have been improving their Business Class accommodations, offering more of the amenities found in First Class. Depending on the airline you’re using, Business Class accommodations may be nearly as luxurious as top rate accommodations. When taking an international flight, travelers should be sure to inquire into the specific amenities offered in the various accommodation classes on their flight. They may find that Business Class offers exactly what they need at a lower price than First Class seats.

Bottom line: Traveling First Class definitely has its perks, but, for some travelers, Business Class offers a perfectly comfortable air travel experience. Travelers should consider their individual needs, the purpose of their trip, and their budget before making a choice.

woman on headset

Working with a Travel Company

Experienced international travelers know they don’t have to accept the exorbitant prices offered by the major airlines. By working with an experienced travel company, travelers can often realize huge discounts on international travel to Asia and other popular overseas destinations. Travelers should be choosy when picking a travel company, making sure to pick a company with a solid track record of obtaining top notch accommodations at low prices.

For international travelers seeking discount flights to Asia and other international locales, Ultimate Class Airfares can help them find the very best seats at deeply discounted rates. Ultimate Class Airfares has a staff of experienced travel professionals that can arrange luxury air transportation to any international destination, often for rates discounted up to 75 percent. For top quality accommodations at bargain basement prices, smart travelers use Ultimate Class Airfares to find killer deals on First Class international flights.


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