a row of seats in an airplane

I’m not talking about extra nuts, a Woodford Reserve bourbon or any of the other ways people could speculatively argue about the on board benefits of flying first class which outweigh costs of buying an economy ticket. I truly saved $164 on a trip by booking first class, compared to what it would’ve cost me to fly economy.

Every year, GSTP feels the need to bang on about why ‘window shopping’ is a good idea, and why it’s never a bad idea to at least glance at the first class column, because from time to time, it’s actually cheaper to fly business or first than economy. Here’s your yearly reminder…

Flying In Luxury For Less Than Economy

Before getting into a highly practical, less fanciful example, I’ll start with a luxury example with international intrigue. Yesterday, I was searching flights from London to Singapore, dreaming of future travel to Asia toward the end of the year, or maybe next.

What did I see? Very expensive economy tickets, and because of a heads up on a great sale, some very inexpensive (relatively) business and first class tickets.

These flights can take up to 14 hours each way, so a little extra space goes a long way. A bed, caviar and champagne goes even further. An amazing, flat bed business class seat was £200 ($260) less each way than economy, and first class suites were £23 ($30) more than economy!

Decisions, decisions…

a screenshot of a computer
These were the one way prices on a long haul journey from London to Singapore, for the return leg. Round trip was double.

Because pictures speak louder than words from time to time, I want us to have a brief moment of fun comparing what someone booking one of these flights would be in for. First, let’s start with First Class, for £1600 round trip, or £807 one way as seen above.

a table with food on it
Swiss First Class is exquisite!

That same first class seat pictured above, with lovely Balik salmon and vintage champagne also converts into a fully flat bed around 7 feet long, with tons of privacy and a television screen large enough to rival your living room.

a bed with a white sheet and a tv

But of course, budgets do sadly max out, so if you chose economy for £50 less on the trip, paying around £1550 round trip, you’d save money compared to first class. You’d spend around 13-14 hours in the seat that follows, along with hundreds of neighbors.

an airplane with rows of seats

And if it’s really about budget, that same person who was going to pay for economy, could actually save themselves around £200 ($260) each way on this particular journey by booking into business class. The screenshot above clearly shows it priced at £507, a much lower figure than the same exact flight in economy.

Imagine if you only searched economy, but later found out about this.

How would it then feel walking to the rear of the plane, to your row near the toilet, knowing the person in one of the 8 suites on board paid £23 more, and the happy people in business class actually paid less!

Of course, if they’d window browsed each cabin, rather than keeping the blinders on for economy, they’d go from the seat above, to this seat below. Before you ask, the Swiss business seat also reclines into a fully flat bed.

swiss biz
Swiss has an excellent business class on the Boeing 777.

Seems just a bit more comfortable for a 13-14 hour flight, particularly when it’s certifiably less expensive. In summary: if you don’t window browse, you may pay more for so much less.

It Happens On Short Flights More Often

For reasons which are insignificant to the meat of this story, I’ll be traveling from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and sadly, as someone who aimed for years to never check a bag, I’ll be traveling with four checked bags, between my partner and I. Two each.

I know, why not drive, right? Well, I have a car and a house waiting for me in Palm Springs, so driving a separate car would be redundant and I’ll already be arriving into LAX anyway, so let’s carry on.


Checked bags no longer come standard on most flights in economy in the United States. That’s a fact of the times. In Europe, carry on’s don’t even come standard on many airlines these days!

A first checked bag on Delta costs $30 one way, and it’s $40 one way for a second. Those are one way prices, so $60, $80 respectively on a round trip, per bag. Of course, holding a credit card from the airline in question, in this case a Delta SkyMiles Amex would cover the first bag, but I do not hold one.

So, for two passengers, round trip from LAX-PSP, I was presented with a choice: pay $298 for standard economy with no checked bags and 1 carry on per person, pay $334 for economy comfort+, which includes extra legroom but no checked bags, or $414 for first class, which includes 2 checked bags per person, a better seat, security fast track and more.

Putting aside the: free drinks, extra space, seat in the front with fewer people around, priority boarding and everything else, the last choice saves me tangible money, versus what I would’ve paid in bag fees.

I paid a $116 premium on the face of things ($414 first class vs $298 economy) for two passengers round trip, but I’m saving money by buying first class with bags for one of us alone. Round trip luggage in this example would be $120 for one.

Delta First Class

With each checking two bags, we’d be faced with $60 each for our first bag + $80 each for our second bag round trip, for a total of $240 in bag fees. All the little airport extras will be lovely no doubt, but it was literally cheaper to fly first class than economy in this instance, based on the circumstances of the trip.

It’s why I, controversially, once said college students are often better buying first class than economy, because there are infinite data points where things work out cheaper once bags and other things factor. If you don’t look, or don’t look beyond sticker price, you may end up paying more for less.

Fun fact: Qatar Airways became the first airline to create a segment of its loyalty program for students, with additional free bags this last year to tackle the issue many face when traveling with lots of “stuff”.

Always Glance: Never Pay More For Less

If you’re traveling with checked bags and don’t plan on adding an airline credit card to your arsenal to save on the fees, it makes more sense than ever to at least glance at other cabins, including Premium Economy which often include bags and aren’t always more expensive.

With the examples – both of which are still live and bookable today – you can see that sometimes it’s truly cheaper to buy premium, business or first, than it is to book economy. When that’s a true statement, who wouldn’t?!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. The more frustrating thing is that i am Swiss citizen and I have to pay from Zurich to Singapore very often more then double the price compare to the price when flying from London (via Zurich) to Singapore!

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