It turns out, you actually can go back…

By any means of calculation, I am a very frequent traveler. I cross the world’s oceans more times than I can keep track of each year, and thanks to credit card points, airline miles and flight deal hunting tips, I spend a large majority of those journeys in the front of the plane in business or first class. I may be the first person in history to feel this way, but my amusement with premium cabins has largely waned, and I now care much more about direct flights in any cabin over the fancy schmancy stuff.

Dom Perignon

Many travelers dream of a day where they may experience a private first class suite, with bottles of Dom Perignon, Krug or any other fine champagne being popped. Spoiler alert: it’s awesome, and I hope you get to. Once you’ve experienced it, they say life can never be the same, and in a way, the pundits are right. I can vouch that Dom Perignon is absolutely scrumptious, but despite all this praise, once you’ve tried your Emirates First, Singapore Suites, Etihad Apartments and all the other swoon worthy flying experiences, you’ve kinda done it. You then realize that drinking entire bottles don’t exactly make you feel fresh when you land at your destination, which is really what should matter to any true travel fan. You then also realize that if you don’t really need too much booze, that any bed will do, so business class is more than fine. And then you realize that on short flights, you barely enjoy the bed, and any cabin on a flight of reasonable length is no sweat. Don’t get me wrong, if it means nothing to you to drop $6,000+ or 250,000 points on an airline ticket, rock on. But that’s not me.

LA Sunset.

Travel Over Everything

The more I travel, the more I realize that it’s travel that I really love. I do love the journey more than most too, and I do research: the plane, the seat maps, the entertainment, the cabin pressure and all sorts of ridiculous detail but it’s going somewhere and experiencing something that gets me. The hum of the engines, the buzz of the airport, it’s like crack to me, and I’m fully addicted. But given the choice, I’d rather travel economy to somewhere exciting every week, than take just one or two ultra luxe trips. I think most travelers are however at the other side of the spectrum, and for years, I definitely was too. Flying up front can really change the feel of any trip, and for most importantly, it can help people unlock destinations that felt too far, when economy was the only option. I support the notion of making one or two unforgettable experiences over a bunch of forgettable ones. But I am jaded, and at the end of the day, I’m so much more excited by sunrise in a foreign country than I am about missing out on an entire sunrise just to route through three airports to fly some crazy seat with some crazy booze. I sound like a prick, but I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and unless it’s something revolutionary, it all kinda blends together.

Direct Over Everything

In a perfect world, I’ll always take business or first class on a direct flight. Yes, I’d love to have my cake and eat it too. But if I have the choice between business or first on a non ideal connecting flight, or premium – even economy on any flight under 7 hours, I’ll honestly take the economy flight these days – with very few exceptions. After all, the seats are more comfortable than most office chairs, and the price differential can be insane. I’ve reached a point where I am only willing to connect to experience a better cabin if the long haul flight time is over 9.5 hours. In my feeble mind, 9 hours plus is the minimum time needed to actually make the sleep of business class worthwhile. No one, even in first class gets a great night rest on a five hour flight, and the time wasted to connect is worth too much to me.

Am I alone here?

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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25 Comments

  1. You are not alone…. I travel with my wife and 7 yrs old son, sitting in first class and business rarely makes sense , especially domestically flighting in the USA. We are based in PHL and we typically flight premium economy international and we pay cash whenever possible, flighting first is nice but using hundreds of thousands of points to do so have becoming pointless

  2. I find a lot of points to agree with in this piece. Wasting points or miles on a short flight in biz or first is a big no-no; I mean, why? On the other hand, flying to Asia from the US, especially from the middle of the country where I’m at, demands business class at least. Totally agree on the minimizing connections point. Europe is a bit of a conundrum; flights are just long enough to justify the business class experience, but maybe not first class. If I lived on the East Coast, the calculation would certainly change.

  3. I think with the advent of “premium coach” there is a real reason to not waste a huge cache of points. Not all Premium Coach configurations are equal but there are some nice ones out there. One anticipated product will be EK I sense a reduction in FC to Biz PC main cabin. We have a trip next month and one so far for next year SK FC after that I think we too will be looking at PC for long haul. Domestically Alaska has a superior product with lots of leg room and decent seating.

    Good Post!

  4. Nonsense. I suspect that either you only take economy when there is no better alternative or that your finances or your points are not strong enough to keep you at the front of the plane.

    It is not a dig, but reality.

    Economy would never be invented if it did not already exist. It would not be allowed. It is cramped, confining and you are at the behest of either your own waistline or that of your gargantuan fellow traveller. Go do 8 hours sitting next to Mr Fatty and you’ll never turn right again !

    Yes direct is best and yes, today’s new business class makes a premium for first look, well, hard to justify sometimes. Except on things like Swiss, which I flew the other week. Small cubby holes for your feet and ridiculously close pitch at about 56/60 meant that it felt as though it was economy, though perhaps premium economy.

    I fly LHR to BKK as my main and to SIN and HKG and NRT as others but give me a decent BA seat and I’m on direct for sure. Until then, the circa 7+7 works best in business and at a reasonable cost, on most trips.

  5. Funny, the more I travel the more I care about first class. I don’t mean the champagne or amenity kits. I mean the comfort of the seat, the personal space, not being amidst a seat of people. I get real rest in first class.

  6. Direct is best, and economy is fine for Donestic flights. But I draw the line much shorter. Anything over 6 hours, so anything international, I want business class. It is not just the seat, which is more important the older I get, but the priority check in, boarding, and lounges. And that every bad international flight I had was in economy and due to obnoxious seat mates. To me, international business class is insurance you will have a nice trip, and not an awful experience that ruins the entire trip.

  7. Amen. I feel many of the travel bloggers are losing it over tihs Champagne cost 250 a bottle while that Champagne is only 60 and all this. Come on, this is about getting from A to B in safety and relative comfort and food and drink in the air dont get close to any even halfways good restaurant anyways, so why the bother.

    I used to care a lot about flying intercontinental business class but nowadays I´m good if I get a comfort plus or an exit row seat. It´s alright and the money being saved is better used elsewhere.

  8. Valid points…..we only ever fly economy to Europe and the Middle East as paying out a huge chunk of cash for less than seven hours I don’t feel is justified. Long haul – for sure business class. Having done both, you definitely feel less fatigued and “whizzy headed” on landing after circa 12 hours flying.
    My daughter flew FC to NYC earlier this year but at about seven hours, is that really long enough to enjoy the pleasure of FC? I’d be able to justify 12 hours in FC/BC but getting there with minimum dicking about is infinitely more appealing…….perhaps unless routing via Doha and the stunning lounge there!!!!

  9. When I prefer to fly Comfort Plus / Economy Plus / Main Cabin Extra over F/J: Family travel for 4 hours or less. Kid goes in the middle and we can play with her. Direct + Timing = Best. Our family consists of my wife, 6 year old daughter and I.

    When I am indifferent to Y, E+, J or F: Anything less than 2 hours. Direct + Timing = Best.

    When I see the value in F/J or greater: Greater than 7 hours. I lean towards a better hard product. Mrs. Billygoat prefers a better soft product.

  10. On a 10 plus hour flight, a good first class product is pretty awesome. That said, the best (and I might argue only worthwhile) first class products include superior ground handling. And there are only four airlines with a First Class that really deliver in this respect: Lufthansa, Swiss, Air France, and, reportedly, Garuda.

    The rest of the time, I often find all of these elaborate lie flat bed seats are not very good seats for just sitting in for a medium length daytime flight.

  11. Good post! I had only been flying back and forth to the the Philippines in premium economy. THEN IT HAPPENED…..on a round trip to Israel someone graciously upgraded my flights to business class (AA).

    Now I dread ever having to fly economy again!!!!

    I have upcoming flights to Kenya and to the Philippines…. the seat guru app has become my best friend!!!! I have studied these planes and seats as if have to pass a test 😬.

    Now I just have to learn how to get in this points thing and I’ll be good to go! HELP ME LORD!

  12. I agree on short flights, domestic business class is often not worth the price premium even when its only $50 to $150 more. But on intercontinental flights over 7 hours it makes such a huge difference flying in business or first class so you can sleep and have a much easier time with jet lag and such.

    What I don’t really understand is premium economy, especially on the long 8-12 hour flights. Its miserable. Sure you have a few extra inches of leg room but not much. With the price difference so small on intercontinental prices between Premium Economy and Business Class. I would much rather a longer with connections flight in11 hour flight in business class then say a direct Premium Economy on a direct 9 hour flight.

    If I was buying or using miles, perhaps I would rather argue that the difference between a angled flat business class direct 9 hour flight compared to a connections 11-12 hour lay flat business class seat…maybe that might be a toss up. But disagree with long haul economy VS business.

  13. I agree with everything that you wrote. Literally everything.
    The thrill, excitement, and pleasure of First and Business Class has worn off. Been there, done that. No big deal. For me, getting to a destination faster is more important than the class of service.

    For example, I once chose to fly from San Francisco to London in Business Class on American Airlines with multiple stops. After that experience, I said never again. I would rather fly economy class in British Airways on a direct flight than go through that again. When I have the miles/points available, I do fly BA Business Class SFO-LHR.

    I once flew First Class LHR-JFK and then JFK-SFO. Again, after that experience, I said I’d rather take a direct flight on BA economy class LHR-SFO.

    I’ve flown First Class on Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific to Asia. That was a very pleasant experience, but I no longer have the need for it and Business Class on those airlines for the 13 hour flight is more than enough for me.

  14. Sorry, I find that I cannot agree with this article.
    My wife and I fly pretty far for our holidays. Being based in Singapore, almost every flight to the US involves a transit. Yeah I know, we can fly SQ A350 or UA B787 business to LA/SFO and soon New York, but have you ever tried the SQ A350 Business class seat?

    Its horrible.

    We would rather take the B777 first class or A380 suites, both flights involve a transit, but at least I get to sleep with my legs straight.

    And thats the whole point for me. I don’t drink a drop of alcohol, so the whole premium cabin experience is all about the ability to have a nap on a plane.

    Even for US domestic flights, we’d rather spend the extra cash just to avoid the crazy add-on fees for bags, faster clearance at TSA and the off chance of sitting next to an inconsiderate passenger.

  15. Great post Gilbert. I’ve flown most of all the great first products and I’d say it’s a peak experience that I’m grateful for knowing how much of a limited resource it is. But times have changed now that we’ve started a family. A direct flight is HUGELY valuable and honestly I’d prefer a row in coach where we can wrangle a toddler than biz or first where it’s more difficult to tend to the little maniacs needs.

    Props on focusing on what travel means to you. I think the points community has often focused too much on how to get there without encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone.

  16. Personally I disagree. I travel often but not crazy often – usually 10 long haul flights plus 4-6 short haul flights a year, always for pleasure not business. I have very bad experience with economy class ( economy plus is a ridiculous product and in my opinion waste of money ) – first of all with the service but also seats and other passengers. For short haul flights up to 4 hrs economy is OK but any longer flight – not really. By the way : I am talking about decent airlines, I always avoid ANY American airlines: seats, service, food and lounges are below any standards.

    1. Hi Fury.
      14-16 flights a year is quite often I would say. Wondering where you are based and how can you have that many holidays in a year when we usually have only 22-25 days of annual leave in UK? If you fly every month assuming taking min 4-5 days off (as you go on long haul) then that’s over 50 days leave a year. I guess you don’t have a normal 8-hour job in office…

  17. I agree that all the six-course meals and fancy wines and champagnes can be fun but they’re also way overdone. But flying back-to-back 10+ hour flights (most of my options for travel to South Africa, and most of the flights to India), when you are no longer 25 or even 45 years old, I have to say that a flat-bed seat with some bedding makes all the difference. Business class, mostly, though I do dream of dual Lufthansa First flights, SFO to FRA and FRA to JNB – someday. I’d rather enjoy the first days of an exotic, once-in-a-lifetime vacation than save points. Another factor about direct flights is that it can mean 13+ hours on a plane (eg, Vancouver to Delhi, Johannesburg to Hong Kong). Flat bed and nobody falling asleep on your shoulder? Yes, please. I’m more of a once-a-year-amazing-trip type anyway, so I can scrounge up the points.

    But if you’re talking New York to London, with a family, yes, absolutely go coach.

  18. I could not agree more for flights under 12 hours. I also spoke to my wife and gave her the gist of this post and asked her if she would fly first/business from LAX to ORD to HND for a total of 20 hour door to door or on PE direct from LAX to HND (12 hour flying time) and she said she would take direct PE because while business/first would be a great Facebook post, you are almost losing an entire day and when you are flying back, you want to be home early. So, yes, both of us would prefer business/first, but if we have to decide between PE on a 12 hour direct flight or business/first that includes a layover and 20 hour flying time, we would take PE.

  19. I didn’t find the time to travel outside the US until just a few years ago. Direct flights #1. Being able to afford filling my passport – Priceless. Economy works for me!

  20. I agree that intercontinental First Class travel, also on longer routes like Europe to Los Angeles, is not worth the additional money/points. However, Business Class is an absolute must for me – I can’t sleep in (Premium) Economy. I did my share of Economy Class flights in the past but that just does not work for me anymore.

  21. When I was younger I had this fantasy that the front of the plane was some hidden paradise. Now that I have flown many of the best international first class cabins the only thing I appreciate is the “space”. I can’t eat all the food they give me, I certainly can’t drink as much booze as they try to ply me with.
    I do appreciate the ability to sleep – something that is non negotiable on 6+ hour flights.
    First is worth it on Asia-US flights or US to the middle east. Transatlantic/ transcontinental is simply too short to enjoy anything. My last JFK- FRA on Singapore Suites was not worth it. I found a bulkhead business class seat on the same flight to be as enjoyable. The difference between biz and F has also narrowed for most airlines.
    As for redemptions they have become increasingly expensive I flew on business for $2k recently ny-fra which would have cost 140k miles- simply not a good value. The points game isn’t what it used to be but the plus side is that business class prices have become more affordable than ever.

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