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When to Fly First Class

when to fly first class
Allianz - when to fly first class

For some, flying first class is an everyday experience. But for the rest of us, it can be the rare stint in the lap of luxury — that’s not awkwardly squeezed against two strangers’ laps. It’s an occasion during which the journey can trump the destination — and you can barely hide the giddy grin on your face as you take your first mile-high selfie.

 Let’s take a closer look at those who may consider first class a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. Or at least an occasional treat. This group comprises most of us. Take a glance at last year’s travel stats, and you can glean that only about 5% of passengers flew in a premium-class cabin. (Note: That number comprises both first class and business class). The simple math reveals that 95% of us are jockeying for legroom and overhead baggage space in the cheaper seats. 1

But what if you have the itch or the need to fly first class? What if you want to walk past that velvet rope, claim your free eye shade and hope as hard as you can that you sit beside a celebrity — even the likes of Carrot Top? We’ve shared and detailed five times when you could or should consider forgoing seat 43B for something a bit more exclusive. Here they are…

1. When You Need to Be Productive

Maybe the year-end financial report is due when you’re flying somewhere over Brisbane. Or your email inbox is so overloaded that you’re debating simply deleting it and starting fresh. Regardless, you need to churn through some work during your 14-hour flight. While the economy seat you usually grab technically has Wi-Fi, tray tables and maybe even power outlets, how productive can you truly be when you’re having to type with alligator arms, freak out each time you think the passenger is front of you is going to recline, and get up every two minutes so your seatmate can use the lav. (He did drink 64 oz. of artisan water the first hour of the flight, but who’s counting?)

Thinking that you can get real work done in the scenario described above is a foolhardy pursuit. You need the extra room, the privacy and amenities that first class provides in order to be at your best. And if your company is fitting the bill, even better, right?

Here are some of the advantages of trying to wheel and deal, or even trim that inbox, from first class:

  • It’s an office away from the office: It’s not a lot to ask for: Reliable Wi-Fi, enough space between you and the next passenger so they’re not forced to stare at your Microsoft Excel documents, and plenty of charging options for phone, laptop and other devices. With first class, you get all this and more. Forgot a pen? Boom. Need some headphones to transcribe some dictated notes? Done.2
  • It’s your time to relax and recharge. There is jet lag. And then there is just the exhausting grind of rising early for a flight, lugging bags around strange cities, eating greasy food on the run, and not being able to nap while all scrunched up against a plane’s plastic window shade and a clunky bulkhead. (Face it: your blazer makes a lousy pillow.) First class gives you the elbow room, reclining ability, comfier pillow and blanket, and personal space to catch some real Zzzzs and otherwise take care of yourself so you arrive fresh to take care of business. Plus, some first class sections offer much more than that, from Qatar Airways’ flat-bed seats to Cathay Pacific’s 500-thread-count cotton sheets and Bose noise-canceling headphones.3 Heck, you may wake up just as the plane touches down; now that is a great feeling!

Also, you don’t need to settle for some burnt fries at the Terminal Café or a 1-oz. bag of snack mix. On Hawaiian Airlines, for example, you can enjoy a comfort food-rich menu highlighted by Beef Kare Kare, an oxtail stew with simmered in a cashew sauce with roasted potatoes, carrots and asparagus. On Virgin America’s first class menu, options include Chicken and Artichokes, Korean Bibimbap and Coq Au Vin with Slow-Braised Short Rib. Now those are some fitting pre-nap meals (Yes, they have salads, too.)4 

Don’t forget; this comfort and convenience starts from the get-go, as checking in will be a breeze and you’ll be among the first to board the plane as a first class passenger.5

  • You need to make a connection. Yes, part of the allure of first class is not being sandwiched between a few strangers from Chicago to Paris. But at the same time, we’re social creatures. When you’re not busy typing expense reports, you can be socializing; in fact, first class lounges and seats are famous for their fluid networking. One in five people have engaged professionally with someone they met on a flight, according to a survey of Virgin Atlantic passengers.6 And the airlines are in on the corporate match-making. More and more carriers are creating networking and mentorship programs that take place during flights. For example, KLM’s Meet & Seat program allows you to view passengers’ social media profiles — as well as where they’re sitting — to see if there is someone you’d like to connect with. Don’t worry, you have to opt in to share, so if you just want to focus on the quarterly reports or binge-watch “Silicon Valley,” you don’t need to worry about getting caught in some chit-chat.7 

2. When You’re Not 100%

Maybe you’re battling a lingering sinus infection. Or you have a chronic health condition that just makes flying, and everything that comes with it, more difficult. First class can offer a respite from the typical airline hustle and bustle. Not only will you receive as much privacy or attention as you want from staff, but you’ll also find a much better in-flight lavatory experience if so needed.8

3. When You Can Time It Just Right

Sometimes you’re simply curious to price your coach seat against a first class fare. And if you time it right, you may find the distance between the two numbers prompts you to ponder some first class treatment. Make no mistake, flying in the front of the cabin is exponentially more expensive that standard seating. Remember that stat we shared earlier about how only 5% of folks recently flew in a premium class cabin? Well, that 5% accounted for more than 25% of airline revenue.1

These prices aren’t met to scare you, but just to show you what you’re up against if you’re seeking out ways to get that first class fare closer to the several hundred dollars you have budgeted for a coach class fare. Here are a few ways to help make that happen:

  • Look for mid-week and Saturday flights. Many airlines, including American and Delta, offer lower rates for these days as they’re less popular with passengers. Likewise, avoid booking on Friday and Sunday, which are the most popular days of the week, if you’re looking for value.
  • Book at least seven days in advance. Airlines know that business travel is often planned at the last minute. They also know that executives aren’t afraid to use their corporate credit card to ensure they’re still comfy and productive in their first class seat even when booking at the penultimate moment. Don’t get caught in this expensive trap.9
  • Check your status: Status and points can make magic happen when you’re looking to upgrade up to first class. And this can take several different routes, whether you get some last-minute, luck-of-the-draw karma that gives you the front seat for next to nothing or you make the conscious decision to trade miles for a reduced rate on a first class seat. Unlike the other two pointers, this one happens before you board, so be sure to inquire about any such opportunities with the gate agent so you’re on the airline’s radar.

4. When It’s a Special Occasion

There may be no greater buzz kill then prepping and packing for a romantic honeymoon or a globetrotting family reunion adventure you saved five years to make happen, and then schlepping to the back of the plane to sit right in front of the lav, while your seatmate sits across the aisle. Sometimes you want the red-carpet treatment from start to finish. You want to start the vacation inside the terminal. And doggone it, you deserve the first class treatment, right? Right. If you need to find the rational argument for booking first class tickets on a trip marking a milestone or truly special moment, just think of the big bill you’re fitting for the entire trip and ask, “What’s a little bit more?”

5. When You Want to Be Pampered

We haven’t spent enough time talking about the lounge privileges that first class tickets provide passengers. Here, you can enjoy delicious and healthy fare without stacking all your bags on your lap just to fit in the cramped quarters. Sometimes this experience extends to a private check-in area, too; this is what Elite Delta passengers flying Delta One class get to experience at LAX.5 But there is more, too. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa drives first class passengers from the first class terminal to the plane in luxury car.8

Then there is the prompt and personal attention, the free drinks, and did we mention the amenity kits? Yes, these high-end grab bags filled with the finest doo-dads and accessories are part of the first class experience, and include everything from eye masks to tooth brushes and extra comfy slippers. On American Airlines, passengers get freebies from Cole Haan (including PJs) and skincare products from Clark’s Botanicals. Emirates, which many say offers the finest such amenity kit, includes moisturizing loungewear — the first of its kind — and a bevy of other indulgences.10

It’s all there for the taking in first class — for the right price.

First class isn’t for everyone. Many travelers are willing to get there the most cost-effective way possible, even if they have the means to fly in the front of the cabin. But if flying first class is on your travel bucket list, then you might consider making it happen sooner than later. Here is the reason: First class seating is shrinking every year. It’s not because people aren’t interested in the high life; it’s because traditional first class cabins are being replaced by pods and suites. Think more space for fewer people, and much more revenue for airlines. If $5,000 sounds like a lot for a first class round trip flight to Tokyo today — just imagine spending $25,000 for an entire room complete with bed and private wet bar tomorrow.11

It’s easy to get lost in the clouds imagining a lavish first class experience, especially if you’re more accustomed to grinning and bearing long trips squeezed in the middle of the plane (only getting to work on your airline magazine Sudoku when your seatmate gets up.) First class may be a departure from your usual travel routine, but the time may be right to indulge. Plus, who knows, maybe you’ll become a first class regular, stepping off the plane into your subcompact rental car and then your discount motel room. Because you need to figure some way to offset the cost, right?

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