This year I have had the chance of experiencing the business class a bunch of times for free as free upgrade and even one self paid vacation. Traveling in business class is probably a dream of every traveler, but what should one consider before throwing a bunch of money in for a business class ticket or an upgrade? 🤔
Maximize your business class experience
Needles to say that if you want to experience business class once in your life, you should go for intercontinental flights. Usually the business class in EU or regional flights is limited to so and so food and free alcoholic beverages. When flying on a long-haul flight, you will usually get two servings of food and an option of ordering more free of charge during the flight. The selection of beverages is also wider on long-haul flights, not to mention that you get to sleep well as the seat turns into a bed.
But business classes are not the same! There are huge difference between the airlines and also within an airline, so you have some ground work to do. 🕵️♂️ This year I flew Finnair to Chicago and Tokyo, and the business classes were like night and day. Why? Simply because Finnair flies to Asia with their newest planes and to America with their dead old ones. For example, in the older plane, there's less privacy in the business class. If you are seated next to the window, the chances are you will have to sit next to someone. Also the middle row is privacy wise much like economy. In the newer plane, however the window seats are for one person only, and in the middle, there's a wall big enough to hide your fellow passengers. But there's more, in the old plane the seat mechanism wasn't quite as functional as in the newer one, and of course the new plane had a much nicer in flight entertainment system.
This being said, first figure out the aircraft you will be flying. You want to go with the most modern plane the company has, because their business class advertisement pictures will be from that plane. Figuring the aircraft out beforehand can also save you from unpleasant surprises – for example Dubai flights are not intercontinental according to Finnair, which, perhaps counterintuitively, means that you will get the same business class as in EU flights.
Once you have the airline and aircraft figured out, there are a couple of more things to consider. Firstly, book your business class flight departing from the airline's hub airport to your destination, not the way around. Why? Simply because the catering is done by whatever supplier the airline has available in a given airport. At the hub airport, the catering is arranged by the airline's own staff and chefs, so they will make sure you get the business class experience exactly as they intended. If you plan to sleep on the plane, book an over-night flight. I was surprised that they turned the cabin flight off for my flight from Helsinki to Tokyo Narita, but not when coming back, although I would have enjoyed some darkness for a couple of hours nap.
Make also sure you are flying the airline you buy the ticket for. You don't want all your ground work to go to a waste when you realise that your Japan Airlines flight is actually a codeshare flight and operated by Finnair. Also make sure that the flight is not operated by a low-cost branch of the main airline. In practice this means you should avoid Norra when flying Finnair, American Eagle when flying American Airlines, Cathy Dragon when flying Cathay Pacific and so on… I have seen Emirates selling their expensive business class flights to Helsinki that are actually operated by FlyDubai. Now that's a surprise you want to avoid! 😂
The last thing you can't affect or anticipate is the staff. The flight attendants can be overly nice like on Japan Airlines or a bit moody like on American Airlines. We are all people and sometimes they might have a bad day, or they might be happy and smiling.
Lounge is probably one of the most important extra perks in your business class experience. Just remember that a business class ticket entitles you to a specific lounge even though the airline had multiple lounges. Make sure you don't march to a wrong one and get turned away. 😅
If you want to maximize your lounge benefit as well, you might be interested in reading my other post about airport lounges. 😌
Additional business class perks
Business class comes with a bunch of additional perks you may or may not have an access to. Firstly, you will typically earn way more points in the airline's loyalty program if you buy a business class ticket. However, not all airlines give you more points if you simply upgrade your travel class.
Priority security and boarding are some benefits that you will have depending on the airport. Some airports don't simply have a priority line for security check, whereas others have several depending on your priority level. I have thus far always seen a priority lane for check-in, which is nice, but priority boarding varies. In Helsinki, they sometimes don't bother with the boarding groups, but invite everyone at the same time. In the USA, on the other had, American Airlines follows boarding groups strictly.
An extra piece of luggage is typically included in a business class ticket. The problem is that if your journey consists of several flights, some out of which are in economy, you cannot really benefit from the extra luggage as its only included in the leg you fly in business class.
Opt for an airline you know has a nice business class. Make sure you fly with their most modern aircraft on a flight departing from their hub airport. Go intercontinental for more food, a wider selection of beverages, access to a nicer lounge, possibly to sleep and a cool amenity bag. 👍