Is Flying First Class all it’s Cracked Up To Be?

We get a lot of sideways looks in our daily lives when we tell people that we only travel in first class. People like to assume that it is because we’re made of money or the blog gives us tens of thousands of dollars a month in income (hint, it doesn’t).

Ben and I made a pact back in 2013 that we would do everything possible to fly in first or business class on every single flight that we take, and at the MINIMUM fly in Premium Economy if we couldn’t get moved up front. Ya know what? Going on 7 years now we’ve done it. 

The question was asked recently if flying first class is worth it, and what the real truth about flying first class is. The truth? It’s the only way that you should fly, and it’s not that difficult to achieve. First Class is really all its cracked up to be, so long as you realize the days of caviar on domestic flights is over and set those expectations to the right level.

Actually, for a long time we were a first class only blog, and then Stephen had to come in here and throw a wrench into that equation… Just kidding, just kidding!

The Southwest Argument

Plenty of people I know fly on Southwest Airlines and love the experience. The companion pass that they offer is a great way for you to take someone with you when you’re exploring the world, and since they service a lot of destinations at (often) lower prices, I can see the appeal. 

For the infrequent flyer, and perhaps the vertically challenged passenger, flying coach is a perfectly acceptable experience.

Southwest offers free luggage, flexible cancellation policies, and relatively consistent travel experiences.

Southwest Airlines Sale

Southwest Plane

However, if you’re flying on a basic economy ticket on a major airline in the US such as Delta, Alaska, United, or American, the economy experience can be vastly different. To that point, the First Class experience can also be night and day.

I want to talk about some of the different parts of the travel experience, and how first class really does make a difference, despite what someone from another website might lead you to believe.

Booking

When booking a first class ticket, very often the price differential is minimal. The problem is that many people use websites such as Orbitz or Expedia that don’t show the upcharge between first class and economy. 

You might be surprised to know that on many coastal flights (up and down the west coast or east coast) the difference might only be $10-20.

On longer flights, such as JetBlue transcontinental flights, the difference might be $200 but the experience will be completely different. 

Earning Potential

When you purchase a first class ticket, you’ll earn more of those precious miles that get you status with the airline. Typically earning 50% more at a minimum, it’ll help you reach those elite tiers even faster.

Delta Airlines offers a 50% boost and on Alaska Airlines you’ll earn a 75% bonus for flying in first class. 

Check-In

If you’ve seen the long check-in lines during a busy holiday season, or if you’ve been stuck in them, you know this pain. The First Class check-in line is always shorter and manned typically by staff that are usually the senior members of the ground staff.

They’ll know best how to deal with delays and be more empowered to help you with any changes you might need.

Norwegian Premium Check In

The original post’s author tends to suggest that “travel is always hectic and there’s bound to be confusion at some point…” Nothing like some generalizations to lump all travel together…

Security

If you have TSA Precheck you’re already a step above the vaaaaaast majority of travelers, but even if you don’t have TSA Precheck most airlines will have a Premium line. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying on American, United, or Southwest. It is possible to get access to this premium line and that line alone can save you dozens of minutes. 

Denver airport security tea

Airport Security is a mess

If you want to avoid a hectic situation, getting through the line even quicker is the sure-fire way to do so.

Speaking of Clear, shameless plug… if you haven’t signed up for it yet, this is an even FASTER way to jump the security line. Averaging $10/month, it’s worth ditching two lattes a month for the experience of a quick and painless security line.

We have a referral link here if you don’t have clear already. If you do have Clear, please feel free to add your own referral links in the comments below.

Lounge Access

Once you clear the security and gather your belongings, head to the lounge. I look at airline lounges as a respite from the absolute insanity of the airport. No screaming, no running around, comfortable chairs, no strange smells (usually) and plenty of free food and drink. 

The centurion lounges that come with your American Express Platinum card offer a full bar and full food menu. If you didn’t clear your upgrade to first class, this is a great way to fill up before a flight.

American Express Centurion Lounge Seattle

New Bar area in Centurion Lounge – very empty

American Airlines offers lounge access with their credit card. Alaska Airlines offers a very discounted membership for their elite members.

We’re still waiting to see a Frontier or Spirit lounge. Haha!

If you’re flying internationally, forget about it. Airlines, especially non-US airlines, will pull out all the stops for their passengers.

Check Out our lounge reviews here for Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Zurich, Delhi, Alaska’s JFK lounge and a Priority Pass Lounge in London Heathrow.

Etihad Lounge Ab Dhabi Seating

Plaza Premium Lounge, Rome (courtesy of PlazaPremiumLounge.com)

Cathay Pacific Lounge

Cathay Pacific Lounge

Boarding

Nothing screams “relaxing” like “Now Boarding Zone 7” when you’re in Zone 9… First Class passengers can board whenever they want, giving you more time to relax in the lounge sipping on that drink.

Worried about overhead space? Don’t. First Class passengers have dedicated overhead bin space and if it’s full, we’ve almost always found that the flight attendant will make room in the closet up front, especially during the summer when there aren’t a lot of jackets.

from Alaska Airlines’ website.

The Seats

Perhaps the most important part of the flight, this truly depends on a myriad of factors.

Which airline are you flying? Are you flying domestic or international? Is the plane large or small? Has it been refurbished? 

Alaska Sky West First Class Seat

Alaska Sky West First Class Seat

It’s true that domestic first class doesn’t offer a super luxurious seat, but honestly having enough leg room to not cramp my knees AND get out to use the bathroom without having to completely inconvenience my seat mate is priceless. 

Also, who really enjoys fighting over the armrest? No fighting in first class…

If you are lucky enough to be flying internationally in first class the experience can also differ. Just like there are a dozen different restaurants offering different food options in your hometown, every airline is also different.

Emirates First Class looks like this…

Etihad First Class looks like this…

Etihad First Class Dates and Champagne

While American First Class looks like this…

First Class, such a tease

Condor’s Business Class looks like this…

Condor Business Class Seat

While Delta’s Business Class looks like this…

Delta One Business Class Seat

Here’s Vistara’s economy cabin…

Vistara Economy Class Cabin

Looking back on economy

And Vistara’s Business Class

Vistara Business Class Seats

Comfy Leather Seats

There really is a difference.

The Flight Experience

Expect a meal. Expect a pillow. Expect a blanket. Expect better service. Expect a large TV (or a TV at all). 

These are all perfectly valid expectations and all found domestically, especially if you’re flying on Delta Airlines! We’ve found that Delta Airlines’ domestic first class flights to be quite comfortable.

Please note, I didn’t say expect a five star meal…

or a memory foam pillow…

Etihad Pillows

Etihad Pillows

or a duvet and mattress pad…

Delta One Westin Heavenly Bedding

or a 24 inch television…

Etihad IFE

Etihad IFE

But these things do exist. They are attainable, and they are possible to achieve…

Baggage Claim

No one actually enjoys waiting for their bags. That’s why when you are flying in first class, your bags are tagged for early arrival. 

On our recent trip traveling in first class, our bags were on the belt within 16 minutes of our arrival. We actually cleared customs and immigration and the bags were already there. Flying in coach? Sorry, everyone was still waiting for their bags while we strutted off to the hotel shuttle.

With the exception of Alaska that doesn’t tag their bags with any priority, almost every airline marks their bag as Priority or First Class so you can get it off the claim first.

Alaska doesn’t offer this because of their 20 minute bag guarantee… a guarantee that we’ve had the fortunate pleasure of taking advantage of on many occasions.

It’s a really BAD article

I feel bad for the writer of this article. He seems to have the worst experiences when he travels. Apparently he can’t even find a taxi, there’s always a blizzard, the movies cost money, the chairs are dirty, and he’s always late going through security.

It should be noted that these things have absolutely nothing to do with flying in first class, just flying in general.

I never said that flying was a perfect, flawless experience, and perhaps for the casual traveler who only flies on short routes or just once a year, flying in economy is just fine. 

But for Ben and myself, when we go on vacation, we VACATE. We want the experience of relaxation and pampering to start from the moment that we leave our front door.

Flying in First Class, especially when you learn the best ways to earn miles and points, really is a way for us to truly separate ourselves from our day to day. 

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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7 Comments

  1. Iโ€™m a million miler and almost 8 years continuous Diamond with Delta. The seat you showed in this article is good but is not from their latest A350 and would love to share a few of my pics of the business class experience. I too travel business International and first domestic and itโ€™s the only way to travel, particularly with SkyTeam partners such as Korean Air (747 and. A380), KLM (787) and Virgin Atlantic.

    Although your articles are focused on non-SkyTeam airlines, I greatly enjoy reading your articles and learning from your experiences and would love to contribute Delta and SkyTeam travel experiences.

    Thank you, and look forward to hearing from you.

    Artrice Love

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Artrice – I’m a Platinum, almost a million miler, so I love SkyTeam! Just that sometimes the redemptions don’t make sense with their miles. I would love to have you help contribute as well!

      Post a Reply
      • Awesome! Agree with the mileage redemption challenge and the need to check fares vs. mile spend to get the most value! Iโ€™m based out of ATL and travel weekly domestically, and make several international trips a year. Looking forward to sharing and contributing from my SkyTeam experiences.

        Post a Reply
  2. Jon, I think an even more interesting article would be “Is Flying International First Class all itโ€™s Cracked Up To Be?” where you compare International F vs International J and whether F is worth the upcharge in miles/cash.

    Given that the blog is called No Mas Coach, I would assume that most of your readers already bought into the idea that flying premium cabins is better than flying coach. However, whether or not to splurge on F where you already get a lie-flat in J is a much more divisive issue among this audience and would make an interesting discussion ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Post a Reply
    • You know what, you’re right! Now if I could just convince Ben to fly in J instead of F…

      Post a Reply
      • Good luck with that…

        Post a Reply
        • I know someone willing to fly in J if you’re not ๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™‚๏ธ

          Post a Reply

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