The early boarding in the VIP line. The clinking sounds of real stemware and silverware. And what, exactly, goes on behind that mystical curtain separating first class from the rest of us?
Some people insist that first class is the way to go, and is absolutely worth every extra penny spent. Others cannot fathom paying triple (or more) the price for a journey that, ultimately, is only a few hours long.
Allow us to let you in on some first class scoop before deciding for yourself whether or not it’s really worth traveling first class.
Not All First Class is Created Equal
First and foremost, first class is a fluid term that varies from airline to airline. For instance, first class on any US airline simply cannot compare to, say, first class on Emirates Airline. The service offered in first class can also depend on the destination: international flights receive a fancier experience than domestic routes.
What You Get
To determine whether or not first class is worth it, you need to understand what it is you’re getting for paying a premium. Most first class experiences start when you set foot in the airport. From private check in lines to more generous baggage allowance to access to private lounges (complete with snacks and an open bar). Some airlines even provide limo service to the airport!
When boarding time rolls around, First Classees are whisked onto the plane early, usually in their own line. When they find their seats, they’ll notice that they have plenty of legroom, wider and comfier chairs, and fewer seatmates than their coach counterparts. Some might even find glossy travel pods or “suites” welcoming them.
The difference in service level is noticeable from start to finish. Flight attendants might call them by first name, offer them a steaming hot towel to freshen up, and provide them with a glass of quality champagne (or whatever it is they want) before the plane even takes off.
Food and drink—yep, even alcohol—is provided throughout the flight, and bathroom wait lines are virtually non-existent. Flight attendants act as personal concierges throughout the flight, accommodating to the flyer’s every want and need.
After the plane touches down, the first class flyers are the first to leave the plane, and their luggage is usually the first to appear off the conveyor belt.
Ultimately, first class is about service and convenience. Many airlines offer fantastical perks, like in-flight showers and luxury pajamas, but when it comes down to it, most first class passes take flying from the stressful, cumbersome experience it has become to a pleasant, easy way of getting from Point A to Point B.
The Practical Response
First class costs a lot of money, plain and simple. In some cases, you can expect to spend 11 times the price of a regular ticket to access first class. In other words, you could fly to and back from your destination five times and still have some cash leftover.
If you’re ridiculously wealthy, this might not be a huge deal, but for most of us, the extra money would be better spent at the destination—say, on an indulgent meal at a world famous restaurant, or on a premium room at a fancy hotel.
The other way to pick up a ticket to first class is to redeem airline reward points. The conversion rate is not quite as dramatic as it is with cash: you can sometimes scoop up a first class ticket for double the amount of points as an economy ticket. This could be a reasonable treat for a special flight, like on the way to your honeymoon.
Consider a few of the reasons you might not want to travel first class, aside from the cost: it’ll ruin economy class forever; you still can’t pick your seatmate (yup, you could still get stuck next to a crying baby), and ultimately, you’ll get there at the same time as everybody else—though perhaps a little more well-rested and refreshed.