Two weeks ago, as my wife and I were leaving for our babymoon, I had the option to upgrade our Houston-Paris flight to Business Class. The idea of flying with leg room, Champagne and flat beds for 11h was tempting. So I did what every money conscious person would not do and I accepted. Here’s how it was.
Our Flight Plan
Originally, because my wife is 5-month pregnant, we wanted to have enough legroom and space for her to be comfortable. We also looked for flights with minimum layover. It also had to be the lowest fare and with a carrier we had miles with. We bought 2 Premium Economy tickets with Airfrance, for non-stop flights Houston-Paris.
This was definitely not cheap.
But it met all our criteria under these circumstances and this was the best option available.
When we checked in our luggage at Houston airport, I wasn’t particularly excited when the Airfrance lady asked us if we wanted to upgrade to Business Class. They had a ‘special discount’ for upgrades at the counter.
The offer itself was 15,000 Airfrance miles + 200 Euros to upgrade from Premium Eco to Business on our way to Paris, for each of us.
My reasoning went like this :
- Rational me: I do not want to spend another 200 euro per seat, on top of an already expensive ticket
- (slightly less) rational me: The cost of Business is usually twice the cost of Premium Eco, so that’s looks like a good deal
- Rational me: It’s an additional expense of 200 euro and 15,000 miles
- (slightly less) rational me: Well, these miles would expire if I don’t use them, so I might as well use them now.
Then we purchased the upgrade, got debited 30,000 AF miles + 400 Euro and went on to see what it’s like to turn left instead of right when boarding the plane.
What was great about it
I must say that the experience of flying business class is nothing like economy. It’s so much better. I actually felt like that’s how it should be.
Flying across continents is an amazing feat in itself and we should be enjoying it. It should feel like an adventure, like a we’re witnesses of progress, not victims of price optimization strategies.
- Amenities are great: with each seat comes a little storage where you can store you small items like keys, cellphone, books,… while they would be charging on the USB or power outlet underneath. The over-ear headphones are great and absolutely comfortable for a multiple hours of movie or music. The screen actually felt huge, I’d say 13 inch, and it felt like watching a movie from a laptop vs a phone or a tablet.
- Food is delicious: for the first time on a plane, I almost had too much food. We had 3+ courses: amuse bouche, appetizer, main course and dessert. I’ve included some pictures below. This was restaurant-quality food.
- Drinks were a cut above the rest: not that like drinking on the plane, but having a glass of real Champagne as a welcome drink, and not a cheap bubbly knock-off, was appreciated. The white and red wines were also high quality and you could have more than one glass if desired. For coffee, the business class section has an espresso machine so you can indulge yourself with fresh coffee when the dessert comes.
- Seats convert to flat beds: possibly the single best argument for flying business class is the seat that fully reclines and convert to a full flat bed. No more struggling to sleep seated with your knees under your chin and fighting for the armrest with your neighbor, the fully reclinable seat promises* quality sleep at 10,000 feet.
(*) continue reading below to see why.
What wasn’t so great about it
Unfortunately, everything isn’t rosy in the expensive seating experience of luxury flights. At least, this is my experience:
- Flat beds aren’t actually great for sleeping: this one is maybe the most important point, because while you could sleep well, it’s difficult to actually benefit from it. See, our flight landed at 8am Paris time, which is the equivalent of 1am Houston time. With a bed-time of 10PM, paying extra for the option to sleep flat for 3h is more difficult to justify. More importantly, I didn’t feel particularly more refreshed when we landed than when we fly economy.
- Seats are designed for lone travelers only: it is obvious that business seats are designed for lone travelers, not couples or families. Because the seats are angled to make space of the flat beds and because the seats themselves are so large, it makes the flying experience more individualistic and less intimate (which might be the whole point, I understand). As an example, I couldn’t reach my wife’s arm from my seat across the aisle without standing up first.
- The price : of course, paying 4 times the price of an economy ticket for business class is a ton of money and I don’t see the benefits as being 4 times greater. The value provided is probably worth double the value of economy on a long-haul flight and less for shorter ones.
Flying business class to go on vacation was a worthy experience. I still think the cost of the upgrade at the counter was a good deal, but travel experts may think this was a foolish expense. My wife also had a great flight and in a way, that alone was worth it.
But would I do it again?
In a word : “Yes”, but with a caveat. To me, flying Business Class is worth it as long as someone else pays for the ticket (eg: your company, your miles). Otherwise for most of us, saving 3,000$ on a plane ticket to fly Economy is big enough an incentive to fight the armrest with our neighbor for a 11h flight.