It’s a fact of life that the great volume of air travellers turn right at the cabin door, turning their backs on the ordered luxe of First and Business Class for the enforced intimacy of the Economy Cabin. And oh, how many of us have looked in jealous admiration at those serene, spacious acres of perceived calm as we trudge towards the netherworld of chicken or pasta, twenty film channels, and lockers overflowing with a tsunami of strange shaped carry ons, all overlaid with a soundtrack of inflight safety videos and screaming kids. Little wonder then, that those who can afford it are tempted to consider paying for an upgrade.
Sure, Club/Business and even First Class will give you far more space to play and relax in, with vastly upgraded food and drink service. Fillet steaks and fine wines, served up on snowy white table cloths, Bose headphones and a seat that often converts to a fully flat bed are just some of the perks. There’s designer toiletries and, often as not, even an in-flight sleeper suit. But the real advantages are often in the pre and post flight experiences.
Those wanting to sleep on overnight flights can often dine quite well- and for free- in the exclusive departure lounges accessed with one of those magical, upper class tickets. There’s a dedicated Fast Track through security, as well as separate check in desks, and an enhanced luggage allowance. If time and privacy are of the essence, these can be real deal breakers in deciding whether to splash out on an upgrade.
The downside is that you are not going to get there any faster than the huddled masses in steerage, and there is no guarantee that you will escape from screaming kids, though a better class of headphone will certainly drown them out. And many will simply decide that the difference in price to upgrade from Economy to Business is simply not worth the while.
The most expensive upgrades are usually on the Transatlantic routes where the demand is greatest, typically to and from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Here, the premiums are relatively highest in direct proportion to the actual flight time. By contrast, flights out to the Far East tend to be better value in the upgrade stakes, with cheaper prices and longer flight times. This is an option that clearly gives you the most bang for the proverbial buck.
If you can only go to the expense of upgrading on one leg, I would personally make it the outward one. It’s an auspicious way to start that trip of a lifetime, and worth doing at least once for the sheer excellent exclusivity of the whole gig. If travelling to America, you’re pretty certain to be flying in daylight hours as well, whereas the flight home tends to be overnight, and so not as conducive to enjoying the whole range of extras on offer.
That is a statement that obviously applies to leisure travellers. Business travellers, sybarites and the simply filthy rich will fly Business and/or First Class routinely, no matter when or where.
There is also a kind of netherland offered by some airlines, known as Premium Economy. These seats usually have five or six inches more leg space than in Economy, and they are also wider, so offering more than a modicum of ease and space, if not excessive luxury. The throwback here is that the food and drink service is the same as offered in the (relatively) cheap seats at the back, but the premium is a lot less than that charged for Club, Business or First Class.
If you’re part of an airline loyalty programme, you can often use accumulated miles to upgrade your ticket; a sweet little treat that is really the cream on the cake. And, after all, what else are you hanging on to all those miles for, if not to treat yourself?
Upgrading is ultimately a value call. If you think the price point offers good value in terms of convenience, comfort and exclusivity, then it’s a no brainer. It can make the difference between a good trip and a truly great one.
And, while spatial largesse and upgraded service are a common factor of all left hand turns at the plane doorway, it is also true to say that not all Business Classes are created equal. Mind you, prices for upgrades can vary widely as well. The best thing to do is check the individual airline websites in advance, to get an overall idea of the product. You could also check some inflight passenger reviews online to gain a picture of sorts of what’s on offer.
There’s no question that upgrading puts the fun back into flying. The real question is, whether you think the expense of moving up a level, or even two, can be justified. And, at the end of the day, that’s a value call that only you can truly make. Enjoy.