Economy Class vs. Business Class: What Are the Differences and Is It Worth Paying More for the Latter?

Economy Class vs. Business Class: What Are the Differences and Is It Worth Paying More for the Latter?

Whether you are about to spend money on your dream vacation or book some flights using your hard earned miles, you might be wondering whether it is worth paying extra to fly in business class as opposed to economy class.

While I wrote an overview of the different travel classes that you can fly in as well as a detailed look at the different types of business class seats that airlines use in the past, this is a more detailed comparison of the two most common travel classes.

Business Class Usually Costs 2-5x More Than Economy Class

Unless you are lucky to take advantage of one of the mistake fares that pop up every now and then (such as the unbelievable sub-$700 Qatar Airways fare from Vietnam to the US), then business class costs considerably more than economy class.

That applies to both regular tickets as well as to award tickets booked with miles.

To give you an example of the price differences you can expect, below is a table comparing prices of non-stop economy with non-stop and cheapest business class fares on selected routes. (For this sample, I looked at return tickets from September 7 to September 11, 2019.)

Economy vs. Business Class Price Comparison

And, the below are award ticket prices for selected mileage programs and routes.

Economy vs. Business Class Required Mileage Comparison

The above is only a very limited sample. But, in general, you can expect to spend about twice as many miles when booking a business class ticket as when booking an economy class ticket.

For regular tickets, the range of multiples is much wider, and it depends on the dates you need to travel on, the airline, the route, as well as whether you are flying non-stop or are connecting. Generally, you will find paid business class tickets to be anywhere between 2x and 5x more expensive than similar economy class tickets.

Now that you know how many times more you will have to pay for business class, let’s take a look at what that extra money (or miles) spent will get you so that you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth it or not.

Economy Class vs. Business Class: Ground Service

While, obviously, there are differences between economy and business class in the air, there are also quite a few differences in the service you receive on the ground as well. And, while the onboard service can differ greatly depending on the length of the flight you are taking, the ground service is fairly consistent whether you are flying on a short two-hour flight or a long-haul.

When flying business class, you will be able to use dedicated business class check-in counters at your departure airport, as well as board with priority. Separately from that, at some airports with some airlines you will have access to priority lanes at security checks and (a bit more rarely) at immigration.

In addition to that, if you are checking a bag in, it will get handled with priority as well. As such, your it will (at least in theory, as oftentimes it doesn’t work exactly as intended) appear on the luggage belt at your destination earlier than the bags of your fellow economy class passengers.

Business Class Priority Boarding

Both of those will help make your journey not only quicker but also more comfortable.

Speaking about comfort, at most airports, flying in business class will also give you access to an airport lounge.

The quality of lounges can vary greatly depending on the airline you are flying with and the airport (and terminal) you are departing from, in general, it will offer a comfortable place to relax and work in before your flight. Most lounges offer free drinks and food in the form of a buffet.

To see what some of the airport lounges around the world look like, make sure to check my lounge reviews.

Business Class Perk: Airport Lounge Access

Economy Class vs. Business Class: Seat and Cabin

In economy class, the seat will be roughly the same regardless of the airline or aircraft type you are flying or even the duration of the flight. In business class, though, the type of seat and the comfort it offers can vary greatly.

Economy Class Seats

On shorter flights outside Europe, you will most likely encounter large recliner seats that are considerably wider and offer better legroom than their economy class counterparts. In Europe, the situation is nowhere near as good since even in business class, you will most likely get a normal economy class seat with an empty seat next to you.

On longer flights, the seats can range from older angle-flat and full-flat seats that offer little privacy all the way to suites with doors.

Business Class Seats

In either case, though, the seats generally offer way more legroom than economy class seats, and are much more comfortable to sleep in. That is, unless you are lucky to have a row of three or four seats to yourself on your economy class flight.

As mentioned in the introduction, I previously wrote an article about the most common business class seat that are out there, so make sure to check that article as well.

Separately from the above, business class cabins have more toilets relative to the number of passengers than economy class cabins do, and sometimes (though rarely and only on some aircraft types operated by some airlines) offer things like bars and onboard lounges.

Economy Class vs. Business Class: Dining

On the shortest flights, the meal service in economy and business class might essentially be the same – either no service or a light snack. On slightly longer flights, it might mean the difference between getting nothing (other than buy-on-board service) or a cookie in economy class and a cold meal in business class.

Where it gets interesting, though, are medium and long-haul flights. While the quality of meal will differ a lot depending on the airline you are flying, in general, on these flights, you will get a multi-course meal in business class as opposed to a single-tray meal in economy class.

Economy Class Meal

(On overnight flights, the business class meal might be served on a single tray to save some time and allow passengers to maximize the amount of sleep they get.)

On top of that, in business class, some airlines – such as Singapore Airlines – offer the ability to pre-order your favorite meal in advance. And, other airlines – like Qatar Airways – offer dine-on-demand service where you can order what you want when you want it rather than having to get the meal at pre-determined meal times.

The drink selection – especially if you drink alcohol – is generally much better in business class as well. On longer flights, you will generally be able to select from a variety of wines and even Champagne in addition to various liquor and soft drinks.

Business Class Meal

Economy Class vs. Business Class: The Rest

While the above three are the main differences between economy and business class, there are some other, minor, differences as well.

One of those, if you are flying on a paid ticket, is that a business class ticket will in most cases earn you more miles than an economy class ticket on the same route would. The most common exception is if you are flying on a full fare economy class ticket which might earn the same amount of miles as a discounted business class ticket.

Award tickets won’t earn any miles regardless of whether you are flying in economy or business class.

The other difference worth mentioning is luggage allowance. While the actual allowance for both checked and carry-on luggage will vary from airline to airline and even from route to route, it is always more generous for business class than it is for economy class.

For example, if an airline allows their economy class passengers one 8 kg carry-on bag, they might allow twice as many for business class passengers. Or, if an airline allows 23 kg of checked luggage for its economy class passengers, the business class allowance might be 32 kg.

Summary: Is It Worth Paying the Extra to Fly in Business Class?

To sum all of the above up, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of both economy class and business class.

Economy Class

  • Pros: cheaper, gets you where you need to go in the same time as business class
  • Cons: less comfortable, longer wait times, less extensive dining options

Business Class

  • Pros: generally comfortable seat (and bed), access to priority lanes, better dining experience
  • Cons: more expensive, less consistent service across airlines and aircraft types than in economy class

As far as whether or not all the benefits of business class are worth paying for, that’s up to you to decide.

If you need some more information in addition to the above, you might want to read some of my flight reviews (both economy class and business class) to get a better idea of how big the differences are.

Personally, I only fly business class when I am lucky to take advantage of a mistake fare or when using miles as I find it hard to justify paying two or three times more in cash “just” to have a better meal and spend ten hours in more comfort than I would get in an economy class seat.

Get Your FREE "Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank" Guide

No, I am not going to tell you how to fly in first class and sip Dom Perignon for free…

But, I am going to introduce you to a couple of ways you can experiment with to try a business class flight without having to spend thousands of dollars.

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Get Your FREE "Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank" Guide

No, I am not going to tell you how to fly in first class and sip Dom Perignon for free…

But, I am going to introduce you to a couple of ways you can experiment with to try a business class flight without having to spend thousands of dollars.

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