First class ins and outs: what you get for your money

Intrigued by the idea of flying first class? Find out how much it costs and what it’s really like to travel in luxury

It's travel. But not as you know it

It's travel. But not as you know it © Singapore Airlines

Category Tips & tricks

Date 23rd February 2017

Ah … first class. Incredible lounges, champagne during take-off and an eight-course tasting menu, before your bed is made and your pillow fluffed.

Turning left when boarding opens up a whole new world; a world of legroom, hot towels and white tablecloths. Not to be confused with business class, which comes with its own set of perks, flying first class on a long-haul flight is a wonderful thing – for those lucky enough to experience it.

Below, we’ll divulge some of the more extravagant luxuries you might encounter on your first class travels, from on the ground indulgences to in the air frills.

Before take-off

With nap rooms, spas, Krug champagne and a la carte dining, first class lounges are not to be scoffed at - here at Quantas
With nap rooms, spas, Krug champagne and a la carte dining, first class lounges are not to be scoffed at – here at Quantas

Imagine this: the VIP treatment starts before you leave home. Or, more accurately, as you leave home. Some airlines offer their first class passengers a pick-up service, so you don’t even have to worry about getting to the airport.

Step out of your chauffeur driven car, make your way to your dedicated check-in, and then fast-track through security. Once through security, get yourself to the lounge.

Often shared with business class travellers (although sometimes entirely exclusive for first class travellers only) lounges are the elusive sanctuaries of airports. Always hidden, they offer the weary traveller scrumptious treats, all kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and, if you’re lucky, a massage, mani-pedi or other spa treatment that tickles your fancy.

In the air

Impeccable service is one of the perks of flying first class © Gerhard Linnekogel, Lufthansa
Impeccable service is one of the perks of flying first class © Gerhard Linnekogel, Lufthansa

Depending on your airline, you’ll be guided to your seat – or your individual pod or cabin – and given a drink of your choice. Champagne at 10 am? Why not!

Throughout the flight, you’ll be taken care of by attendants who will address you by name and pretty much do and get you anything you want – within reason.

Given that the number of first class seats on a flight is extremely limited, you’re likely to have a very high attendant-to-passenger ratio, meaning impeccable service, at any time of your flight. Of course, there’s a fair chance you’ll have your own mini-bar stocked with your favourite drinks, so you might not even need to ask for a drink.

If you’d rather be a little more social when having a drink, why not see if your airline has an onboard bar? Yes, a bar. On a plane. If you’re flying on an A380, the largest commercial jet currently in service, there’s a good chance there’s a fully-stocked bar tucked away somewhere.

A seat fit for a king

Flying first class with Air France will ensure a good night's sleep
Flying first class with Air France will ensure a good night’s sleep

Needless to say, your seat will smoothly transition into a fully flat bed when you’re ready to catch some Zs, but if making your own bed seems like too much work, you could ask for a turndown service, where an attendant will do all the folding and fluffing for you.

After some much-needed sleep, enjoy breakfast in bed and some freshly brewed coffee (or a glass of champagne if you fancy.) If you’re flying with Emirates or Etihad on an A380, pop over to the bathroom for a shower before you land, fully stocked with luxury toiletries of course.

Should you splurge on first class?

Use your miles and try a first class experience - flying will never be the same again © Gerhard Linnekogel, Lufthansa
Use your miles and try a first class experience – flying will never be the same again © Gerhard Linnekogel, Lufthansa

While all this certainly sounds great – first class is truly more pampering than in your wildest dreams – but it comes at a price.

A return ticket from London to San Francisco costs approximately £500* for an economy seat, £2300 for business and £3300 for first class. Following the same pattern, Tokyo to NYC costs £540 for economy, £2300 business class and a whopping £9500 for first class. That’s a £9000 difference between economy and first!

Why is it so expensive, you might ask? Often only a few first class seats are booked and they take up a lot of room – room that could be used on more economy seats, or even more business seats.

In fact, business class has become so good in terms of service and amenities offered that some airlines have chosen to ditch first class altogether.

Why not consider business class?

Singapore Airline's business class. Plenty of room for stretching those legs
Singapore Airline’s business class. Plenty of room for stretching those legs

Many – if not most – airlines’ first and business class tickets have a great deal in common. The major difference is the price, which we have just seen.

Business class passengers also often have access to some of the same perks typically reserved for first class. Airport drop-off services are no longer reserved solely for first class passengers. The airlines that do offer a home pick-up service usually offer the same service to their business class passengers too.

In many airports, first class and business passengers are likely to share a check-in desk and lounge. Passengers in business class also enjoy perks like being able to take a shower in the lounge, if they’ve got a layover, and, of course, the extra-comfy seats on board. While they might be slightly wider in first class, business class seats typically lie just as flat, providing the perfect angle for a good night’s sleep.

Who actually flies first class?

Many first class passengers have their tickets bought for them. VIPs (CEOs, film stars, TV presenters, etc.) likely have a clause in their contract that stipulates first class travel. If you didn’t have to foot the bill, would you complain?

And the others? They’re probably using their air miles or being given upgrades – they’re the ones who fly a LOT and who have, effectively, earnt it.

Even if you aren’t a billionaire or celebrity – if you really need miso-glazed Patagonian toothfish with broccolini and if you can’t live without having your pillow plumped for you, you can still consider shelling out the extra cash for first class. But be warned, once you fly first class, nothing will ever be the same, including your wallet.

*All prices are as of January 26, 2016, according to searches on momondo.com
If all else fails, why not bag yourself an upgrade? At the very least, find out how to make a long-haul flight fly by with our top tips

Originally published

23rd February 2017