A note about premium cabins and becoming jaded…

As I’ve mentioned several times now, I traveled to Germany this past week, and ended up flying Delta BusinessElite. As I’m about half way through writing the trip report, one thing has occurred to me, and I feel like it’s worth addressing now: I’ve become jaded.

It’s not my fault, though, so hear me out. First of all, I’m an absolute airplane geek. I’ve loved flying and airplanes for as long as I can remember. I’ll never get tired of the beauty of flight. Years ago Condor (a German low cost carrier) used to fly from Tampa to Frankfurt nonstop, and I remember how excited I would get about flying with them, to the point that I didn’t get a minute of sleep the night before — and that was in coach, usually in a middle seat.

My family was never wealthy enough to afford to pay for premium cabins out of pocket, not that it’s a good use of money anyway. But I slowly got smarter about the miles world, even at a young age. I remember when we finally used our miles for a business class transatlantic trip. I was absolutely over the moon. I couldn’t sleep the night before, and I sure as heck couldn’t sleep for a minute when I finally got on the plane. I was worried I would miss something, as if certain aspects of the service were hidden from those that chose to sleep between meals.

As many of you probably know, miles and points have become a full time obsession of mine. I dedicate most of my life to travel and miles, be it blogging, writing about travel, consulting about travel, reading about travel, or traveling. And thanks to the effort I’ve put into it, I’ve been able to experience some truly top notch airlines and visit some amazing places I could have never otherwise been able to afford. Heck, this ticket to Frankfurt in business class ended up costing me $290 out of pocket, and that includes the taxes and the cost of acquiring the miles. Not bad for business class, right?

I think it’s only natural that the more airlines I fly in first class, the less impressive business class becomes. I mean, after experiencing airlines like ANA, Asiana, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Singapore, Swiss, Thai, etc., in first class, the bar has been set way too high.

So here’s my point — for the most part, nowadays I consider business class travel to be a form of transportation, and typically little more. If I have a flat bed in business class, fantastic, I’ll sleep most of the way. I’m not all that concerned about the service, because my expectations are quite low. On US airlines in business class, I expect the food to not be a whole lot better than it was in coach 10 years ago, I don’t expect much personal service, and I don’t expect to be addressed by name. Give me a reasonably comfortable seat and something that’s edible, and I’m pleased. But in business class, for the most part, the journey isn’t part of the “experience.”

So as you read my reviews, please understand it’s only natural that I’ve become jaded. I try to be as objective about everything as possible, pointing out the minor positives (like a flight attendant saying “my pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome”) and the minor negatives (like a meal not being well presented). I’ve experienced the incredible suites on Cathay Pacific, the precision with which the flight attendants on Singapore Airlines serve, being asked how I want my steak cooked on Asiana, the Thai Airways Spa in Bangkok, the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, and being whizzed through the terminal in Istanbul after and before flying Turkish Airlines.

My advice to readers? If you’ve only flown coach until now, seriously, keep doing it for as long as you can! If you haven’t tried international first class, don’t! You’ll regret it, because you can never go back.

Comments

  1. The test of this travel philosophy will come when someone else (i.e. an employer) is paying for all this travel and lodging and making your arrangements. At that point, coach class travel, likely including transatlantic, is virtually guaranteed. I would not take business class for granted, as you seem to be doing.

  2. Yes, so true. I came across this blog earlier this year and even though I dont live in the USA, have managed to get through mattress runs, buying US miles and similar, cheap F tickets. Man, my partner doesn’t want to go anywhere in coach that’s more than 2 or 3 hours. haha!

    I love it, and no, you can never go back! =)

  3. You are such a great writer…I enjoy so much reading your articles, and thanks for sharing your experiences…Have you considered writing a book?

  4. @AS I don’t think Ben is taking business class FOR GRANTED. He’s saying that it’s not impressive relative to what he’s become used to. It’s perfectly comfortable transportation, not something to spend time anticipating for its special-ness. And that’s really what it’s designed to be, in any case, no matter what the marketing geniuses may say otherwise about it. As for business travel, small and mid-size employers with flexible enough travel policies to accomodate this ‘hobby’ are almost a must!

  5. I have a dental practice that generates a slew of points each year and we have been blessed with many Business and First Class flights over the last 8 or so years.

    I’ve often commented to my wife that the hardest thing about retiring in the years ahead will be the loss of those miles and being relegated back to Coach where I belong! My wife, bless her, had the solution. “Don’t even THINK of retiring!”

  6. Sounds like you could start a business helping others maximize their travel and money. I have yet to see anyone offer Mile Makeovers to help a traveler get the most out of what they are already doing.

    Something to consider….

  7. It’s like this:

    A frequent first class flyer gets a free Business Class ticket for his Birthday! He thinks, “Wow Business class sucks, how disrespectful of you to give me a damn business class ticket!”

    Now, a frequent coach class flyer gets the same Business Class ticket for his Birthday! “Oh my God, this is amazing!” The flyer is full of Joy and is one of the happiest days of his life!

    Think about those who fly in private jets all the time… they wouldn’t feel one ounce of Joy if they were awarded a freakin’ First Class ticket… Or the guy with a few mansions around the World… give him a 4-star hotel and he’ll freak out that its not 5…

    And thats how this World goes round my friends, thats how it goes…

  8. Coins,
    When my upgrade doesn’t clear domestically, or when I decide to slum it on coach Trans Atlantic since it’s only a redeye, it helps to keep my nose in place. Sitting in the back every once in a while is a good thing. It makes you appreciate flying upfront.
    FYI, I’ve never ‘wasted’ my miles for first. My wife and I are very happy in business.

    We’re all looking forward to reading a report from you about your next coach experience!

  9. I love your blog when it comes to strictly doling out information. It is very helpful. But, I find a lot of the opinions/nitpicks completely obnoxious. So, I am glad you issued this post.

  10. My last trip (via FF miles) involved using LH’s first class terminal in Frankfurt. Talk about becoming jaded after that experience.

    Personally my biggest desire is to have personal space on the plane. Alcohol I rarely drink while flying and I’m not a foodie (give me a turkey sandwich and I’m happy).

    Next time I have to fly coach internationally it will be tough. I do have a lot of sympathy for those who have to fly for business regularly and in coach. I did some flying while working for the government and heading to the mideast from the east coast in coach was a long long day.

  11. The trend is to eliminate or downsize the international F cabin. I can’t even fathom the thought of no more F award availability – plus it’s one of the best reasons to earn all of those miles. I hope the big programs realize this. Eliminate this redemption option and more and more of my flying will be on smaller airlines.

  12. First class will be around for top executives who contractually get it, so I don’t see world-class airlines doing away with it. Which means redeeming / upgrading to F will be an option. And totally agree with you: it’s like staying in the Wynn one night and Circus Circus the next.

  13. I could not agree more. I’ve had the luck of employer paid C and F travel and it’s impossibly to travel in Y afterwards.

    This week a new girl in the corporate travel office booked the 10 people or so traveling to various places in Y instead of C/F.

    Talking with my coworkers, we all thought it was the end of the world as same girl was the only one staffing our travel office this week and would not change itineraries.

    I survived my day meeting trip to Seoul, however, after getting back last night, I still feel like I need all day to recover from sitting in Y for so long.

    I will say UA seems to be picking it up. My upgrade cleared last night on LAX-ORD and the FA in first made me reminice about OZ and SQ F. He addressed me by name, remembered my drink choices and wine preferences, and the flight was even stocked with wines found on Int’l f instead of Domestic F. (Not that they are very impressive, but I really enjoyed the 2006 Chardonnay I had) Talking with him about the merger and new policies that are being introduced by the new Inflight service management, I feel the new UA will be headed in a better direction and maybe it won’t be the typical doom and gloom direction American carriers seem to be heading.

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