The reasons flying first class can be worth the money have nothing to do with the math
First-class plane tickets are notoriously pricey, costing as much as $32,000 on some flights.
So is flying first class actually worth it?
If you're going by the math: probably not.
But for some people, first class offers perks and convenience that might be worth the steep cost of preserving time, productivity, and energy.
The cost of first-class airfare can be astronomical.
Some first-class prices, such as a $32,000 trip from New York to Abu Dhabi on Etihad's A380 in a first-class suite, are even as high as the altitude of the planes themselves.
We previously discussed the reasons behind the expensive price tag of first-class airfare, such as the coveted perks, the sense of luxury, and the ability for airlines to discount tickets. But with a 70% increase in fares compared to economy, possibly even more if you're flying internationally, are those reasons even worth the steep cost?
Depending on how badly you want a taste of luxury, it might be — especially if you're a savvy traveler who used points to pay for your flight.
For starters, the perks and pampering blow economy class out of the water
First-class passengers have special access to first-class airport lounges, where they can grab a drink pre-flight, receive free mani-pedis, or take a shower upon landing. Some airlines even shuttle passengers in a Porsche or Mercedes to their connecting flight, where they can then board via priority boarding, of course.
In-flight, that special treatment becomes top-notch personal service, complete with meals by Michelin-starred chefs and free booze as well as luxury provisions such as pajamas, eye masks, and expensive gift bags.
And that's not to mention the amenities and privacy the luxurious real estate of first class provides. Airlines are known to boast padded seats four to six times the size of economy seats with extra leg room, larger TV screens, a flat bed with bedding, sliding doors for solitude, and showers, just to name a few.
Some airplanes even have first-class suites, such as Etihad's A380, which is complete with a living room, double-bed bedroom, and private bathroom with shower.
All of this pampering and comfort leads to another, intangible, perk: convenience
Surrounded by such luxury, it's easier to land at your destination refreshed, less stressed, and well rested. And the location of first class is also the most convenient for boarding and deplaning, helping to add more time and energy to your day.
That's all hard to come by in economy, where little service, cramped seats, and a longer waiting time to deboard are more likely to heighten jet lag and therefore create lost productivity — not exactly ideal for a family with a toddler or a businessperson who needs to head into a meeting right after hopping off the red-eye.
Likewise, first class affords those traveling for business a few bonuses
First class gives fliers more space, privacy, power outlets, and WiFi to get work done, as well as the potential to forge connections, writes Joel Comm of Inc.
"The first-class areas are the ultimate networking rooms," Comm wrote. "It starts in the lounge, where you get a proper place to relax, alongside people who are at the top of their professions. It continues on the plane, where you might find yourself sitting alongside the founder of a multimillion-dollar company or the chief executive of a Fortune 500 business."
The math is discouraging, but if you have the money, first class can be worth it
Ultimately, first class will get you to the same destination in the same amount of time as economy. Logistically speaking, it's not worth the money.
Take the example of an American Airlines flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to Heathrow Airport in the UK in July 2018. The 3,440 mile, seven-hour trip costs $915 for economy, equal to roughly $130 an hour. The $5,407 for first class, though, will get you to the same place for roughly $772 an hour.
If you don't have upwards of $5,000 to spend on a single flight, the calculations are pointless. But even if you do, the difference is stark.
For those who can afford it, the worth isn't about the money — it's about the intangible benefits first class provides. It enables fliers to gain time, energy, productivity, and potentially new relationships. If that's too sacred to lose, then first class might be worth it.