Choosing between business class and first class can be a tough decision. On the one hand, business class seats are more spacious and offer more legroom than those in the economy. On the other hand, first-class seats are made of higher-quality leather, they recline further back than in business class, and they include amenities like free alcohol and gourmet meals that may not be included in business class. Here are the key differences between business class and first class to consider when booking your next flight.
Seat Size and Comfort
One of the biggest differences between business class and first class is the amount of personal space and seat recline. Business class seats range from 20 to 25 inches wide and have around 37-38 inches of legroom on average. This allows you to stretch out more compared to a typical economy seat which is usually 17-18 inches wide with around 31-32 inches of legroom.
First class seats tend to be even wider at around 22-24 inches wide depending on the airline. Legroom is generous as well, with some airlines offering well over 40 inches of legroom in their first class cabins. When it comes to reclining, most business class seats have a recline range of 130-170 degrees. However, some lie-flat business class seats fully recline to 180 degrees. First class seats can recline up to 180-220 degrees, converting into lie-flat beds on many long-haul routes. This added space and ability to lie down flat makes first class seats more comfortable for sleeping.
First class amenities are more luxurious, with extras like pajamas and custom bedding provided on long overnight flights. Business class amenity kits will have useful essentials like eye masks and earplugs but first class kits take it up a notch with designer toiletries, skincare products, and other luxury items.
First class passengers often get top-shelf liquor and champagne before takeoff as a welcome drink. Special dining menus are another first class perk, created by celebrity chefs and loaded with premium appetizers, entrees, and desserts not found in business class. And while business class lounges provide a relaxing escape before your flight, first class ticket holders get access to even more exclusive airport lounges.
The inflight service is superior in first class as well. While business class flight attendants generally provide excellent service, first class passenger-to-crew ratios are lower. This means you get more personalized attention and pampering throughout the flight with things like being escorted to your seat and having your coat hung up for you. Many airlines also have dedicated first class flight attendants in addition to the cabin crew.
The dining experience is also elevated. Plated, multi-course meals with your choice of gourmet dishes are served in first class by a member of the flight staff. In business class, tray meals are more common. And first class never runs out of the wine, champagne, or cocktail you want thanks to ample provisions. You can set your own dining pace without feeling rushed.
For those wanting a private, exclusive inflight experience, first class is the way to go. While business class offers the privacy of an individual pod-style seat or suite, it’s still a communal cabin environment. First class is more intimate, with just a handful of suites and seats.
This exclusivity lets you avoid the crowds. You can board first and settle in while others are still boarding. Disembarking is also much quicker without having to wait for dozens of other passengers. Moving around the cabin inflight is easier too in the spacious first class area.
The biggest tradeoff between business class vs first class is the cost. International first class fares can be 5X the price or more compared to business class on the same route. Domestic first class tickets are 2-3X more expensive than domestic business class seats.
If your company has a flexible travel policy and is willing to pay up for first class, it’s an amazing experience. But for leisure travelers or those paying out of pocket, the price premium is hard to justify. Business class provides excellent value and gets you many of the same inflight comforts for significantly less.
One way to get a taste of first class without the price tag is upgrading from business class. Airlines will sometimes offer upgrades to unsold first class seats at check-in or at the gate for a fee. Status in the airline’s frequent flyer program helps, as elite members get priority on upgrades.
Using miles to upgrade is another option. Some airlines let you redeem miles for the fare difference between business and first class. Checking seat maps and readiness to pay cash if needed also improves your chances of scoring an upgrade.
Questions to Consider
When choosing between first class and business class, ask yourself:
- How long is the flight? The extra amenities and space of first class make more of a difference on lengthy international flights.
- What’s my budget? The premium price may be hard to justify if paying personally vs. a company footing the bill.
- How important is privacy and exclusivity? First class is more intimate and private.
- Does my frequent flyer status help? Elite status can provide free upgrades and other first class perks.
- Can I get a discounted first class fare? Look for sales, reward tickets, and upgrades.
The bottom line is that both first class and business class provide a vastly better experience than economy. For a once-in-a-lifetime splurge or celebrating a special occasion, first class is amazing. But business class offers excellent value for money along with lie-flat beds and other inflight indulgences at a more accessible price point for most travelers. So weigh your budget, travel needs, and preferences to decide if it’s worth the upgrade to first or if business class is the right balance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about first class vs. business class:
What is the main difference between first class and business class?
The primary differences are seat size and comfort, inflight service and amenities, as well as cost. First class seats are wider and have more recline, converts to fully lie-flat beds, and offer superior pampering and exclusivity.
Is first class worth it over business class?
Whether it is worth it depends on your budget and desire for privacy, luxury service, and exclusive amenities. For special occasions, it can be worth splurging but business class offers excellent value too.
Can you upgrade from business class to first class?
Yes, upgrades are possible either by using miles if your frequent flyer program allows it, paying a fare difference at check-in/boarding, or being upgraded due to status. Availability varies by airline and route.
What do you get in first class vs business class?
Key first class perks over business class include: lie-flat seats/suites, lavish amenity kits, pajamas, celebrity chef dining, chauffeur service, more attentive staff and inflight pampering.
Do you get lounge access with business class?
Yes, business class tickets include access to dedicated airport business class lounges while first class tickets provide entry to more exclusive first class lounges where available.
Does first class board first?
Yes, first class passengers get to board before business class and economy passengers so they can settle in and enjoy pre-departure beverages.
Is alcohol free in first class?
Alcoholic drinks are complimentary in first class cabins along with premium wines, champagne, and spirits. Drinks may be priced in business class depending on the airline.
Can you take a shower in first class?
Some airlines offer inflight showers on specific long-haul routes for first class passengers to freshen up during the flight. Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar are known for onboard showers.
Does first class have more legroom?
First class seats typically have at least 40 inches of legroom and extend to fully lie-flat beds. Business class legroom ranges from around 37 to 38 inches on average.