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Is Springing for Business Class Worth It?

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It may seem counter-intuitive in tough times to pay more for a business class airfare just when everyone is economizing, but sometimes forking over the extra money is well worth it, travel-business experts say.

This is especially true for long-haul transcontinental or international flights, when arriving fresh for a meeting or a day of touring with water bottle in hand and backpack strapped on your shoulder is a must. But coming up with the extra money for business class can be the right thing to do in other circumstances, too—provided you have the money to pay for it in the first place, that is.

“Some airlines give extra mileage points for buying business class tickets,” says Terence Regan, the owner of Berkeley Northside Travel, a California travel agency. “This can be important if the client is near premier status with the airline.”

Moreover, Regan adds, “Long-haul itineraries often have very attractive business class specials. This is especially true on flights to Africa and Asia. The best value for the around the world air fares are in business and first class, often saving thousands of dollars.”

Kevin Mitchell, who heads the Radnor, Pennsylvania-based Business Travel Coalition, a trade organization of corporate travel planners, agrees that buying more-expensive fares to sit in the front of the cabin is sometimes worth the added cost.

“When the business objective is important enough, and the price is affordable enough, then such an investment is warranted,” Mitchell says. “For example, if I had to land in Brussels at 6:30 a.m. and attend meetings at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., then I would strongly consider flying business class up to perhaps $4,000 (from the U.S. East Coast). Over $4,000, I could not justify it. Someone else with greater financial resources might decide differently.”

For cost-conscious leisure travelers, the right time to buy a business class ticket may be seldom or never, says Chris McGinnis, a San Franciscan who runs the travel booking portal The Ticket and serves as business editor at Best Western’s blog.

“Unless you are mega-wealthy—and who is these days—it almost never pays to pony-up for a standard international business class ticket, which typically start at $5,000 and go up from there,” McGinnis says.

“However, with the downturn in the economy and the recent focus on corporate cost-reduction, even businesses cannot afford business class anymore,” he says. “The airlines have responded to the drop in demand with a lot of very good deals, as low as $2,000 (for a trans-con flight). But they come with a lot of restrictions, such as advance purchase and restricted days of the week.”

For some travelers, though, flying at the front of the plane, with the extra legroom, wider, softer seats, and more attentive service, is a must, especially on long-haul flights.

“Usually, if it’s over four hours, companies will allow employees to upgrade to business class. Some companies say six hours,” observes Minneapolis air-travel consultant Terry Trippler, principal of Trippler Associates.

For leisure travelers and people not on a corporate expense account, “If you can afford it, you should do it,” Trippler says. “I think it’s always worth it. The difference is night and day.”

Travelers can find the best deals on business class tickets by using travel search engines such as, a recently created unit of the popular Travelzoo, which displays the best deals in all classes after searching dozens of airline Web sites simultaneously.

Or you can use miles to upgrade from coach. And don’ t forget to ask—nicely—at the gate if there are any remaining business class seats; sometimes you can upgrade at a discounted rate.

By David Armstrong of MainStreet


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