First class and business class offer the ultimate comfort and relaxation throughout your journey, but it’s no secret that they’re not cheap.
From a cosy bed to your own onboard cocktail bar and state-of-the-art entertainment options, there are lots of extra touches major airlines can offer.
But which ones offer the best experience and which give you the most bang for your buck?
Whether you’re planning your own trip of a lifetime or are just taking a well-earned break, be sure to compare travel credit cards before you leave.
Coming in first place is the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, also known as ANA. The airline has the smallest difference between its economy and first-class flights, although it’s still a huge gap (185%).
On top of this, ANA first-class seats have a width of 34 inches and its lounges also received a respectable average score of 6 out of 10 with travellers.
ANA has an excellent reputation with a large fleet, but only a small number of its planes are kitted out with a first-class cabin.
Lufthansa is another airline with impressive seat size on its first-class flights, with an average width of 31 inches.
Germany’s flag carrier airline also has one of the smallest differences between its economy and first-class flights, but again, they’re not cheap (477%).
Lufthansa is one of the few European airlines offering a true first-class product on most of its long-haul routes.
In third place is Oman Air, the national airline of Oman. Oman Air has the largest average legroom of these airlines, at 83.25 across its first-class fleet.
It was also amongst the highest scorers when it comes to the quality of its lounges, at 6 out of 10.
First-class is always going to be expensive, but the airline where the difference between an economy and first-class ticket is smallest is All Nippon Airways.
However, this is partially because ANA tickets are so expensive to begin with. The average economy ANA ticket from Tokyo is £4,328, which increases by 185% when looking at first class.
In second is Thai Airways, where a first-class ticket is 313% more expensive than an economy one (on average).
The majority of services on Thai Airways are between Asia and Europe, including a direct route from Thailand to London Heathrow.
All three of the airlines with the smallest price differences are based in Asia, with Korean Air coming third.
With Korean Air, average first-class tickets cost over 400% more than economy, but that’s still one of the most affordable first-class prices (£4,354).
However, for some airlines, you have to pay a serious premium for first-class luxury. That’s most evident with Etihad Airways.
With Etihad, the average economy ticket costs £596, but for first-class, that jumps by over 1,000% to £6,672.
Second is Qantas Airways, where on average you’ll have to pay 813% more if you want to experience first class.
First class is offered exclusively on the Airbus A380 services which feature 14 suites and an on-board business lounge.
Like its fellow UAE flag carrier, Emirates also has a big difference between its economy and first-class tickets, at 777%.
Emirates offers one of the best first-class experiences, with its suites being described as resembling “a private bedroom on a luxury yacht”.
Seat comfort is one of the biggest benefits of flying first class. The airline that offers the greatest seat pitch across its entire first-class fleet is Oman Air, at an average of 83.25 inches.
Seat pitch is the distance between your seat and the one in front.
The size of your seat is also important, and Singapore Airlines prides itself on having some of the most spacious first class seats in the sky, at 35 inches wide in first class.
In fact, they estimate that this is around 50% larger than most other standard first-class seats.
The baggage allowances across different airlines are often broadly the same, however, there are some differences.
When it comes to first class, some airlines won’t limit the number of bags, as long as they don’t exceed 50 kg.
For seven airlines on this list, you’re limited to three pieces that can weigh 32 kg each, which totals 96 kg, making them the superior choice for those opposed to travelling light..
Another big perk of travelling either first or business class is access to the airline’s own lounge.
Across the board, review scores for these lounges actually seem to be on the low side, with ANA, Oman Air and Qatar Airways tied for first place with scores of 6 out of 10.
When it comes to airlines where business is the highest class offered, LATAM is the highest ranking.
The largest airline in Latin America, its network covers not just South America but also major cities in North America, Europe, and the Pacific.
LATAM scores particularly highly for its seat width (22.25 inches) and its baggage allowance, with three bags of 23kg allowed, for a total of 69 kg.
Narrowly behind LATAM is EVA Air, which stands for Evergreen Airways, based in Taipei, Taiwan.
Its business offering is known as “Royal Laurel Class” and excels in both its seat width (23.89 inches) and legroom (64.89 inches).
EVA Air is considered one of the most underrated airlines and offers a lot of first-class amenities at a business class price.
Third place goes to Gulf Air, the state-owned flag carrier of Bahrain. Gulf Air has the greatest seat size of these airlines, with an average width of 22.5 inches, and also has impressive legroom of 70.5 inches too.
Gulf Air isn’t necessarily one of the better-known airlines, but its business offering (known as “Falcon Gold”) is clearly among the best.
If you’re weighing up business and economy seats, then Vietnam Airlines is the best airline to make the change with.
The difference between the average fare for this airline is around double, with the average business class flight being £1,051, compared to £500 for economy.
Only just behind Vietnam Airlines is Asiana, with an average price difference of 117%. The average economy ticket with Asiana costs £470, compared to £1,021 for business.
Asiana is based in South Korea and its business class is split into two options: standard business and a more premium ‘business smartium’ class.
As with first-class flights, each of the top three airlines with the smallest price increase for business class is based in Asia.
EVA Air’s business offering is known as “Royal Laurel” or “Premium Laurel” and it also offers these on its short-haul services.
The airline with the biggest gap between its economy and business pricing is JetBlue, at 611%.
JetBlue isn’t necessarily an airline you’d associate with business class, due to it being a low-cost airline, but it does have its “Mint” service, which offers lie-flat seats.
WestJet flights have an average difference of 460% between their economy and business class flights.
Business is only available on WestJet’s Boeing 787 flights but is the only Canadian airline to offer fully private pods to its passengers.
Another Canadian airline comes in third place, with Air Canada having an average difference of 424% between economy and business class.
Known as “Signature Class”, the airline’s business offering has lie-flat seats, chef-curated meals and a BMW chauffeur service.
When it comes to legroom, Air New Zealand has the best business class offering, with 79.5 inches, which is more than many first-class airlines offer.
Air New Zealand business cabins are all leather and come with an ottoman footrest that doubles as a visitor seat, and also converts into a lie-flat bed.
In terms of seat size, Gulf Air has the most generous offering, with the average seat on its business services being 25.5 inches wide.
All services other than short-haul ones now offer flat beds in the Falcon Gold cabins.
As with first-class, baggage allowances don’t vary all that much when it comes to baggage allowance.
Four airlines will allow you to take three bags with a maximum weight of 23kg, for a total of 69kg.
They are: LATAM, Air New Zealand, Ethiopian Airlines, and Aer Lingus.
Just two airlines have an average review score of 7 out of 10 for their lounges, and they are Bangkok Airways and Cathay Pacific.
Airline lounges offer you a place to relax in peace while you wait for your flight, while also making the cost of pre-flight food and drink much more affordable.
Loyalty to a frequent flyer programme instead of booking through flight price comparison sites, such as Google Flights or Skyscanner, will greatly increase your chances of an upgrade. Getting to the top levels (Gold or Platinum) gives you a great amount of status at check-in, which is likely to put you at the front of the queue should a free seat in business or first class become available.
Smart and professional clothes are key to being upgraded, so opt for trousers rather than joggers, a blouse rather than a t-shirt and loafers rather than flip flops. You are much more likely to be put with the top paying customers if you look the part, however, may be much less comfortable!
Go out of your way to be nice and friendly to airline staff at check-in. It is refreshing for airline staff to be treated with kindness and respect, so try asking “Would you be opposed to seeing if there are any open seats towards the front of the plane?” for example. This can work especially well if you’ve booked a busy flight, as commercial airlines often overbook their economy seats, meaning some passengers need to be upgraded. Also, waiting to check in towards the end of the check-in window can greatly help your chances of a free upgrade for this same reason.
Airlines are much less likely to upgrade groups of travellers, due to fewer seats being available to fill in business or first class, compared to the number of passengers travelling together. Being a solo traveller also means you can be upgraded with minimal fuss for the airline staff. Couples still have a chance of a free upgrade, particularly if they are travelling for a special occasion, such as a honeymoon, as long as they make the airline aware of this.
Are you a doctor, professor or judge? Then make sure you make use of your title! If you don’t have a title, no need to worry, as Lordships are available to buy! There are multiple websites that allow you to buy a small amount of land, which grants you a Lady/Lord title, for as little as £24.95! Using your title means that you are much more likely to bag a free seat in first class, so make sure to use it when booking your flight. However, it’s important to note that you should only use your title if it matches your passport details.
Taking out an air miles credit card, will give you points for every pound you spend day to day that can then be used for money off flights or even free business and first-class upgrades.
Business class will never be cheap, but there are ways that you can try and make it cheaper.
For example, you may find discounted fares if you’re flexible with flight days and fly at less popular times.
Airlines will also discount tickets last minute to ensure that there are no empty seats on the plane, so you can sometimes bag a cheap upgrade on the day.
But one of the best things to do is join a frequent flyer programme. Loyalty schemes allow you to earn air miles which can then be used to pay for upgrades.
You could also take out an air miles credit card to earn points towards your upgrade when making everyday purchases.
According to Skytrax’s World Airline Awards, Qatar Airways has been named the best airline for business class.
Qatar Airways introduced a new QSuite range of suites in 2017, which is seen as one of the best business offerings in the world.
The QSuite offers a fully private area with double beds, which can be connected to the adjoining suite to create a fully private room or even a four-person suite.
The cost of a first-class flight varies depending on factors such as demand, and how close to the day of the flight you book.
For this research, the cost of more than 200 first-class routes was studied. Those that were to or from the UK had an average cost of £8,872.
The cheapest was £4,146 for a first-class Oman Air flight from Muscat to London.
This is of course entirely subjective and the answer will vary from person to person. First-class is undoubtedly a luxurious way to travel and can make your flight much more comfortable.
However, it also comes at a high price, especially when you consider that you can enjoy business class for a lower fee.
First-class is most worth it when on a long-haul international flight, where you’ll be spending the longest time on a plane and the benefits are at their best.
Getting a free upgrade to business or first class on your flight is rare, but it can happen. Those who are members of frequent flyer programmes are more likely to be selected, especially if you’ve clocked lots of miles.
Some airlines will allow you to use loyalty points from these schemes to get an upgrade on your next flight.
However, if you’re just going to take your chances then a lot of it comes down to luck. Of course, it helps to be courteous and friendly with the airport staff, and special occasions like honeymoons may help sway them.
Also, you have to remember that these cabins are reserved for business travellers and the rich and famous, so you’ll also have to look the part!
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be dressed up, but if you’re in your flip-flops and holiday gear you might get passed over.
According to our research, the best airline for first class flight deals is Garuda Indonesia. However, they’re still not cheap, at an average price of £3,469 for a one-way ticket.
This average refers to one-way trips from the airline’s hub airport (Jakarta).
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Looking at the top airlines according to Skytrax’s World’s Top 100 Airlines 2021 ranking the following information was sourced, looking at the most expensive fare option available (whether this is termed first or business class).
Each airline was given a normalised score out of 10 for each factor before an average of these scores was taken.
Using Google Flights, the cost of a flight between each airline’s hub city and each destination that it offers business or first class flights to (excluding those within the same country) was sourced, giving us a sample of over 1,200 routes in total.
For each, prices were sourced for flights as far in advance as possible (Monday 19th June 2023), to avoid prices being affected by current demand.
Once all prices were sourced, the average increases between economy and business and economy and first class were calculated.
Using SeatGuru an average of the seat widths for each type of aircraft and seat layout for each airline’s entire fleet was sourced. Again, these were just for the most expensive class available on each airline, whether this is first or business.
Using SeatGuru an average of the seat pitches for each type of aircraft and seat layout for each airline’s entire fleet for the most expensive class. Again, these were just for the most expensive class available on each airline, whether this is first or business.
The number of bags and the total dimensions/weight of baggage allowed with the most expensive class of fare, sourced from the individual websites of each airline.
In instances where these vary based on flight length, long-distance flights were used.
The average review score for the airline’s lounges according to Skytrax’s Airline Lounge Reviews.
James has spent the past 15 years writing and editing personal finance news, specialising in consumer rights, pensions, insurance, property and investments - picking up a series of awards for his journalism along the way.