Am I going senile or just becoming sane?

Pardon my rambling here for a moment, but this is something I’ve been pondering for a few days now. Thanks to my mileage runs I’m able to typically redeem miles for international first class awards. As a matter of fact, I’ve become so spoiled that I typically don’t consider international business class awards anymore; international first class is becoming the norm. Of course when I am able to get into international first class for such a low price, why the hell not? I know, I have a long life ahead of me. šŸ˜‰

That being said, for the first time that I can remember I find myself reconsidering business class for award redemptions. When I first started with my international premium cabin travels, my favorite word was “maximize,” and actually it still is. But I guess what has changed is how I define “maximize.” It used to mean getting to the airport seven hours before a flight to visit the international first class lounge, not sleeping on the flight because I didn’t want to miss out on the “experience,” and eating all nine courses of whatever was being served. Now “maximize” has a lot more to do with arriving at my destination well rested, entertained, and reasonably well fed. I guess my ideal flight now has three components: a flat bed (an absolute must), good entertainment, and decent food (I’m no foodie, but something edible).

So what’s the point of this post? As I look at planning another award trip I find myself stepping back for a second trying to decide between two choices, and I start to examine my travel preferences in more general terms.

Take, for example, Los Angeles to London on Air New Zealand in BusinessPremier, vs. Los Angeles to Frankfurt to London on Lufthansa in First Class. For the first time ever, I can’t decide which I’d actually prefer. In the past I would have said “first class is always better than business class.” For me travel time isn’t a factor, as it might be for others; getting there is half the fun, so the nonstop doesn’t have a huge draw for me.

At the same time, on Air New Zealand I have a truly flat bed with a decent amount of privacy, a great selection of entertainment, and pretty good food options. With Lufthansa, on the other hand, I have excellent service, excellent food, decent entertainment, and more personal space (although not necessarily more privacy). And given the options, I couldn’t decide which choice to go with.

Along the same lines for me is Air Canada’s business class product. The entertainment is great, the service is decent, the food is perfect in my book (again, I’m a simple eater), and the seat allows for good rest. When I look back at my Shanghai to Toronto flight from last summer in their business class product, I really can’t imagine how first class would have been any better. I got nine hours of sleep, at no point felt uncomfortably full (yet was well fed), and I was even thoroughly entertained.

So I guess the point is that I’m actually becoming less snobby when it comes to food, service, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a charming, attentive flight attendant over a grouchy flight attendant that disappears after the meal service, but on the whole it’s becoming less important to me, while in the past I would have preferred excellent service and awful entertainment. Along the same lines, I find myself considering United’s new international first class as an award redemption option, even when I have options like Asiana, Lufthansa, Swiss, etc.

My apologies for this complete rambling of a post, but what’s the deal here? Am I sane or going crazy? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the answer is very much a function of how many hours one has spent in premium international cabins.

Oh yeah, and eating too much in first class — that’s totally your fault, blog readers. It’s because of you that I feel the need to never turn down food, if only to snap a picture of the plate. šŸ˜€

Filed Under: Awards, Travel
  1. Great topic, in my opinion. I’ve wondered what the allure of First vs Business was, especially as flat beds in Business are becoming more commonly available. I have been in Intl F only a couple of times, most recently LX on the A332, which is much nicer than C on the LX A332 but the C seat on other airlines is usually nicer than LX’s A332, and to me, comfort is mostly about the seat and space.

    Given the price and points differential, to me, it’s an easy choice to move from Coach to Business when using points. You generally need ~50% more points to move up. You get much more space, comfort, and service.

    To go to First is often at least 50% but sometimes even more expensive.
    I’ve always been content getting Business, am I missing out on a whole new experience? Is it worth it?

    I’ve usually looked at the decision as the difference between 3 trips in C vs 2 trips in F. C has been good enough, even angled-lie-flat. If I’d been flying full-flat or F much more often, then I might not accept a angled-lie-flat as easily. Same with aircraft, if I had been used to avoiding middle seats (eg. A330/340/380, B767 in C, or herringbone, or anyone in F) then I might look down on a more cramped configuration (eg. the middle seat in C on a 747/777 in the 2-3-2) and set my sights higher.

    Maybe a topic for one of your future podcasts?

  2. Thanks for rambling. Neither senile or insane. Novelties wear, priorities & preferences shift. Maturation of sorts. (nothing to do with age)

    I still struggle a little with sleeping because, yes, I might just miss something. And as far as maximizing, I don’t know enough about who to fly in which class where, but am going to suffer Swiss’ not-all-that-flat in one direction because I’ve never flown them and need to add to the collections. šŸ˜‰

  3. I fear transpac C as much as the next guy (or West Coast-Europe), but Air Canada and Air New Zealand both offer good business products, and for them it’s their front cabin. I’d consider both long-haul if the option would significantly reduce my travel time.

    I think (in addition to the British thing šŸ˜› ) the fact that NZ and AC have C as their front cabin explains a subtle difference that makes them better products than BA C even though BA offers a flat seat.

    NZ C LAX-LHR is likely the equivalent of UA F on the same route. UA’s new F hard product is pretty good, though I have quibbles with it (cheap feeling seat, poor placement of seat controls) and the NZ C soft product is better. I can see how you’d pick that over LH F when it reduces travel time, and NZ C offers better entertainment for sure compared to LH F.

    Good C can be better than mediocre F. And good C isn’t something to be feared. But when you start to prefer same-plane C over F then I’ll have you committed.

    LX F, OZ F, NH F, SQ F, CX F, QF F etc etc etc … these are things that are *better* than AC C and NZ C and don’t come at that much of a mileage premium (provided seats are available, especially for QF F and SQ F other than regional).

  4. At 6’2″ 275 lbs if anybody needs the xtra space and comfort it is big guys like me. If I can lay flat or close to it in business class, get a fairly decent meal and transportation to my desired destination, it seems those are the important items for me. I would rather save the extra miles for FC for another time and “rough it” in busines class.

    But then again, I’m the frugal travel guy.

    You’ll get enough op ups to FC in your lifetime. Slum it with the rest of us in BC

  5. Thanks to Ben’s advice I was able to travel LH F SFO-FRA RT in June. Previously, I’ve flown mostly 90% Y with a few transatlantic business class trips over the years in TWA (yes, I was a teenager), LH, and UA.

    So, off I went to the airport full of excitement. The UA IFCL was very disappointing. Free liquor and food don’t really do it for me unless the quality is there.

    I found the LH seats on the 747 very uncomfortable when laying down. The service was efficient and polite but I would hardly classify it as “excellent.” The liquor being offered was excellent, the food was merely okay in my book (dessert was incredible), but bear in mind that I have refused to eat anything offered in Y since the early 1990’s, even on transatlantic flights.

    Having said that, I have been dreaming–and scheming–of ways to get back into LH F since I returned home. Why? Frankfurt FCL. It was as incredible as Ben has described. More so than the liquor, bed and food, I found that what I loved the most about F is the real estate. I felt as if I was surrounded by space and could breathe. During the flight over I went down to check out C and it looked so cramped!

    We are heading over to Europe on UA in C on award travel booked exactly 330 days in advance, and I
    am really not looking forward to it after my experience in F, but I know it is a heck of a lot better than sitting in Y and do feel blessed.

  6. You nailed it. When all other choices are equal, I would think the IFL in FRA would be the deciding factor.

  7. Sorry Ben, but it looks like you’re showing the first signs of age. Next it’ll be a spare tire around your middle (all those meals), then reading glasses, hearing aids, social security.

  8. You are becoming a discriminating traveler, so enjoy your dilemnas of debating NZ C, AC C, or LH F. I guess once you travel the new LX F, you may only want to fly Swiss.

  9. Nah, you’re not going insane…in many cases, the upgrade from Business to F is just not worth the additional miles. In some cases it is – if I had the oppportunity, I’d upgrade on BA because the C seats are too narrow for me to lie flat and I can’t stand facing backward. And I agree with you that if I have to choose between IFE and service, I’d rather have IFE.

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