This is NOT an article about how families are too noisy or distracting to sit in business or first class. It’s a rebuttal to a recent post by Mommy Points, Why Parents Should Fly Business Class.
If you’re getting your popcorn ready in anticipation of a catty blogger vs. blogger fight….sorry! That’s not my intent here. I’ve been a fan of Mommy Points for years, and I have mad respect for Summer and her blog.
I just have a different perspective about parents and kids flying in business/first class vs. coach class, and I want to make sure that normal families understand the reality of affording business class flights.
The gist of Mommy Point’s post is that business class, particularly a lie-flat seat, is way more comfortable and practical for parents and families. Being able to actually sleep on longer flights and arrive somewhat refreshed at your destination or home is priceless, right?
I cannot disagree with that part of the post. My blog partner, Leana, agrees with that wholeheartedly and has also written about the great benefits of flying in business class if you have the points available. Heck, I even splurged on the “big front seat” on Spirit Airlines on a two-hour flight late at night so that my kids could catch some zzzzz’s. It was only $20 extra, so why not?
The Reality of Affording Business Class
The main issue I have with urging parents to book business class seats is the high cost in both cash and miles. It is simply unrealistic for most normal families on multiple long haul flights.
I’m not talking about a ticket that’s just a few hundred dollars more. For many routes, business class tickets cost thousands of additional dollars.
For example, in looking at a round-trip coach class ticket from Dallas to Paris next summer, the cost is around $1000. The cost of a business class ticket is ~$4000. That’s a huge difference, even for just one person! Now multiply that by the number of people in your family, and wowsa!
What about using miles? In most cases, the cost in miles is almost double for business class tickets vs. coach class tickets. For example, a round-trip coach ticket to Hawaii on American Airlines costs 45,000 miles vs. 80,000 in business class. A round-trip economy ticket to Europe costs 60,000 vs. 115,000 in business class.
Of course, there are a few sales from time to time on business class tickets and a few award sweet spots. But those are the exceptions.
In the old glory days of miles and points, getting those extra miles through credit card bonuses and manufactured spending wasn’t as hard. This was before Chase’s 5/24 rule and increased restrictions by all of the credit card companies on new approvals and repeat bonuses.
What about free upgrades with elite status? Realistically, unless you travel regularly for work or you are a big time travel blogger who can write off flights as business expenses, it’s very difficult for most normal families to have airline elite status. (See this post by The Points Guy for various ways to earn airline elite status).
My point is, going business class vs. coach class is not the same as splurging a little extra for an upgrade. There is nothing little about it. It’s a huge cash and miles commitment that is just not possible for most normal families to do on a regular, ongoing basis, especially if you are trying to fit in multiple trips per year.
Ok, what about folks for whom miles or money is no object? Or what about people who would rather wait until they have enough points for business class to take the trip?
If you are truly set on business class, I’m not going to try too hard to talk you out of it. If you’ve got the miles or cash for a business class ticket, go for it! You’ve earned it. Enjoy.
However, before you buy the ticket, consider the opportunity cost. Is spending the extra cash or miles on those tickets going to keep you from a subsequent vacation? If your family spends an extra $10,000 on upgraded tickets or an extra 200,000 miles on business class, will you have to delay your next trip?
Based on recent events in my life, I’m not a proponent of delaying trips. Life is so uncertain. People get sick. Kids grow up too quickly. My dad died earlier this year, and my oldest son only has five more years with us until he goes off to college. Time waits for no one! Take the trip sooner rather than later.
For me, I’d much rather take more trips in coach than fewer trips in business class. The whole “quality vs. quantity” equation is a delicate balance, for sure.
As a miles and points travel blogger, I immerse myself in the industry news. I’m bombarded by photos and videos of travel bloggers living it up in first class suites and lie-flat seats. At times it’s hard for me to step back and look at things from a beginner’s point of view or for the average American family. Most miles and points travel blogs focus on aspirational trips in business and first class seats and at luxury hotels. And there is definitely a market for that.
However, this blog focuses more on family travel that is easily attainable for middle class families. I don’t want to just keep up with the Joneses of the miles and points club. I want to offer practical travel strategies that are more realistic for normal families.
Is it possible for parents who are newbies to the miles and points hobby to earn enough for business class seats? Absolutely! And if that’s your goal, that’s fine. But just realize the opportunity cost of spending those miles on those seats.
The Reality of Coach Class
Is it hard to sleep in a coach class seat? Yes. Impossible? Nope.
My husband and I flew round-trip from Dallas to Vladivostok, Russia in coach. That’s about 17 hours of butt in seat air time. We did that trip four times. We survived.
Could it have been better in business class? Absolutely! But honestly, out of all the memories solidified in our brains from those trips, being uncomfortable or miserable on those flights isn’t one of them.
My family is contemplating a trip to New Zealand. It never crossed my mind to book business class seats. There are five of us in my family. The cost in cash and miles is just too great. There is no way we would choose to delay or forgo the trip just because we can’t get there in business class.
So I say, parents, fly in coach class without guilt that you are cutting corners or that your trip isn’t up to snuff to all the Instagram photos in the miles and points world. Those photos certainly aren’t the norm for most travelers, nor should they have to be. Focus on the destination. You will be fine. Your trip will be fun and you can travel more often and make those awesome memories!
Tips for Surviving in Coach Class
If you’re going on a long haul flight in coach class, here are some tips to make it easier:
Book daytime flights if you’re worried about sleeping. Many flights from Hawaii back to the mainland are red eyes, but not all of them. For our upcoming trip, I found flights that left in the morning so that I wouldn’t have to worry about us losing sleep on the flights.
Get comfy. On our 8-hour flight to Honolulu, I dressed up a little. I immediately regretted it! Most people were in comfy shorts, sweat pants or leggings. Bring a jacket, eye mask and/or neck pillow.
Book seats early. That way, you can get seats all together as a family. Check out seat reviews on SeatGuru before you choose your seats. Switch seats with another family member mid-flight for a change of scenery.
Bring your own entertainment and food. Don’t rely on the plane’s in-flight entertainment and food. In addition to movies on iPads/iPhones, bring some old fashioned games. My kids played with this travel Connect Four game endlessly on our cross-country train trip. My kids also do well with simple blank notebooks, as they love to write and draw. And don’t forget to bring plenty of snacks!
Readers, how do you feel about flying in coach vs. business class? What tips to you have to make coach class more comfortable?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.