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Why Parents Should Fly Coach Class

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.

Why Parents Should Fly Coach

Photo by Georgia Vagim on Unsplash

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.

Comfortable Space

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.

Opportunity Cost

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!

Why Parents Should Fly Coach Class

All smiles in coach class to Hawaii!

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?

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Author: Nancy

Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.

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26 thoughts on “Why Parents Should Fly Coach Class

  1. I think you make some excellent points on considering opportunity cost as well as high price tag for upgrading to the seat upfront. Acquiring miles via sign-up bonuses and MS is getting harder and harder. I can’t get any decent cards at the moment and have to fight like a dog to even get approved! Plus, finding 4 award seats in business class is very tough, though in this case Summer only needed one.
    That said, I’m also in favor of splurging now and again. There is no precise formula on when one should do it because there are many variables. It depends on how many miles you currently have as well as your upcoming plans. If you have status, great! But as you correctly pointed out, this only applies to a tiny portion of the population. It’s not possible to get a meaningful top-tier airline status just by holding a credit card.
    Personally, I look for underpriced business redemptions. For example, I used 30k AA miles on business class form Tahiti to Auckland, rather than 15k on economy. Others would consider it wasteful for a 6 hour flight, but I honestly have no regrets.
    We also used 50k AA miles per person to fly roundtrip to Seattle in first class. This route is expensive when you live in Florida. Besides, economy redemption was running at 40k miles. So, I splurged a bit. Good decision? In hindsight, probably not. That said, I usually pay cash or use flexible points for my parents’ flights anyway. Airfare to Europe is getting cheaper and cheaper. So, I don’t really need traditional miles like I used to. For that reason, I don’t feel the need to hoard them.

    • I’m all for splurging every now and then! Your business class tickets from Tahiti to NZ weren’t that expensive in miles, so I would have done the same thing. Heck, I also splurge on other things (on a Disney Cruise, for example).

      I just feel like it’s unrealistic to present business class flights as the norm or the goal for families. I think it sends the message to newbies that their trips will be inferior unless they have those upgraded seats. Families who can afford to travel (on cash or miles) are already achieving more than most people.

      • I totally agree! It’s definitely NOT the norm for middle-class families to fly upfront. Many blogs present it as something that can be easily achieved, but that’s not really the case. It can be done occasionally, sure, especially if you are getting seats for one or two people. Otherwise, it’s simply not realistic.

    • @bethkck It’s hard to fit in travel when the kids start getting so busy! I actually wish we traveled more when they were younger, although my husband would argue that we still traveled quite a bit.

  2. I completely agree. My husband and I will splurge now and then (for instance we won’t go on any cruise but Disney), but we would rather go coach and be able to afford another trip most of the time. Great post, and I love how respectful it is to the other blogger’s point.

    • @Leigh Thank you. Respectful discussion online is definitely not as good for clicks and traffic, but I don’t want to ever say disrespectful things just because I’m hiding behind a computer.

  3. Our kids have their own families now and are collecting their own miles! We help at times, but not business class. We fly coach domestically, or Hawaii, but fly business to Europe or Australia. That all started when we flew economy in 2009 to Paris, but on way back the flight was oversold. So got vouchers, plus surprise upgrade to business class the next day! That flight really spoiled us!
    We were like kids in a candy store. Now my hubby ( who doesn’t participate in this hobby} only wants to fly business. At least it’s only 2 of us. But I did tell him the game is getting harder, plus American isn’t releasing much availability, so he may have to go back to economy!! It’s so easy to get spoiled upfront.

    • @Lynn How cool that your kids are now collecting their own miles! I hope to teach my kids the same. I bet it is hard to go back to coach after experiencing that trip back from Paris in business class.

  4. Another example of why I like your blog. I would rather take 2 trips a year in coach, rather than 1 trip every 2 or 3 years in first class. I am getting to the point of finding some of the other websites to be snooty, pretentious and and only geared toward people with very high incomes. Thank you for posting relevant tips for the average working person (like me and my friends and family!).
    BTW I booked my Florida car rental last night using the American Airlines miles from the Barclay sign up bonus. So we will have a Hertz mid sized car during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Yippee! Most places were priced at over $40 a day! I read the fine print and it sounds like we might get charged taxes or fees. I wonder if any of your followers have use their AA miles to book a car and if they paid extra fees?
    Thank you again for your wonderful blog!

    • @Clyn6 I am jealous that you will be in Florida that week! Glad you got your car rental on miles. I am considering using some of our AA miles for our car rental in Hawaii, but the taxes there are a little steep so I’m just not sure it’s worth it for us. Have a great trip!

  5. I completely agree with you Nancy…we need to stretch our points so we can take all the trips on our bucket list. We’re in the same boat…our oldest only has 5 more years before going to college so I better not waste Spring Breaks and Summers.

    There is a balance though with spending points…I’ll try to never book a redeye flight again and nothing with a long layover. My kids will bring their ipads with downloaded movies/shows from Netflix, headsets, a notepad, pens & coloring pencils, snacks, and I have them wear comfy clothes (appropriate to where we will be landing).

    Just booked 2 big trips for next year, and I’m getting really excited about them – we’re all flying Coach 🙂

    • @Stephanie I agree with you about those red eye flights. I avoid those with kids (and without kids!) I’m excited that you got your trips booked. It’s nice to have an awesome trip to look forward to!

  6. @Clyn6 I used AAmiles for car rental with National at MCO for 9 days and paid $77 in tax and fees when we returned the car. Unlike Chase UR, AA doesn’t include the fees.

    • Thank you! I am disappointed it is not going to be “almost free”, but it is still around half price so I guess I should be happy with that. : )

  7. Love this discussion! I 100% agree that coach is fine the majority of the time, but I do encourage families to not rule first or business class out entirely as sometimes the pay-off of arriving more rested can be worth it when the price is right. Via award chart sweet spots, discounted upgrades, and even some amazing limited time deals that periodically pop up, a lie-flat seat may only cost a fraction more than an economy seat. So, absolutely stretch those miles and sit in the back…we usually do, but also don’t rule out the occasional trip up front. Thanks again for a fun ‘debate’! If anyone wants more concrete tips on how to get upfront for less, here ya go…happy travels!
    http://bit.ly/2zDV7WL

    • @Summer Thanks for stopping by! I’ll let Nancy respond as well since it’s her post, but just wanted to say that we are always happy to get your perspective. I mean it. 🙂
      I actually feel the same way you do. Treating yourself now and again is a good thing when you are a tired parent. I probably would upgrade as well if I were in your spot. I didn’t think your post came across as diva-like or 1-percent(ish) at all. I don’t get why folks give you such hard time when you write about fancier type of travel. As you probably know, I like to splurge myself on occasion.

    • @Summer Thanks for chiming in and for listing out some more attainable ways to get to business or first class! Admittedly, I will probably only sit in business class if a killer sale comes along or if an award sweet spot happens to fall in my lap. We pay for most of our flights in points and miles, and my husband and I don’t travel without our kids unless we are traveling solo for work. I really just don’t have the desire to focus my miles and points efforts towards those business class award sweet spots, but I can understand why some would prioritize that. Again, thanks for the friendly debate!

      • You know, it really is a gift we don’t all have the same travel goals and preferences. You never know when the right opportunity will present itself. Heck, even my parents who have no issues with Spirit Airlines economy have even found themselves up front once or twice when the stars aligned. Safe travels!

    • @Summer Agreed! Different strokes for different folks. That’s the beauty of miles and points world, it lets you dabble in things you didn’t think were possible. While traveling upfront on a regular basis is unattainable for regular folks like myself, occasionally, it can be done. Heck, we are supposed to fly in business class to Auckland and I can’t wait! Though, I admit, I’m mostly looking forward to the “Auckland” part, not the fancy seat. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy the latter.

  8. I don’t have kids, but I love to travel! I honestly almost never think about flying anything other than coach as long as it’s within the country. I can fall asleep on a dime on the plane, and I would rather be able to fly several times a year in coach, than have to save it all up for one or maybe 2 times in business. Besides, I would also rather spend that extra money on things while I’m actually at my destination

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