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Business Class on United just as good as First Class

January 06, 2009

Yesterday I got home to Amsterdam after spending the last two weeks at my sister’s place in San Antonio, Texas. I was looking forward to the trip for a number of reasons, one of them being that I was going First Class for which I paid about 150 Euros round trip. Well, 150 Euros plus 120K miles. I spent a good amount of time planning the trip, making sure that it was in fact First all the way. Most of the routes included a standard seat from DC or Chicago to San Antonio. But the majority of the trip was in a lie-flat suite. I wanted to know if it was worth it for those 8 hours to be able to lie flat versus just leaning back.

One of the benefits of being in First is the ability to board first, but I get that anyway for being 1K on United. Perhaps a more important benefit is having 2 overhead compartments dedicated to you. That’s because the seat is just that much larger. I would guess that 1 First Class seat takes the same space as 4 Business Class seats and maybe 12 Economy seats but the bins above are the same. On the way to the US I had some Christmas presents so the extra space was nice, especially not having to fight for it or having to worry if that other guy is really getting something out of his bag up there, or stealing your laptop (I have heard from a colleague who had this happen to him).

Once I sat down I was able to load up my dedicated cubby hole next to my seat with all the stuff I might need during the flight: laptop, in-air charger, magazines, ebook reader, etc. The alternative further back in the plane is a pocket in the seat in front. Later on, the first meal was served. While this is significantly better than what you get in Economy, its not much better than Business. I think the only difference is the inclusion of soup and a sundae at the end.

After a few hours, I had the opportunity to try out the expected highlight: the lie-flat seat. Well, in a nutshell: disappointing. I knew it wasn’t going to be like a real bed, but I hoped for more. Yeah, it was nice to be able to curl up on my side, but it would have been nicer if I were a few inches shorter. I don’t think it allowed me to sleep any better than in my Business seats.

So overall I am not sure if First is enough of an improvement over Business…for now. I know things are changing on United and they are gradually improving their upper class seats. I had a flight from DC to LA or some other US cross-country flight a few months ago in their new Business class lie-flat seats. That was a phenomenal experience. It was a much flatter bed, though a wee bit thinner. The entertainment system was amazing with a huge screen. There were all sorts of options I didn’t even get to try. When they roll those out to the Amsterdam-DC flights, I will try it out and hopefully get another chance for a First Class flight.

Am I sorry I spent the miles on First when it wasn’t that much better? No, it was only a difference of 40,000 miles. If you travel a decent amount each year, that’s easy to come by. Plus it gave me a chance to experience the difference. On future travel I probably will only upgrade to BizClass and be quite happy I didn’t pay out the additional miles.

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