The Best First Class Airlines: How Far Will Your Money Go?

The Best First Class Airlines: How Far Will Your Money Go?

Gone are the days of glamorous air travel, when the aisles were spacious and pearls were part of the dress code. In 2019, economy accommodations are more reminiscent of sardine cans, and you can forget the free snacks. However, if you can spare a few extra bucks, first class can be a wonderful way to take the stress out of a long flight, and help you arrive at your destination refreshed and rested. All airlines have their special el, their unique customer service quips and their own approach to a first class experience. So if you’re going to spend the cash, be sure that your flying first class on an airline that treats you like a true guest.

What’s the Difference?

You know that first class comes with a hefty price tag, but what are you actually getting with that upgrade? First, it’s important to distinguish between all the ticket levels available to you. Economy class takes up the majority of the plane. It’s those cramped seats with tiny little tv screens and poor ventilation. But, it gets you where you need to go and it won’t break the bank. Then there’s premium economy, which will cost you a little more, but get you more leg room, better food and more entertainment. Premium economy may be called something else depending on the airline, but just check the fine print to determine which level is which.

If you want to go to the next level, you may consider flying business class. Some airlines have merged their business class and first class to offer the best of both worlds, but in general, business class is one step below first class. You’ll find complimentary drinks, hot meals, seats that recline into beds and full size TVs. Aptly named “business” class, as many travelers use the comfort and privacy of this section to plug in and knock out some work.

If you want to go for the full shebang, level up with first class. You’ll get all the comforts of business class, roomy seats, big TVs, optimal sleeping conditions, but with the added benefit of your own dedicated flight attendants to tend to to your every need. The food is also turned up a notch, with menus created by celebrity chefs and Michelin Star winners. Needless to say, you’ll eat well.

How to Get the Best Value

You may already have an airline you’re loyal to, but when it comes to paying a premium for first-class, it’s always a good idea to look around and make sure you’re getting the best value. First tip: read the fine print. Different airlines offer different incentives with first-class tickets, so apart from the standard complimentary food and drinks and roomy accommodations, look for added perks like transportation to and from the airport, expedited customs processing and access to airport lounges. If you don’t see these added features listed, give the airline a call anyway to see if arrangements can be made. Trust me, they want to book those big-ticket seats one way or another.

And speaking of seats, it’s always a good idea to compare your seating options when selecting first class. Depending on the location of the seats on the plane, you may get more or less privacy, or be impacted by your neighbors. Take a look at the layout of the plane and make sure you’re getting the most comfortable seating arrangements. Solo travelers in particular may want to opt for seats in the very front of the plane since they are more secluded.

As new aircrafts are released into use and old models phased out, you will find more refined, updated first class experiences on these newer planes. Take note of your aircraft’s model to view its specific first class layout. Airlines are always looking to improve their first class standards, so you can expect the amenities to get better and better with each new aircraft.

Best First Class Experiences for International Flights

There’s no better way to enjoy all that first class has to offer than with a long overseas flight. First-class amenities are meant to make the hours you’ll spend in the air peaceful and pleasant. So it’s no surprise that many of the top first-class airlines are those that service the farthest-reaching destinations. If you’re going to spend 20 hours or more in the air, you want to be comfy.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore itself is known for its luxury and meticulous standards, so one would expect no less from its signature airline. Singapore Airline’s First Class A380 cabin is equipped with six suites in the front, located on the upper deck. Each suite comes with a full-flat bed, plush leather chair, 32-inch TV, full wardrobe and adjustable lighting. You’ll also enjoy expedited check-in service and access to Singapore Airlines’ beautiful airport lounges.

Emirates

If you’ve ever flown Emirates, you know that this airline takes luxury to a whole new level. A favorite among business travelers and celebrities, Emirates’ first class is among the best of the best. Privacy is the main feature with floor to ceiling sliding doors and a service window where attendants will bring any food or beverage your heart desires. The design of the cabin is also beautiful in its own right, with sleek wood, luxe leather and all the comfy amenities you want.

Cathay Pacific

One of the major perks of flying Cathy Pacific first class is the access to their one-of-a-kind airport lounges, complete with delicious meals, business service stations and rest areas. Their upgraded aircraft first class now has a sleek, chic feel with a large, comfortable seat that reclines into a full bed. In addition, the service in Cathay Pacific first class is unmatched.

Air France

Air France’s La Première cabin is now part of the Boeing 777-300ER subfleet, where individual suites contain a roomy reclining seat, convertible second seat and thick curtains for total privacy. The design is sleek and wholly Parisian, but you won’t find any snooty French flight attendants here.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa’s first class cabins are some of the most comfortable around. An adjustable seat, backrest and ottoman transform into a roomy bed, and an attendant will provide you a mattress topper and temperature-regulating duvet for optimal rest. The service with Lufthansa is also exquisite, with limousine service, personal assistance from arrival to landing and an incredible airport lounge.

Best First Class Experiences for Domestic Flights

Whether you’re flying across the country or just down the coast, being comfortable during your flight will make the experience a fast and painless one. Since your flight is shorter, look for those extra first-class perks and take advantage of airport time in the first-class lounge.

American Airlines

It’s hard to beat AA’s first class on the A321 aircraft. The A321T in particular is plush and roomy, though this plane is reserved for transcontinental routes. With only two, fully reclining seats per row, you’ll have privacy and ample leg room, with dedicated flight staff to tend to your needs. At the airport, you’ll enjoy expedited check-in and get full lounge access to the best-rated lounges in the country. These lounges also come with luxurious dining options, free wi-fi, a stocked bar and roomy shower suites for the busy traveler. Take a load off and enjoy!

Hawaiian Airlines

Now, if you’re flying to or from Hawaii you’re probably already in for a great vacation or business trip, but if you get to enjoy Hawaiian Airlines’ first class seats, you’ll be living in luxury. Each roomy seat is able to lie flat for when you need a rest, and each guest is equipped with an iPad Pro for entertainment or internet usage, which includes the best in-flight entertainment around. The airline’s staff is also known to be the friendliest around, meaning there’s no way you won’t have a great flight.

Delta Airlines

Delta’s first class experience is pretty straight forward, but the amenities make for a comfortable flight. The business class section known as Delta One is a better value than the first class seats, and the new models such as the A220 aircraft have top notch entertainment systems and updated technology for ordering food and drinks and fast internet access.

The Best in Food and Drink

Airline food gets a bad rep, and for the most part, these stereotypes are pretty accurate. A typical economy passenger can expect a bag of peanuts and if you’re lucky, a free soda. If you’re traveling internationally, you may get a hot meal, but the contents are iffy at best. But when you move into the world of first class travel, food is taken much more seriously.

One of the best culinary experiences you can get on an airline is aboard Air France’s La Première cabin. The menus are crafted by Michelin-Starred Chefs like Michel Roth, Régis Marcon, and Emmanuel Renaut, and guests have an extensive list of choices on the A la Carte menu. In the morning you’ll receive fresh pastries and coffee, and throughout the flight, you can select hot meals like classic french stews or seafood, all with a light appetizer and dessert. And of course, you’ll always be served champagne with your meal. A close second, British Airways offers another way to experience some European classics with fine dining options like smoked duck and Angus beef, all served with a white table cloth and real silverware.

An unexpected favorite is Air Canada, where award-winning Vancouver Chef David Hawksworth has developed a menu of regional classics like succulent grilled steak and potatoes or smoked salmon. Start with a cheese platter and some fine wine, and end the hearty meal with a sweet dessert. Depending on your destination, you may also have the option of more exotic dishes like Moroccan tagine and beef bulgogi. The wine list on board Air Canada is also in a league of its own.

For those flying domestically, you cannot go wrong with American Airlines’ dining options, which are curated by a variety of well-known chefs including Manet Chauhan, Mark Sargeant and Sam Choy. You can choose between American favorites like lasagna or destination-themed meals like comforting duck confit pot pie or lamb osso buco.

The Best Airport Experiences

In some cases, we end up spending more time in the airport than on our actual aircraft, and when that happens, you want to be as comfortable as possible. Once again, Air France comes out at the top with one of the most exclusive lounge experiences in the world. Guests will find a spa with complimentary massages, a dining room and bar with meals from Alain Ducasse and a soothing sleeping area. When it’s time to board, a private car will take you directly to the plane, No human interaction required.

For those traveling like stars, the VIP Rooms Star Alliance Lounge at LAX is dedicated for business and first class travelers. Talk to your airline to get access to this lounge, which is tucked deep in the airport with beautifully designed spaces meant for relaxing, napping and catching up on work or your favorite TV show.

For something a little more fun though, you cannot beat Virgin Atlantic’s JFK lounge. First class travelers will enjoy a clubhouse setting complete with a hip bar, pool tables, Bumble & Bumble Salon and refined pub food. Also in JFK you’ll find the Lufthansa First Class Wining & Dining Lounge, a small space compared to some its counterparts, but a completely unique and chic experience offering incredible meals like a 72-hour short rib and lobster. And let’s be honest, nothing says vacation like champagne and an endless buffet.

The Little Extras

Even if you’re not flying an airline with a three-story airport lounge or celebrity chef, there are still many perks that may come with your first class ticket. For instance, Delta Airlines and American Airlines offer private transportation, a separate security line for first class, free checked bags and more.

Cathay Pacific also offers exceptional on-the-ground service, with expedited check in, excellent business amenities and personalized service from arrival to departure. This is an airline that will know your name, your favorite drink and your food preferences before you even board.

If you’re the kind of traveler that collects all the products from hotel rooms, you’ll love the luxury amenities on airlines like Singapore Air, where amenity kits come with luxury goods from Salvatore Ferragamo, and Givenchy pajamas and slippers. Swiss Airlines stays true to their brand with products from La Prairie, Ponak earplugs and cotton pajamas, while American brand Jet Blue has partnered with Hayward & Hopper to provide each guest with an adorable leather toiletry bag filled with soaps, lotions and more. You’ll also get a pair of Grado Labs headphones for uninterrupted entertainment.

Conclusion

First class is a great way to make the most of air travel, and often you can find some good last minute deals on these seats, or can even ask about upgrade options when you arrive at the airport. However you choose to book your first class tickets, make sure you’re taking advantage of all they have to offer, from chauffeur service to pre-flight champagne to a comfortable snooze on the plane. If you aren’t sure about the services included with your first class ticket, or if you just want to see about booking a better rate, it’s always a good idea to call the airline directly. Filling these seats is good money and business for the airline, and you never know what sort of deals or perks they may offer you. Either way, enjoy your luxurious in-air experience, it’s sure to be a good one!

Further read:

Lauren Staehle

Lauren is a Washington, DC native who spends her free time traveling and eating her way through the city. She works in marketing for government travel during the day, and at night writes for various travel and food sites as well as her own blog. So far, her favorite destinations have been Ios, Greece and Paris, France, and she looks forward to traversing more of the globe with friends and family.
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