Business Class vs First Class: 4 Differences you might want to know

by Julia on January 2, 2020

Between ten to twenty years ago, business and first class were leagues apart in terms of overall comfort. However, airlines have significantly invested into their business class cabins in recent years, and this has led to a shrinking number of differences between the two classes. For the most part, business class today is almost what first class was like 10 years ago, while first class today is struggling to offer innovative new luxury offerings.

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the remaining differences between business and first class that you may want to know.

First class is like royalty service

It’s easy to forget that business class is only a notch up from economy (or two notches, for airlines that offer “premium economy”), but one should generally expect only marginally better service in business class. It’s like a dinner theater, where everything is carefully orchestrated and efficient, and the food is brought out according to schedule.

First class service on the other hand is akin to royalty treatment. The staff generally waits on you and makes it a much more personal experience. You can request nearly anything you want (within parameters) and it will be yours, as far as drinks, food, and offered services goes.

You’re better off booking through a travel agent

To get the best possible savings on either business or first class seats, it’s wise to turn to a travel agency that can offer the latest business class deals. Online booking websites can really only price compare the publicly available fares from airlines, which makes consumers think they’re getting a better deal.

In reality, most travel agencies receive discounted, wholesale flight prices from the airlines for doing business, and pass these savings on to the customer, at a little markup. A great travel agency can save you hundreds of dollars per flight, and also make sure you get nice little extra amenities, like offering you free things to do in Bangkok.

Not all airlines are created equal

It may come as a surprise, but there are instances where some aspects of an airline’s business class services are better than aspects of another airline’s first class. For example, Qatar Airline’s business class seats are generally regarded as being comparable to or even better than first class seats on some airlines, and the same goes for the food in Austrian business class.

If you’re trying to decide between first class or business class, it helps to not only review the service amenities offered, but the actual configuration of the seating arrangements. How close you are to other passengers, whether your seat converts into a bed, the overall amount of privacy you have.

First class arrangements don’t really vary much between flights, but business class can. A big thing is whether you’re on a domestic flight or an international flight. The business class for most domestic flights is only a little bit nicer than economy, but there are a lot more amenities offered for long-haul flights.

Those amenities do vary a bit widely by airlines, so if you’re price-comparing between two business classes, or business class against first class, compare what those services look like from inside the flight.

First class may be disappearing

The number of airlines offering first class has been steadily shrinking, and a majority of international airlines have significantly reduced the number of available first class seats. This includes airlines such as:

  • Delta: Offers around 200,000 first class seats, compared to 400,000 in 2008.

  • British Airways: Dropped around 100,000 first class seats since 2008.

  • Singapore: Reduced from around 150,000 to 90,000

  • United: Ten years ago, there were around 380,000 first seats. Today, that number is around 180,000.

Some analysts predict than first class could disappear completely. Some airlines like Air New Zealand and Turkish Airlines have completely eliminated first class, while British Airways eliminated it from their newest aircraft. This is because business class comfort has grown considerably enough to make passengers question paying extra for the frills and laces of first class.

First class still has a considerable market in certain countries, such as Dubai. However, an interesting trend is taking place overall, where CEOs prefer to fly business class, while millionaires would rather take a private jet.

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