Here’s a question I get asked quite often: “Is business class worth it for families?” For some people, the answer is a resounding “yes.” For others, it’s always “no.” For me, it’s “sometimes.” I think it’s more valuable to avoid a black-or-white answer and reply with a set of questions. Your answers to these will shade my advice and inform your own decision.
How Long Is Your Flight?
We all know our own tolerance for misery. For my family, I draw the line at about nine hours. Longer than that and we all start to feel it. Your line may be shorter or longer. For flights to and from Europe, I don’t always bother with business class unless it is available at a too-good-to-miss award rate, but for Asia we redeemed miles for four tickets up front and didn’t regret it one bit. If you are considering business class with kids, check out TPG‘s guide to the best business class seats for families. Regardless of cabin, take a look at the most family-friendly international air carriers.
Is Your Flight Overnight?
Landing in Europe at 7 a.m. and expecting a full day of activity out of a kid is a lot to ask. (It’s also a lot to ask of adults.) When flying overnight, business class may be worth it to (hopefully) ensure your kids get a few hours of sleep before hitting the ground. Here are our choices for the best transatlantic awards for families. Just be aware that flat seats don’t guarantee rest. Mommy Points had a particularly memorable overnight flight with an overstimulated toddler who wasn’t going to sleep no matter where she was on the airplane.
On the other hand, coming back from Europe on a daytime flight might be OK in economy. Those flights operate during the afternoon and you can sleep when you get home that evening.
How Long Is Your Trip?
If you’re only gone for a long weekend, the less wasted time you have, the better. I might spring for business even on a shorter flight if it meant everyone was raring to go when we landed. But if we’re traveling for a month, we can save the miles and use a day to catch up when we get there.
Are You Traveling With a Baby or Toddler?
Counterintuitively, new parents might be better off in coach. The bulkhead bassinet gives your baby a place to rest and there isn’t always a bassinet available in business class. Having a place for your baby to rest means you can rest as well. Here are some of our top tips for flying with a baby or toddler. Additionally, the cost to bring a lap baby in a premium cabin can be exorbitant, depending on which airlines you fly and how you book the ticket.
Even if you are past the baby stage, it can be stressful to keep a toddler quiet and occupied no matter where you sit on the plane as that is generally regarded as one of the hardest ages to travel. However, you might be extra stressed trying to keep them content in business or first class — or perhaps the extra space and assistance might help you. There’s no one right or wrong call there.
Is Premium Economy an Option?
Our sweet spot to Europe may be premium economy. We are testing out Iberia’s version this summer. With a 2-3-2 layout, it’s a good option for families of four. No one gets stuck next to a stranger or in a middle seat. I’ll let you know how we fare and am I curious to hear if any of you have tried this option as it becomes increasingly available.
This winter we flew plain ol’ Economy Plus on United from Washington Dulles to Paris and having just the legroom — not an upgraded seat — was a game-changer. I won’t tell you we slept as well as we would have in business on the way out, but the backache my 12-year-old usually complains about on coach flights did not materialize.
If you are flying Down Under, Air New Zealand’s Skycouch might be a valid alternative to business class. You could also MacGyver a kid’s sleeper seat with the Bedbox (when allowed) or with an empty middle seat.
Can You Split the Family?
This is not an option I have utilized, but I know families who swear by flying the parents in business and the (older) kids in coach. Hey, you are the one who earned the miles, so I get it. Or, some take turns and have one parent and one child up front on one flight, and then switch roles on the next. Of course, leaving the kids in a different cabin won’t work for younger families, but for those with teens, it might be an option depending on the airlines’ individual rules and your comfort level.
How Many Miles Do You Have?
If you have enough miles to simply choose between business and coach, great. But I would not put off travel until I had more miles. I also would not recommend putting yourself in a situation where you have to miss out on the next family vacation because you blew the miles in first on this one. If it’s a matter of flying coach or not going, fly coach.
Are Four (or More) Awards Even Available?
Before you fall in love with the idea of all sitting upfront together, give the idea a reality check by running some award searches. You may find that getting four or more business or first class awards together is a tall order. Of course, if you are willing to split the family, this may be an easier goal, but keep in mind that finding one or two premium cabin award seats is much easier than four or more. That said, hard is not the same thing as impossible.
Which Credit Card to Use for Airfare?
Of course, once you decide if you’re flying in business, premium economy or coach, you have to pay for it. If you’re using a credit card for the purchase, make sure it rewards you so you are that much closer to your next flight. The Platinum Card® from American Express pays out a hefty 5x Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on airfare booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel. However, that card isn’t great for built-in travel protections. If you want some protections in case things go wrong, look to a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which pays out 3x points on all travel purchases and has built-in travel protections.
All airplane seats on the same flight land at the same time, but how much comfort you feel during the journey can vary widely. Remember, your options are not only all-business or all-coach. You could consider premium economy or using a mix of the front and back of the plane when it makes sense. For example, spending 70,000 miles per person for business class to Europe may be out of budget, but booking lie-flat seats during a 25,000-mile sale may make perfect sense.
By taking a look at your individual circumstances, you will have an easier time deciding whether business class is worth it for your family.