To me, travel is as much about the journey as the destination. Which is why I try to always fly business class when I need to take a long-haul flight. But the “business class” label doesn’t always guarantee a top-tier experience. Here are a few tips for elevating your business class travel.

Research your airline, plane, and seat

No matter how you’re paying for your flight, you need to do some research ahead of time if you’re going to make the most of it. Everything from the airline to the layout of the seats can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy the journey.

Newer/updated planes are better

Commercial aircraft can stay in operation for decades. But while the mechanical stuff is (hopefully) always maintained, the interiors can become dated and worn if not updated. That’s why it can be beneficial to try* to book a seat on a newer — or at least recently updated — plane.

Each flight listing will include the type of aircraft. Doing a search for the airline and plane type will turn up plane specs, seat maps, and even reviews to help you find the best option.

*I said “try” here because you can’t always control what plane you get. Airlines can (and frequently do) swap aircraft for any number of reasons, which could affect the type of seat you wind up in.

Avoid seats without aisle access

There are a dozen different types of business class seats. Some are better than others. For instance, a suite will offer a lot of space and privacy. But the one thing I caution everyone about is to be careful about your aisle access. As in, not all seats offer direct aisle access and it can really be a problem when your seatmate is asleep and you need to use the lavatory. Layout sites, like SeatGuru, can tell you the type of seats and how they’re arranged for a given aircraft and airline.

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Don’t discount the “soft product”

In travel lingo, the parts of the experience that are fixed are called the “hard product.” This includes things like the seats and cabin you’re in. The other parts of your experience — such as the meals, amenity kits, and service — are called the “soft product.”

Your seat absolutely matters. The cabin layout absolutely matters. But they’re only a part of it. If the on-board meal is bad, that can taint your entire business class experience. The same with the service. (A bad amenity kit is less of a trip-ruiner, but a great amenity kit can definitely improve your overall experience.)

Do a little internet sleuthing about your intended airline before you book your flight. You can find a lot of great reviews that will cover both the hard product and the soft product for any airline’s business class, giving you a good idea of how your airline handles the full experience.

Use points when possible

I cannot stress this enough. Flying business class, especially internationally, can cost a fortune. For instance, a quick Google Flight search shows me the average business class flight from Boston to Dublin is going for $3,000 — and that’s a one-way ticket.

I won’t argue over the value; if I had the money to burn, I’d 100% rather fly business class than coach. But if you’re trying to keep your entire vacation costs under $3,000, spending that on the flight there, for one person, is absurd.

It’s especially absurd when just one or two credit card welcome bonuses could get you that same ticket (almost) entirely with points (there are usually some small taxes that need to be paid out of pocket). Here are a few examples from my favorite travel rewards cards:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: You can find seriously high welcome offers for this top-tier travel card that are more than enough for at least a one-way business class seat, if not two (if you find that elusive 150,000-point welcome offer). Amex Membership Rewards can transfer to 17 different airlines. The current welcome offer is 80,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $8,000 in the first 6 months. Terms apply. See rates and fees.
    Apply now for the The Platinum Card® from American Express.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Even the standard welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months can be enough for a one-way business class trip to Europe, but keep your eyes peeled for one of the elevated bonuses that come out a few times a year. Chase Ultimate Rewards can transfer 1:1 to 11 different airlines.
    Apply now for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees): You can occasionally find elevated welcome offers for this card, but the current offer of 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months can still be enough for at least a one-way ticket. Capital One Venture Miles transfer to 14 different airlines. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card charges a $395 annual fee and a 19.99% – 29.99% (Variable) APR.
    Apply now for the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
  • Citi Premier® Card: Your typical welcome offer for this card tends to be lower than some of the others, but can still get you a one-way biz-class seat if you’re careful. Right now it’s offering 60,000 ThankYou® Points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. Citi ThankYou points transfer to 14 different airlines.
    Apply now for the Citi Premier® Card.

Watch out for mixed itineraries

This one goes out to all of those travelers who, like me, aren’t lucky enough to live near a major hub. If you’re booking a business-class itinerary and it involves layover, verify that every leg of your trip is business or first class.

When you’re flying out of a regional airport, you’ll likely first have a positioning flight; that’s a flight that takes you to the hub where you can get on your eventual international flight. On a good business-class itinerary, your positioning flight will be in first class.

However, I’ve frequently seen mixed-class itineraries where you’re stuck in coach on your positioning flight. (This is particularly common on award itineraries.) While it’s not the end of the world — these flights are typically shorter — having that upgraded experience from start to finish really does make a difference.

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