First World Problem

Business Class or luxury hotel?

Words: Lee Tulloch

“First world problem!’ I can’t tell you how much I loathe the way people throw this expression around. It’s as bad as using “journey” to express a change of emotional state.

Well, I’ve got a doozy of an FWP this week, so please restrain yourselves.

Allow me to pose a question: If you had $10,000 in hand to spend on a trip, be it for business or pleasure, would you spend the bulk of it on the flight or on accommodation? In other words, would you buy a business class fare and stay in an inexpensive bolthole, or travel in economy but when you got to your destination really lord it up on luxury hotels (and/or great meals, adventures and so on)?

It’s a discussion I’ve had many times over the years and people’s responses are so varied. My own opinion changes from time to time, usually after a horror economy flight when I swear I’m never travelling that way again. (But I do.)

Let’s assume you’re not travelling with children.

Those in favour of spending it on the flight cite various reasons from health issues such as bad backs to the need to be alert for an important meeting when they arrive. ‘Business’ class is obviously geared for business travellers and there’s no doubt that a good sleep across the Pacific or the Indian Ocean on lie-flat beds means you can arrive feeling like a Master of the Universe, not the Dogsbody of the World.

I often do fly business class and there’s always a moment during every flight when I ask myself ‘is it worth it?’ The answer often depends upon the airline, the aircraft and the length of the flight. I’m always working, so I usually have to hit the ground running and I appreciate not feeling like I’ve gone ten rounds with Tony Mundine (or Tony Abbott) when I get there.

One business class airfare to Europe equals a week in a suite in a luxury hotel in Paris.

Yes, I love priority check-ins and priority immigration and security; the lounges are appreciated; boarding first and disembarking first are a great help; fine wine and good food and having flight attendants at your beck and call are wonderful. But the comfort factor is what swings it for me. Not because business class is necessarily so mind-blowing but because it’s not economy.

This is an inditement of the sub standard conditions some airlines offer down the back of the plane, in the way passengers are squeezed in and the whole “cattle class” mentality.  Another thing I have discovered about business class – when something goes wrong (delays, missed connections) you’re treated properly. I’m not saying ‘specially’ I’m just saying treated as is your due, by being given information and options. Which is how all passengers should be treated but which is not always the case.

OK, now for the other option – accept the torture-like conditions down the back of the plane, the long lines at check in, and the risk that you’ll be fobbed off and left in the dark if there are any unexpected delays, and save your hard-earned dollars for when you’re on the ground.

Doing the sums, one business class airfare to Europe equals a week in a suite in a luxury hotel in Paris. If there are two of you travelling – well, you could eat at Alain Ducasse every night as well. You could upgrade to a luxury stateroom on a cruise and afford more shore excursions. You could take that side trip you’ve always dreamed about. Or you could stay in a budget hotel but splurge on shopping, a few Broadway or West End shows, and five-star meals.

The argument for this is that experiences count more than getting to them, that you won’t remember the flight but you’ll remember that Indian palace you stayed in for the rest of your life and that, with a bit of luck, you sleep away eight or so hours on the flight anyway. All going well, it’s only a day of travel sitting down. What’s so tough about that?

Most people I survey opt for the latter approach. But the airlines work hard to make the front of the plane so attractive that, once you’ve travelled up there, you’re even more disgruntled with having to sleep upright with the stranger next to you snoring and drooling on your shoulder.

It’s a bit like the old song – How are they going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

A FWP indeed.


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