How to Fly in 8 of the World's Best Business- and First-Class Airplane Seats, From $137 (Really)

How to Fly in 8 of the World's Best Business- and First-Class Airplane Seats, From $137 (Really)

The trick is knowing the most epic cabins with the shortest routes.

By Eric Rosen

We all want to enjoy the finer things in life, and when it comes to airlines, that can mean high-altitude caviar courses, Champagne tastings, organic-cotton pajamas, and Givenchy linens on a lie-flat bed. Unfortunately, all that luxury comes with a hefty price tag that can cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on the airline or route.

The good news is, even if you’re not a Real Housewives cast member, there are ways to fly some of the best business- and first-class seats in the sky at a significant discount. Because of scheduling and capacity needs, some airlines put their international planes (along with those fabulous first-class seats) into service on short routes that often cost just hundreds of dollars. So you can find out how the other half lives for less than half the price.

Here are eight of the best premium airline seats in the world you can try yourself without breaking the bank.

1. Cathay Pacific First and Business Class

Aircraft: For first or business class, the Boeing 777-300ER, for business class the Airbus A350-900.

Route: Hong Kong to Bangkok. The airline operates around eight to nine flights between its hub in Hong Kong and Bangkok daily, some of which are operated by its latest international aircraft.

Flight duration: 2 hours, 50 minutes

The seat: Cathay Pacific’s international first-class seats are the stuff of legend, and you’ll find them aboard the airline’s 777-300ERs. There are just six of them per plane laid out in two rows with a one-by-one-by-one pattern. Each is a jaw-dropping 36 inches wide and reclines to a full 81 inches, with 17-inch entertainment monitors. International business class, which you’ll find on the airline’s 777-300ERs as well as its new A350s, are laid out in a popular reverse-herringbone one-by-two-by-one configuration where you basically don’t have to see anyone else the whole flight. Each is 20 to 21 inches wide and 75 inches long with entertainment screens that are 15 to 16 inches, depending on the aircraft type.

Meals and perks: Let’s focus on first class for now. As a passenger, you’ll get access to Cathay’s phenomenal lounges at the Hong Kong airport, which include some swanky bars and even complimentary spa treatments. Then on board, you’ll get a full three-course meal, vintage champagne, a selection of fine wines, and even enough time to stretch out on that bed for a quick nap.

What you’ll pay: Business class on this route will run you about $1,070, while first class is around $1,270. However, you can also use American Airlines miles to make award bookings at a rate of 22,500 or 32,500 miles each way in business and first class respectively, or British Airways Avios (a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards) at an even better rate of 15,000 Avios for business class or 30,000 for first class. What’s more, there are plenty of award seats!

2. Emirates First Class

Aircraft: Airbus A380

Route: Bangkok to Hong Kong, and Sydney to Auckland. Emirates flies its big bird on short tags flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong after the main leg of Dubai to Bangkok and from Sydney to Auckland after the main segment of Dubai to Sydney.

Duration: 2 hours, 45 minutes for Bangkok to Hong Kong; 3 hours, 15 minutes for Sydney to Auckland.

The seat: More like a suite, thank you very much. These gilded beauties come with closing doors, private minibars, vanity mirrors, touchscreen tablets, and 32-inch entertainment monitors.

Food and perks: As a first-class passenger, you’ll get a sleek leather amenity kit filled with Bulgari products that the airline rotates seasonally. Even though these flights are short, you’ll still be treated to the full meal service including a five-course menu, and choices from the airline’s incredible wine list (including the latest vintage Dom Pérignon). Tell the crew you want time in one of the two showers at the beginning of the flight, and you’ll be able to scrub up with VOYA products from Ireland. You might even have time afterwards to mix up a cocktail at the bar at the back of the plane before beginning descent.

What you’ll pay: The Bangkok route runs $689 each way pretty much every day of the week, while the flight between Sydney and Auckland goes for just $712. While that’s still several hundred dollars, keep in mind that a one-way ticket from Dubai to Bangkok or Sydney usually costs about $3,000 to $5,500 each way.

3. Etihad First Class

Aircraft: Airbus A380

Route: Abu Dhabi to Mumbai

Duration: 3 hours, 30 minutes

The seat: Etihad’s A380s feature the airline’s buzzed-about first-class “Apartments.” Each of the double-decker aircraft has just nine of these enormous suites. The suites have a Poltrona Frau leather recliner-style chair, but also an 80.5-inch bench that converts into a bed that’s 26 inches wide. So basically, you have your own twin bed in the sky, which the flight attendants will dress with a mattress pad, duvet, and numerous pillows. Everything is controlled by touchscreens, and the seat has a 24-inch HDTV for its entertainment system.

Food and perks: Etihad prides itself on its “dine on demand” program for first- and business-class fliers, so you can pretty much eat what you want when you want it (be sure to order the biryani, it’s a signature dish), though obviously there are a few more time constraints on a short flight like this one. Oh, and did we mention there are individual minibars and open-out vanities stocked with Le Labo products to keep you feeling and looking fresh? There’s only one shower onboard, so if you want the chance to join the mile-high club… of bathing, ask the flight attendant for a time slot as soon as you board.

What you’ll pay: Yes, this flight isn’t exactly cheap at about $1,000 one-way. But here's an insider tip: flying from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai is much cheaper than flying the other direction, so aim to start your trip in the Middle East), but compared to the $10,000 it normally costs to fly one-way from New York to Abu Dhabi, it’s a bargain.

4. Garuda Indonesia First Class

Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER

Route: Jakarta to Singapore

Flight duration: 1 hour, 40 minutes

The seat: Garuda is Indonesia’s national airline and has been making huge improvements in recent years, including installing one of the best first-class seats currently in service aboard its new 777-300ER aircraft. The first-class cabin has just eight seats (though really, they’re more like suites) arranged in two rows of four seats each. They’re set out in a one-tow-one configuration. They have closing doors for privacy, and each is 22 inches wide and a whopping 82 inches long with touchscreen controls, individual closets for hanging your clothes (you know, after you get your set of airline pajamas) and industry-leading 23.5-inch in-flight entertainment screens.

Food and perks: Though you might not get a luxurious Loewe amenity kit or some of the other perks on such a short flight, there is still time for full, white-tablecloth meal service and a glass or two of Billecart-Salmon Champagne.

What you’ll pay: The flight clocks in at a hefty $891 (though that’s nothing compared to the $6,000 or so it would take to fly all the way from Jakarta to Singapore and on to London or Amsterdam, of which this flight is a segment).

5. KLM Business Class

Aircraft: Boeing 777-200

Route: Singapore to Bali Denpasar, this leg is a continuation of the airline’s flight from Amsterdam to Singapore and on to its final destination in Bali. Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta is another great tag flight that’s a continuation of the airline’s service from Amsterdam to Malaysia with a final destination in Indonesia.

Flight duration: 2 hours, 35 minutes on the Bali flight, and 2 hours, 5 minutes on the one between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

The seat: KLM has been updating its business-class cabins in recent years, so these flights are good, and inexpensive, opportunities to test out the new seats. These are all lie-flats arranged in a two-by-two-by-two configuration, and each is 20 inches wide and reclines to 80 inches (those Dutchies are tall!). The in-flight entertainment screens are 16 inches.

Food and perks: Meal service and amenities are a bit more limited than on the long-haul flights, but you’ll still get a full dinner (usually there are some delicious curry dishes) served on flatware created by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, and as much wine as you can enjoy over the course of the flight.

What you’ll pay: From Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, you can snag a seat for as little as $137. On the Bali route, airfares start at just $268 each way for two-and-a-half hours of comfort. That’s compared to about $150 to $170 economy usually runs, so why not spend a little extra cash on a much better experience?

6. LATAM Business Class

Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Route: Madrid to Frankfurt. This is a continuation of the airline’s flight from Santiago to Madrid; or Auckland to Sydney, a leg of the airline’s flight from Santiago to Sydney.

Flight duration: 2 hours, 45 minutes from Madrid to Frankfurt; or 3 hours, 10 minutes Auckland to Sydney

The seat: While they’re not the newest-style business-class seats out there, these ones are a fair amount more comfortable than your average intra-European business ones tend to be, and are upholstered in a stylish red-gray palette. The cabin is laid out in five rows of six seats each in a two-by-two-by-two pattern. Each is like a kitted-out recliner that’s 23 inches wide, and which lowers to a fully flat bed of 75 inches. Each also has its own personal 15.4-inch entertainment system.

Food and perks: LATAM launched new menus and wine lists back in September that highlight South American regional specialties. Since these are short flights, you’re only likely to get breakfast or a big snack rather than full meal service, but it’s bound to be something delicious like a smoked-salmon platter or a light salad with grilled chicken. The airline’s selection of Argentine and Chilean wines are selected by Master Sommelier, Hector Vergara. Amenity kits come stocked with Salvatore Ferragamo Tuscan Soul products.

What you’ll pay: You might want to save your miles on this one since you can find one-way tickets starting at $141 or round-trip ones for just $240 on this route. That’s not bad, considering the flight is blocked out with a time of two hours and 45 minutes. The Sydney-Auckland route runs more like $450 each way.

7. Singapore Airlines Business and First Class

Aircraft: Airbus 350-900

Route: Stockholm to Moscow (starting May 30)

Flight duration: 2 hours, 5 minutes

The seat: Singapore just took delivery of its newest aircraft, the next-generation A350-900 last year, and has installed its latest business-class seats aboard the plane. They might be business class, but they feel more like first class on most other airlines since they’re laid out in a spacious one-by-two-by-one configuration, and each is 28 inches wide and reclines to 78 inches. Each also has an entertainment screen that’s 18 inches.

Food and perks: It’s a short flight, but you can still expect that signature Singapore service including a full multi-course meal served on Givenchy china.

What you’ll pay: The flight will cost you $720 in each direction or $1,122 round-trip, but you can also use Singapore KrisFlyer frequent-flier miles (they’re a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest), and you’d need just 19,125 miles each way.

8. SWISS Business and First Class

Aircraft: Airbus A330-300

Route: Dubai to Muscat. This is a tag flight continuing on from the airline’s route from Zurich to Dubai.

Flight duration: 1 hour

The seats: You have two options here. You can choose to fly SWISS’s fabulous business class, or pay about $125 more to fly the airline’s award-winning first-class seats. So why not splurge? The first-class seats are more like semi-enclosed suites with wood paneling and enormous chairs that convert into lie-flat beds at the touch of an electronic control screen. Each is 22 inches wide and reclines to a full length of 83 inches. There are just two rows of these laid out in a one-by-two-by-one pattern. Business-class seats, on the other hand, are laid out in a sort of staggered one-by-two-by-two and two-by-two-by-one pattern. Each is 20.5 inches wide and reclines to 6-feet-7-inches.

Food and perks: The flight is short, so don’t expect full meal service or an amenity kit, but you should have enough time to sip on some Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne and enjoy a few snacks.

What you’ll pay: Airfares on this route are fairly constant and start at $405 one-way for first class or $282 for business class. That’s compared to the $12,000 and $7,500 respectively it’d cost you to fly each way from Zurich to New York. Not a bad savings. SWISS first class is notoriously difficult to book using airline miles as well, so this is one of the only chances to fly it without shelling out a fortune.

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