Intercontinental First class vs business, price differential?

Just been booking some business class airfares, discounted not full price. For shits and giggles I checked the first class price. Five times more than discount business class or 3 times more than full price business class. This was consistent, across a bunch of airlines, not just a one off.

Now I’ve seen First class both in reality and in photos and it’s nice, but it’s not five times nicer than a fully flat business seat (which are common on long haul). Sure you get better service and a better meal but in reality that means maybe 1.5 times as many cabin attendants per customer and a meal that maybe costs 3 times as much. In terms of space first class pods are only about 1.5 times as big as business class on the examples I’ve seen. To be clear I’m not talking Singapore Airlines or Emirates SKy Suites which are $20,000 US up, I’m talking about typical long haul first class. Like this:

So maybe this will end up in IMHO, and obviously they can charge this because people will pay it, but seriously I have a hard time understanding why anyone would pay five times more over business class when thats already pretty damn comfy. Am I missing something on the justifications for the price differential?

You get to be in a cabin separate from the folks who don’t/won’t pay the differential.

There are also usually really nice lounges that come with first class where you don’t have to wait with the folks in the normal lounge.

I occasionally go to China, and vastly prefer first class to business class. Business class is nice, but first class is much, much preferable. Some of the reasons are:

  • More Privacy. Business class you have a seat next to you. First class, you are in your own little pod. On a 15 hour trip, this is probably the big one for me.
  • More Room. More room to stow my stuff. More room to stand up and stretch. more room to go hang out in a friend/coworkers pod if I want to
  • First Class Lounge. International travel frequently requires long layovers. First class lounges vary in quality, but the worst are significantly better than sitting at the gate, and the best are very, very nice indeed, with plenty of free food, comfortable chairs with power outlets all around, and peace and quiet.
  • Service. This one isn’t that big for me, but it is nice to be completely pampered.

Having said that, I never buy a first class ticket, so, in that way, I am like you, but I think your “mistake” is in thinking that there is a strict correlation between what you pay and what you get. Just because something costs 5 times as much doesn’t mean it has to have 5 times the “value” (however you define that). In my experience, there are two types of people in first class:

  1. People with a whole lot of money. For these folks, the luxury/comfort/status is worth the money, partly because the money isn’t as big a deal (and often, the status is). It’s like me with hamburgers. I never, ever buy a fast food burger; I haven’t had one in years. If I am going to have a burger, it is going to be from a nice place, and will generally cost about $10. You could ask me “Is that $10 burger really 4 times as good as a fast food burger?”, and the answer is that I don’t know and I don’t care. The extra money isn’t a big deal, and I much prefer the nicer burger. That’s the way these folks think. First class is significantly better, and the money is no big deal, so why not?

  2. People who get bumped to first class. I’ve flown first class internationally several times, and never bought a first class ticket. Plenty of the folks up there are in the same boat. For them, the price doesn’t matter, as they aren’t paying it, and it is a good way for the airline to reward their customers.

Airline pricing is one of the most complicated and analyzed things in the business world. Whatever the pricing model is, you can bet that is has been extensively studied and analyzed, and they have very solid reasons for setting the prices where they are.

You’ve just described Delta’s business class between DTW and PVG. I’m not even sure Delta has First Class. I’ve only seen both First and Business on the Asian airlines, and only separate First/Business lounges in Asia.

I can’t speak to Delta, as I never fly them. I usually fly American. The 777 has a separate first and business class, with the first class being superior. The 787, on the other hand, has no differentiation.

There are at least some First Class lounges in the US. Again, this may be a Delta vs. American thing. O’Hare has a pretty nice first class lounge.

About the lounges, well I had one experience when I flying on JAL and had a problem in business class, so they gave me entrance to the first class lounge during a 6 hour layover at Tokyo. Yeah ok, it was three times bigger than the business class lounge with three times less people, ridiculously good japanese food, expensive champagne, whiskey and sake and amazing decor. Rent ain’t cheap at an airport so maybe it all goes on first class lounges.

Anyway, I do find it hard to understand the concept that some people regard people in business class seats or lounges as “not the sort of riff raff” that they want to associate with. But maybe thats what it is, and the simple fact they can so why not?

I’ve always thought that the only reason first-class even exists, is to gouge flyers who have an urgent need to fly on a sold-out route, and to reduce the number of economy seats so they do sell out. “We still have first class seats, sir”.

Maybe on domestic routes, but it doesn’t work that way on international long haul. A first class seat on a typical mid range airline like Cathay Pacific is 12 times more than an economy seat. Not really a feasible upsell.

I was in the travel business for twenty years. When I was in the business, first class internationally wasn’t much better than domestic first class. Business class was somewhere in between coach and first. Since the early 2000s, airlines have really upgraded their first class service. I guess there’s money to be made there. As I recall, Delta went to a 2 tier flight coach and Business/First.

yeah but I’d also say Business class has got better and economy has got worse. Used to be Business class was just a seat that reclined 40 degrees and was wider and you had more leg room. Now you have a fully flat seat with some walls for privacy. This is business class on JAL

Now called “premium economy”. Where you get to sit next to people that are wider, have longer lengs, and recline their seets 40 degrees.

As has been stated, some people aren’t paying for it. Their company is, or someone else’s company is (i.e., consultants who are hired to go to somewhere, and they put in their contract “first class airfare.”). Also, using airline miles. Some of us have 100s of thousands, and cash them in for the “trip of a lifetime.”

Other people are rich enough that it doesn’t matter. They don’t want the best possible experience, and a few extra thousand doesn’t even ping their radar. Wander around Santa Barbara or Westchester County sometime and ask yourself, would these people who life in these houses be willing to pay and extra $5,000 per seat on their next flight to Paris? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

Pretty much all ranks of product are not about the more expensive ranks being proportionally better. They are about price discrimination which is the art of selling the same thing to different people at different prices depending on the buyer’s capacity to pay. This involves offering relatively small or even illusory service or product upgrades for substantial price increases so that the less money is worth to you the more you will pay.

Yeah fair enough, also was interesting on the searches I did all the first class fares were very near to the same price across many carriers, while business class and economy class fares varied widely. They’ve obviously found that price really doesn’t matter much for that segment of the market, people will just choose whatever carrier they prefer so they’ve all settled at about the same amount and no attempt to compete on price.