Are These 9 Perks of Premium Cabin Travel Worth the Extra Miles — Or the Extra Money, For That Matter?

“O ne question I am often asked by those who have not had the experience of traveling internationally on a premium cabin award is whether the better seat is worth the extra miles. The short answer to this question is absolutely. However, the one thing I always try to convey about premium cabin travel is that you will get much more than a better seat, which is something often overlooked.”

The above statement was written by Miguel R. Quinones in an article titled More Than Just a Better Seat: 9 Perks of Premium Cabin Travel for Frugal Travel Guy — and I must say that I do not agree with it.

I am not disputing the 9 perks of premium cabin travel of which he extols their virtues — in fact, I actually agree with them…

  1. Priority Check-in
  2. Extra Luggage Allowance
  3. Priority Security Lines
  4. Lounge Access
  5. Priority Boarding
  6. Better Dining Experience
  7. Lavatories
  8. Priority Passport Control
  9. Better Experience When Things Go Wrong

 

…I simply believe that it is rarely worth paying the extra money or frequent flier loyalty program miles for them.

Miles and Points are Not Free: You Earned Them

Frequent flier loyalty program miles are considered a form of currency by many people; so with that logic, you should theoretically treat those miles with care similar to cash. They have value — what exactly is that value has been debated for years ad nauseum — so you want to ensure that you get the most from your investment.

Yes: investment.

Unless the miles were thrown at you or you earned them with absolutely no effort or cost on your part whatsoever, you invested either your time, money or effort — or, more likely, a combination thereof — in earning those miles. Whether it was flying as a passenger on an airplane where you wrestled elbows with your seat mate for the armrest if you were even able to lower the armrest despite the person sitting next to you being obese and possibly using up your seat space; argued with another passenger as to whether a window shade should be opened or closed; debated about whether or not a seat should be reclined; was subject to questionable material being viewed by a fellow passenger; or clamored with anxious passengers fighting for a front-row position at the baggage claim carousel — you earned those miles.

Let’s face it: even if the expenses of your travel was paid by an employer or a client instead of out of your own pocket, enduring the aforementioned experiences — which are a mere scant microcosm of delightful scenarios to which passengers are subject on flights at any given time — qualifies you as investing in the frequent flier loyalty program miles you earned as a result.

You earned those miles. Use them wisely…

…but what constitutes using them wisely?

That is purely a subjective matter to which we may have differing opinions as affected by numerous factors. I have flown as a passenger in the premium class cabin on both domestic and international flights; and I have redeemed frequent flier loyalty program miles for some of those flights. Yes, the seat is more comfortable; the food more plentiful and delicious; the service more frequent and attentive — but is it worth the cost?

The answer is: it depends.

Comparing Costs Between Premium Class and Economy Class

I chose a route for dates at random using Delta Air Lines, pricing round-trip flights between Atlanta and Sydney for a trip lasting two weeks. The reason why I chose Atlanta and Sydney is because the total time for travel is almost 24 hours, which includes at least one stop; and I have excluded the possibility that the passenger has already earned elite level status to enjoy some of the benefits listed at no extra charge.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

The cost to travel in the premium class cabin is $8,664.20 — which is greater than four times the cost of traveling in the economy class cabin at a cost of $2,104.20.

If the trip is instead paid by redeeming frequent flier loyalty program miles instead of cash, the cost to travel in the premium class cabin is 350,000 SkyMiles — which is 3.5 times greater than the cost of traveling in the economy class cabin at a cost of 100,000 SkyMiles.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

Click on the image for a larger version of this screen shot.

Up to four times the amount for the privilege of flying as a passenger in the premium class cabin — whether using cash or SkyMiles — does not sound terrible at all, does it? An increase of up to 400 percent may sound worse; but it is certainly not devastating…

…but what if you only had 400,000 SkyMiles in your account? Well, you can choose to spend 350,000 of them as a passenger in the premium class cabin in both directions and enjoy multiple meals and snacks, a plethora of entertainment options, attentive service and a quieter yet more spacious and comfortable experience. While waiting at the airport, you also get to enjoy complimentary lounge access instead of waiting at a crowded gate…

…and what if you had a companion who was to travel with you? What if you wanted to take a trip to Singapore or Johannesburg or Santiago soon afterwards? What would be your choice?

My Usual Choice Is…

My choice — right or wrong, whether you agree or not — would usually be to travel as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin. Sure, I have flights where the experience was less than desirable — such as on this flight operated by Etihad Airways or this flight operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines or this flight operated by Alitalia as three examples…

…but more often than not, my experiences as a passenger in the economy class cabin have ranged from tolerable to actually enjoyable — such as on this flight operated by Etihad Airways or this flight operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as two examples.

I do not require a wide seat when I travel, as I am usually fine in an economy class seat. I do not drink alcoholic beverages; so that perk would be wasted on me regardless of cabin class. I bring a portable electronic device with me; so in-flight entertainment is not nearly as important to me as it was years ago. I typically do not suffer from jet lag; so the sleep I do manage to get aboard an airplane in the economy class cabin usually suffices until I can get a good sound sleep in a comfortable bed. If there are annoying people nearby, I can usually tolerate or ignore them by diverting my attention to something else.

Therefore — for me, anyway — I generally can travel for a stretch of as many as 48 hours and actually survive.

Yes — I have actually survived traveling on long-haul international itineraries as an economy class passenger multiple times and lived to tell about those experiences with you.

What You Can Do With the Extra Money or Miles

The way I look at it is this: if I was considering paying cash for the airline ticket, the difference of the aforementioned comparison between the cost of the premium class ticket versus the economy class ticket is $6,560.00. Traveling as a premium class passenger is not worth approximately $274.00 per hour to me. I would rather use that $6,560.00 in my home on products or services which would yield years of comfort or convenience to me. Perhaps I can spend $150.00 of it on an extravagant meal which would blow away what is typically offered in the premium class cabin. I could purchase very comfortable and stylish furniture for my home which I can use and enjoy for years and not just for 48 hours. I can even put the money towards a significant down payment on a car packed with features…

…or I can invest the money somewhere where I can enjoy a true return on investment with a significant yield where I can earn more money to spend or invest — but I will leave that part of the discussion to colleagues such as William Charles of Doctor of Credit or George of TravelBloggerBuzz.

I am equally frugal pertaining to frequent flier loyalty program miles. If you subscribe to the primary rule for travel of if you like it, you can go back as professed by Keri Anderson of Heels First Travel — a rule about which I have mixed feelings, which I may discuss in a future article — then I would rather head back to Australia a second time to enjoy more of what it has to offer and therefore travel in the economy class cabin.

With all of that in mind, let us revisit those aforementioned 9 perks of premium cabin travel:

  1. Priority Check-in Although I do enjoy this perk and find it valuable, the airplane will not leave without me if I arrive 45 minutes earlier; and I can use that time efficiently while waiting at the airport — such as preparing another article for The Gate
  2. Extra Luggage Allowance Even in the extremely rare occasion where I check luggage, I never exceed the luggage allowance for both carrying it onto the airplane with me or checking it; so this benefit is worthless to me
  3. Priority Security Lines I do enjoy this perk as well; but there have been times where the wait time can actually take longer than in the regular security lines at the checkpoint at the airport — and I would be irritated if I spent more money or miles on this benefit when that happens
  4. Lounge Access I always carry snacks with me if I get hungry and I carry a portable electronic device and a laptop computer if I need to pass the time — and I can usually find a quiet public area of the airport in which I can work or be entertained — so while I would always prefer to have this benefit, I have survived without it; and although I never usually do this, I can pay separately for lounge access if I really, really need it
  5. Priority Boarding I usually carry one bag with me aboard the airplane; so grabbing space early in the overhead storage bin is not a priority; and besides, the airplane will not leave without me if I do not qualify for priority boarding — and if I really need a pre-departure beverage, I can purchase one at a vendor located near the gate — but I do like the idea of leaving the airplane sooner, which is not necessarily a deal breaker worth spending extra money or miles
  6. Better Dining Experience I can splurge on a great meal at a restaurant either before or after the flight and still save a significant amount of money; and besides, I usually am fine with the dining options in the economy class cabin — without the alcoholic beverages, of course
  7. Lavatories While fresh flowers and more amenities in a cleaner premium class lavatory are certainly preferable, it is not worth it to me to spend the extra money or miles for this perk, as I can bear the smell and the mess of a lavatory in the economy class cabin for those few minutes which I am in there — and I always wear shoes when using the lavatory
  8. Priority Passport Control With more kiosks and automated systems being implemented in countries such as the United States, this benefit is slowly becoming less and less relevant to me; and it is not available in all countries anyway
  9. Better Experience When Things Go Wrong Not necessarily, if you happen to be polite and respectful to the employees, members of the flight crew and staff members of the airline — and I am not typically a bettor, but I would consider betting you the difference in the miles or cash used for the premium class cabin over the economy class cabin that an airline employee would more often than not prefer dealing with a polite and respectful economy class passenger than a demanding premium class passenger who bellows “Do you know who I am?!?” in order to receive the service and benefits he or she believes he or she deserves

Summary

Please do not misunderstand me — the reasons I stated for usually choosing to pay for a seat in the economy class cabin instead of one in the premium class cabin are based on logic. There is certainly nothing wrong with splurging once in a while on aspirational travel; and I do that occasionally. Sometimes how you feel after that experience is worth more than what you spent; and sometimes it is not — and as I mentioned earlier in this article, it is all subjective…

…but my preference is to travel as much as I possibly can to as many places as possible; and I usually can still enjoy my travel experiences. Yes, quantity over quality is not always better; but if I can travel on four flights for my money or miles instead of one, that is usually the better deal — or I can use the cash or money for uses which would last longer than 24 or 48 hours.

At those times when the economy class travel experience becomes miserable, I view it as a light at the end of the tunnel: “It is only ten more hours; and then I can be at a restaurant dining on a great meal before sleeping in a comfortable bed afterwards.”

You may not agree; and that is fine. This world would be a boring place if we all agreed on the same things all of the time…

…but I disagree with Miguel R. Quinones when he says that spending extra on premium class travel is absolutely worth it for the reasons I stated in this article. I prefer to keep premium class travel as an occasional aspirational treat which I can truly enjoy and appreciate according to maintaining my perspective and adjusting my expectations — as I never want to be that demanding customer who expects that everything is owed to him or her from traveling solely or primarily in premium class — and use the money or miles which I saved on products and services which may be more meaningful, beneficial and longer-lasting to me.

5 thoughts on “Are These 9 Perks of Premium Cabin Travel Worth the Extra Miles — Or the Extra Money, For That Matter?”

  1. Andrew G says:

    I agree with most of this. The whole reason I am in this “game” is to get as many free (or close to free) trips as possible. That said, I did just splurge on an amazing premium trip to surprise my wife for our 10th anniversary. SQ suites, luxury hotels in Europe, etc. Many times it can be worth the experience. After all, life is just a collection of experiences. What are you going to remember years from now, the fabulous luxury trip you splurged on, or the money you saved by not splurging? 🙂

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with a splurge, Andrew G — and I agree with you.

      The answer to your question is that I would remember both the fabulous luxury trips on which I splurged and all of the other trips on which I use money or miles because I was able to get the most out of them.

      It is all a subjective value proposition where the best balance of both is the ideal solution — at least, to me.

  2. ES says:

    Great post. We fly in the back most of the time and also live to tell the tale. For short flights, it’s a no brainer to me. I got into this hobby hoping my miles and points would enable me to fly up front for the price of coach. But almost free flights and hotels are addictive, and I end up saving the miles and points for the next redemption instead.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Exactly.

      Thank you, ES.

      1. Andrew G says:

        Totally agree for short flights. Save the points though to splurge for those long haul flights! 🙂

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