3 Ways to Enjoy Business Class for Less Than the Cost of Economy


Would you choose to fly 14 hours overseas in a seat that is 32 inches wide and has a 6 inch recline or in a seat that is 82 inches wide and lies completely flat? Would you choose to sit for the few hours before the flight in a loud waiting area with limited seating or in a room that has free WiFi, comfortable chairs, and complimentary food? 

We'd probably all prefer to fly business class except for one thing — the price. Business class travel is expensive. For example, at the time this post is being written, Kayak.com is offering a round trip business class flight between Denver and Beijing, China for $5,033, which is the cheapest fare available.

How many of us can afford to fork out several thousand dollars for a business class seat?

But what if a traveler is determined to get to Beijing in a business class seat? Would there be a cheaper way?

Yes — more than one, even.

1. Accumulate Airline Miles with Travel Rewards Credit Cards

I checked out a few of the major U.S. airlines to see if there was award availability and how much it would cost to travel from Denver to Beijing on the dates I used in my example above.

Business Class to China Cost in Airline Miles

  • United = 120,000 miles plus around $50 in taxes and fees.
  • American = 110,000 plus around $50 in taxes and fees.
  • US Airways = 90,000 plus around $125 in taxes and fees (higher taxes and fees because it can't be booked online).
  • Delta = 120,000 plus around $50 in taxes and fees.

So, dependning on the carrier, you'd need 90,000 to 120,000 airline miles.

Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Use the best travel credit cards, and you will accumuate enough points for a business fare just through your everyday and normal spending. If you are already a frequent flyer, a co-branded airline credit card will get you award flights the fastest. If you want to save up points for a big trip, choose a card that offers big bonuses for your biggest expenses. (See also: Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card with This Guide) 

2. Buy Miles

Airlines offer special deals and discounts for buying miles from time to time. Several times this year, US Airways has had a promotion where they will give you a 100% mileage bonus when you purchase miles. During those promotions, miles cost 1.88 cents each (including any taxes and fees). Since US Airways requires 90,000 miles to fly business class to China, you could buy the miles you need for $1,692 plus your approximate $125 in taxes and fees when you redeem your miles. That's still a sub-$2,000 business class flight to Asia.

3. Be an Elite Member

It may not always be convenient or cheapest to stick with one airline, but if you can accumulate enough loyalty points with one program, you could gain elite status that will allow you to be upgraded to a business class seat, free! Pick your favorite airline program, check their requirements for free seat upgrades, and stick to them for all your future flights. (See also: Frequent Flyer Programs with Free Seat Upgrades

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Guest's picture

I'd rather use my credit card rewards for other things, personally. Unless you're just cashing in miles that you get on business trips, you're really trading cash for upgrades, anyway.

Craig Ford's picture

I agree. Credit card miles is the easiest method on this post.

Guest's picture

Yep! Business is much better. Hubby gets points, I get a ticket! Works for me!

Guest's picture

Wasteful, even whilst using miles. If you value your miles at 2 cents each (60K for $1200) gets you a seat in Coach to Asia which is about market price, paying another $1200 to make it Business so you can lie down flat is a little exuberant. As is mileage running (which averages 5 cents per mile or less) so you are talking 3-5K for that ticket).

People are spending beyond their means, even with credit card points.

The only exception I would make is if you are generating miles for free that you couldn't be using to generate Cash Back.

Guest's picture

Have you seen the new American Airlines business class seats? Truly amazing . . . you can kick back your feet and relax without anyone right next to you. Those are very expensive, but using your tips here should help those who are willing to pay for these seats. Thanks!

Craig Ford's picture

I haven't flown on the new American business class seats, but I've seen some reviews. There is a huge difference between business class and economy class, but I wouldn't ever fork over the cash.

Guest's picture

Looking forward to flying Turkish business using US Airways miles accumulated back when the cost for those miles was even cheaper. 1.88 cents per mile is still not cheap in my book.

Craig Ford's picture

Sounds like a fun trip. Enjoy!