Is First Class Worth It?

Use points and miles to shave a little bit off the cost of first class on international flights.
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Written by Carissa Rawson

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We’ve all seen those happy flyers sitting up in the front, enjoying a hot towel and a glass of champagne while we trudge back to seat 42B. Comfort, relaxation and luxury — there’s no denying that first class will get you where you want to be in style, but is first class worth it?

Here's a look at the differences between economy and first class, domestic versus international first class and other options you may want to consider before your next flight.

The differences between economy and first class

The most obvious difference between economy and first class is the price. Generally, first class is more expensive than economy class, though the actual difference in price depends on the route, when you purchase the ticket and how many seats are available.

Economy class seats are fairly standard, while you can experience a variety of seats in first class. These may be similar to reclining leather chairs but can also move to lie down to a fully flat bed.

First class passengers can also expect different food when flying, complimentary alcohol and more attentive service.

On the ground, first class tickets can come with:

  • Airport lounge access.

  • Expedited security lines.

  • Extra free checked luggage.

  • Fast-track immigration process.

  • Separate check-in service.

In short, first class tickets provide a wealth of benefits for the additional cost, but you’ll want to be sure you’ll take advantage of the extra perks.

Domestic vs. international first class

There are also huge differences between domestic versus international first class, both on the ground and when flying. If you buy a ticket from San Francisco to Miami thinking you’ll get a lie-flat seat, you'll be disappointed to find that you’ll be spending five hours in a chair that simply reclines.

International first class products, on the other hand, are some of the most luxurious in the world. On some carriers, this means enjoying a shower mid-flight. On others, you’ll have an entire cabin to yourself, featuring a chair and your own separate bed. You can also expect amenities such as a chauffeur service and high-end airport lounge access.

Meanwhile, there are far fewer domestic first class features. Lounge access, for example, isn't always included except in some specific situations (such as flying a premium transcontinental route).

Seating is also usually fairly limited. Although some domestic first class routes will have seats that lie flat, for the most part, you can expect a leather lounger-type chair. Most of the time, you’ll receive a complimentary full meal with alcohol available as well.

You’ll also receive other benefits, such as a separate check-in line and additional free checked baggage.

First class, business class or premium economy?

You aren’t limited to just economy or first class when flying. The options you’ll find vary depending on the airline and where you’re going, but you may also want to consider business class or premium economy.

On long-haul international flights, business class is often a great alternative to first class — and they tend to be pretty similar. You’ll find a seat that converts into a bed, and some business class offerings include doors that turn your seat into a suite. You can also expect high-end food, complimentary alcohol and amenities such as pajamas and mattress pads.

Premium economy, meanwhile, functions similarly to domestic first class on long-haul international flights. It's a step up from standard economy and can feature different food, better alcohol and amenity kits. Premium economy seats tend to be similar to domestic first class seats. They’re larger than a regular economy seat and have a decent amount of recline but don’t lie down.

Is first class worth it?

The short answer to this question is that you’ll need to decide if it’s worth it based on your personal situation. First class can be a lot more costly than economy class, especially on international flights.

In a search, we found an American Airlines economy class ticket from Los Angeles to Paris for $1,180.

Eleven hours is a long time to sit upright in a cramped economy seat, but flying that same route in first class was almost sixteen times the price, coming in at $18,606.

For that rate, you’ll be able to experience Air France’s spectacular La Premiere product. But is it worth paying for the upgrade? It depends on how much you want the upgraded seat and experience, and whether you may be able to make a first class trip more affordable by booking with points or miles.

Using miles to fly first class

If you want to fly in first class, you may want to consider redeeming miles rather than spending cash. Frequent flyer miles can help offset the costs and redemption rates can also be good.

For example, when we last checked, a first class flight from Houston to Frankfurt in Lufthansa’s first class came in at $12,707.

Instead of paying more than $12,000 for the flight, you can instead choose to redeem miles. That same flight will cost 87,000 Lifemiles and around $22 in taxes and fees.

This is a great value when compared with cash, and you can acquire Lifemiles by transferring your credit card points from American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Bilt Rewards and Capital One Miles.

Here are some cards to consider:

American Express® Gold Card
American Express® Gold Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Bilt World Elite Mastercard Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Bilt's website

Rates & Fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Citibank Strata Premier Card
Citi Strata Premier℠ Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
Annual fee

$250.

None.

$95.

$95.

Earn rate

• 4 points per $1 at restaurants plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.

• 4 points per $1 at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year).

• 3 points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.

• 1 point per $1 on other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

• 3 points per $1 on dining.

• 2 points per $1 on travel.

• 1 point per $1 on rent payments up to 100,000 points per calendar year.

Note: You must use the card 5 times each statement period to earn points. If you do not make at least 5 transactions in a statement period you’ll earn a flat 250 points when you use your Bilt Mastercard to pay rent through the Bilt App or Website.

• 5 miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

• 2 miles per $1 on all other purchases.

• 10 ThankYou® points per $1 spent on hotels, car rentals and attractions booked through the Citi Travel site.

• 3 points per $1 on air travel and other hotel purchases.

• 3 points per $1 on supermarkets.

• 3 points per $1 on gas stations and EV charging stations.

• 3 points per $1 on restaurants.

• 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.

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So, is flying first class worth it?

Flying first class can be an amazing experience, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Along with premium treatment in the airport, you can expect better seats, better food and better service onboard.

However, first class tickets can also be expensive. If you’re looking to save money, consider instead using points and miles to pay for first class flights, allowing you to enjoy some bubbles with cash in your pocket.

To view rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, see this page.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening - that’s equal to $1,000 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
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