For travelers visiting Europe from other places on the globe, you may think that business class could be something special – especially if you flew to Europe on a European airline in business class! Here is what European business class is like – and some thoughts on whether it is worth it.
What Is European Business Class Like?
Say what you want about the US airlines vs airlines of the world (and there are a lot of things to say!) but they have at least been doing a good job of upgrading many of their domestic business class cabins over the last few years. European airlines? No, not so much.
It is important to think of European business class like this – it is about way more than just the seat! Think of it as streamlining the whole airport experience instead of sitting in a fancy chair for 1-3 hours in the air.
The Seat Itself
To put it very basically – European business class is economy class but with a seat blocked in the middle. There you go! Actually, on some aircraft, there may be a bit more legroom as well but, for the most part, your European business class seat is going to be the same as in economy.
In fact, airlines can even adjust the number of seats in their business class cabin by simply sliding the curtain forward or backward! Yes, just like that they can go from 4 business class seats to 10 business class seats!
Mini-rant: This actually makes me quite frustrated with European airlines that do not release award space for their inter-European legs. All it takes is a phone call ahead to catering and a shifting of the curtain but they, for the most part, refuse to do that.
The food service and catering on many inter-European business class flights is actually really good. I mean, it is way above what you are going to get in first or business class on domestic US flights!
Many times, economy has some pretty good food as well but the business class cabins for inter-European flights really kicks up the quality (and even real tableware on some flights!) so the food is the saving grace of the actual business class cabin on an inter-European flight.
For the seat, it is a hard NO about choosing inter-European business class over economy. It is the same seat (most of the time) and just has the middle blocked.
Check-In, Boarding, Security
Here are three areas where having business class can make a substantial difference over an economy ticket – and they don’t even involve stepping on the plane! If you have mid-tier airline status, you likely get all of this with that airline (or others in the alliance) anyway but if you don’t have it, business class opens the doors to a more relaxed airport experience.
There are some huge airports in Europe and the lines for checking your bag (which you would get free with business class also!), going through security, and even boarding can be quite long. If you have a tight connection or you are trying to squeeze every last minute out of your vacation, those can be some valuable minutes saved!
For Check-In, you get a dedicated lane at the counters. At many airports, you may see hundreds of people in the other lines and just 4 or 5 in the business class line. Big difference!
For security, the same holds true again. There is no TSA Precheck in European airports so you are going to just have to wait in the very long security lines – unless you have mid-tier or higher elite status or business class! That gives you fast track capability to zip along in a different line that can have you at the aircraft (or lounge, more on that in a minute) in no time at all!
For boarding, it is not really that big of a deal except for the fact that you will absolutely not have to check your regular sized carryon bag. Since you get to be the first on the plane and you have a dedicated overhead bin for business class, this can be the difference between having your valuable electronics with you or trying to hold them all in two hands while they roll away your bag to put it under the plane.
For the priority access, a business class ticket makes the whole process much easier and fluid. This can make the business class ticket worth it – depending on the price!
This is where it starts getting real! With business class tickets (I won’t say all in case there are some that don’t offer it but most likely all business class tickets for European flights offer this), you get lounge access. While many European airports have a lot to offer inside of them in the way of food and drinks, a lounge can offer quite a bit more and even things like showers!
If you have used US airline lounges in the US, wipe those out of your memory and do not compare them to European business class lounges! 🙂 Lounges like Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian, British Airways, and others have actual food for meals in their lounges as well as places to stretch out, shower, plane spot, and more.
By itself, the lounge access could be all you need to enjoy the business class ticket!
Is European Business Class Worth It?
If you are paying cash, chances are pretty good that the business class ticket for inter-European travel could be anywhere from 2-5 times the cost of an economy ticket! If you are using miles or points, it could be from .5 – 2x as much as economy.
However, if the cash difference is less than $70 (and you don’t have elite status), here are some reasons to strongly consider it.
- At least one, maybe two bags for free (which could cause that difference to be almost covered by itself!)
- Priority check-in and security
- More miles being earned and credited to your partner program
- Lounge access
- In airports with remote stands (meaning buses for departing and arriving), you are first off the plane and at the terminal
However, do keep in mind that it is not uncommon for airlines to sell their business class tickets for far more than an economy ticket on that inter-European route!
One More Thing – Not All Inter-European Business Class Seats are Created Equal!
If you are going to be flying Turkish Airlines between Istanbul and other European cities, definitely check which plane they are using! Their wide body aircraft will have their international business class cabins! This means significantly upgraded business class seats – sometimes on flights that are even just an hour!
Even if you are not on one of those planes, Turkish Airlines has my favorite business class for even inter-European flights anyway so something to consider.
Another thing to consider is fifth-freedom flights (or flights that depart and arrive at countries other than their flagged country). For example, Air China flies between Athens and Munich as part of their longer haul journey back to China.
There are flights like that Air China one and also the fan-favorite of LATAM between Madrid and Frankfurt. Not only is that an internationally configured business class seat as well but it can often be purchased for only slightly more than a regular economy ticket!