The Basics

What Is Your Threshold for Flying Coach?

economy seats
Written by Charlie

When it comes to international travel, deciding whether you will be flying coach or business can be a tough decision – thanks to miles and points. What is your threshold?


I have flown about a million miles since I first flew at 18 (yeah, a late-bloomer!). Many of those miles have been in coach, especially before I ever started using miles and points. But, since I started collecting miles and points, it becomes much easier to fly in business or first class but it obviously requires more miles. So, there is a threshold I have set for whether I book business or coach. What is your threshold for flying coach?

What Is Your Threshold for Flying Coach?

Flying Coach in the Extreme

I have done a lot of coach travel all over the world. For instance, I did a mileage run back in the day that was Pittsburgh – JFK – Los Angeles – Sydney on the ground for 2 hours and then Sydney – Los Angeles – JFK – Pittsburgh before driving the 4.5 hours back home. All of that was in coach so the car drive home was actually the most comfortable part about the trip!

I also did 5 marathon runs on 5 continents in 5 days back in 2009 that had me flying the following route – all in coach:

  • Rochester – JFK – LAX – Sydney
  • Sydney – LAX
  • LAX – Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Sao Paulo – London
  • London – Cairo
  • Cairo – Istanbul – Tel Aviv
  • Tel Aviv – Paris – JFK – Rochester

That was pretty exhausting, especially since I had run 130 miles over that same course! 🙂

Of course, when I did my 6 marathon runs on 6 continents in less than 5 days a couple of years ago, I did that one almost all in business and first class!

My Threshold Rules for Flying Coach

Now, with miles and points, I have set a kind of threshold to help me with whether I book business or coach:

  • 10+ hour flight overnight – business
  • Less than 24 hours on the ground on international trip – business

Since most of my travels between Europe and the US involve me being on the ground for less than 24 hours and being very busy while on the ground, I normally prefer to book business for those flights. This way, I am almost always able to be awake most of the time and then get my sleep going both ways.

first class cheaper

Flying in business on long-haul flights can make the trip much easier!

When it comes to the length of a flight, I am just fine with making daytime flights in coach up to most distances. If I were flying 14+ hours again, I would want that in business but they can be quite pricey in miles (depending on the carrier booked with). However, since most overnight flights for me are going to be returning home, I like to get the sleep I can since I normally hit the ground running.


Etihad Gold

Not all coach seats are uncomfortable! Etihad’s A330 in coach

With international coach tickets becoming cheaper and cheaper, it can be hard to make the decision to burn a lot of miles for business over buying a cheap coach ticket. But, if you are going to be someplace for a short amount of time, it can make the time on the ground more worth it if you are rested!

At least technology is working to make coach seats work better for travelers – even if airlines are working to shrink those cabins.

So, what is your threshold for flying coach?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • 9ish miles in coach is probably my max. I am pretty tall and my knees pressed against the seat in front of me start to kill me for days if I do anymore than 9 hours it seems.
    I have done 16 hours in coach and i still think my knees and back are messed up from that flight 2ish years ago.

    • I hear you! I may not be as tall as you (6’1″) but I still need to work to rearrange my legs so I can get them under the seat in front of me. Once that happens, I am generally ok! 🙂

    • It doesn’t normally since I cannot normally redeem miles for it. As for cost, on the routes I fly, it is not that much cheaper than business class.

  • Fortunately my employer pays for business class on 6+ hour flights. My rule for personal flights is similar: C or F for TATL/TPAC (both are 10+ hours from west coast) and definitely try to upgrade transcons. My over/under for shorter flights is $50-150 depending on length of flight and time of day.

  • 2 hours for me. My days of doing SYD-LAX every month in Y are done. That was when UA were serious

  • If you’re going to run marathons (or other heavy lifting or have difficult meetings), flying Business is totally worth it. You need to be in the best condition possible to position yourself for success.