When Is Booking A More Expensive Plane Ticket Worth It? Here’s Why I Can Never Go Back To Booking The Cheapest Flight
I'm someone who always gravitates toward the cheapest ticket available when I travel, even if it comes with a 20+ hour overnight layover — but I will admit that, when it comes to long-haul flights where you are often checking bags or trying to sleep during the journey, I have often wondered if there’s something to be said about paying a little more for added comfort and the included extras. More specifically: When is the more expensive plane ticket worth it?
Recently, I had a flying experience that, not to be dramatic, was the worst flying experience of any flying experience ever in the history of the world. It was on a budget airline where I was wedged into the corner of a window seat for an eight-hour flight in a row that had less legroom than I’ve ever seen on a plane. The air conditioner on the plane did not work. When we landed, trinkets I’d picked up during my travels didn’t end up being the only souvenir I brought back home: I also developed a nasty pinched nerve in my left thigh that, weeks later, is still causing me a considerable amount of pain. At the time, I remember emerging from that flight more exhausted than I’d ever been before, nerve pain in my thigh and a cramp in my neck from trying to sleep in the fetal position while sitting upright. But it didn’t matter, because hell, I got a good deal.
But did I, even? Weeks later, I’m still mulling this question over, probably because my leg is still cramping up every time I sit down anywhere which is unfortunate because sitting is one of my favorite activities.
How bad can a flight experience be before even the cheapo ticket is no longer considered “a good deal”? Are we all fooling ourselves into thinking that we’re saving money by going for the airfare tickets labeled “supersaver,” and “basic economy” when, in reality, we’re just paying for hours of discomfort, sleep deprivation, and dissatisfaction? Not to mention, those reduced fares often don’t include things that are usually free with higher tiered tickets, like carry-on baggage, checked baggage, seat selection, and a boarding group that isn’t dead last — amenities like these only result in you accruing more charges, and ultimately leave you having spent more than you would have if you’d just got the more expensive ticket option. Is it worth it to just pay more and get those perks?
I recently had the opportunity to test this theory thanks to British Airways. As part of promotion for its 100th anniversary, the airline offered me the opportunity to experience their business class cabin, Club World, for a flight between JFK airport in NYC and Heathrow airport in London. These flights usually cost around $900, versus $400 for basic economy — so it's pricier than I'm used to. I’m never one to turn down the opportunity to travel to London or the opportunity to do so in a seat that converts into a lay-flat bed, though, so I jumped at the invite.
Unsurprisingly, it was the best flying experience of my life, due to all of the added features that are standard when you purchase a more expensive ticket: i.e., included checked baggage, priority boarding, priority security lines, included meals, and a more comfortable seat. Turns out, flying doesn’t have to be a miserable experience!
1. If You Get Stressed By Check-In & Security Lines, It’s Worth It
Like most people, I get stressed out by going through security lines at airports. I know they’re there to keep us safe and everything, and I respect that — but there is so much pressure involved in going through them, it makes my blood pressure rise to just think about it. I’m not even talking about being worried that I might be pulled aside for “random screening” (which does happen often because I have a vaguely Middle Eastern surname — this is America!) — I’m referring to the stress that surrounds feeling like you’re not moving fast enough when you have to take your shoes off, move your liquids and laptop/tablet to individual, different bins, and make sure all your jewelry is off and nothing is in your pockets before you go in the body scanner. Because I refuse to pay to for services like TSA Pre-Check, I have to do all this every time I go through security lines — all while other stressed out people who are in a hurry to catch their flights sigh impatiently behind me, even though I’m not the person who didn’t separate all her liquids into a single, transparent plastic bag! It’s a lot.
The experience I had while going through security with my Club World ticket, however, could not have been more different. Not only did I have my own dedicated security line — the entrance to which was literally right next to the BA Club World check-in desk! — but it was a dedicated security line with one person in it and no one behind me. For once, I didn’t feel like I was being rushed because I couldn’t get my boots off quickly enough, or pull my laptop out of my backpack swiftly enough, and it changed my life. There was other good stuff about flying with a more expensive ticket that I’ll get into below, but honestly, I would pay double what I pay for a basic economy ticket for literally just being able to go through a security line as easy breezy as this one.
2. If You Hate Carrying Around Your Bags After Security, It’s Worth It
After getting through security, I made my way to the BA clubhouse to wait for my flight — only to realize that I had forgotten to make a pit stop at one of the numerous airport convenience stores to pick up a giant bottle of water (hydration while flying is key) and a snack for later. The only issue was that I had a carry-on bag with me that only had shoulder straps, and I really didn’t want to pick it back up. That’s when I realized that most airport lounges have an easy fix for this conundrum: Luggage lockers.
Yes, most airports have these as well outside of lounges, but they’re often only available for a fee, and located pre-security — which didn’t help me considering I was already through security. Lounge lockers, however, are free to anyone in the lounge, so all I had to do was stick my bag in a locker, lock it, and take the key with me. Then, I was free to go wherever I wanted — bag-free! — until it was time for my flight. It saved my shoulder from having to carry that bag, and it saved me from getting dehydrated on a flight. Win-win.
3. If You Can’t Fall Asleep On An Airplane Without Sleep Aids, It’s Worth It
I’ve never had much trouble falling asleep on flights, but I’m also someone who has trained herself in the vein of Pavlov’s dog to get tired the second I’m on an airplane, no matter what time of day it is. The sleep that follows my instant bout of exhaustion is never a great sleep, but it’s a sleep nonetheless, and that makes it acceptable… right? It wasn’t until I experienced the lay-flat seats in British Airway’s Club World class, however, that I realized how garbage all airplane sleeps I’ve had before this one actually were. Being able to fully lay down to sleep during a flight eliminates the possibility of neck and back cramps that occur when you sleep in weird positions in upright seats, and it also allows you to fall asleep and stay asleep for the duration of the flight. Game changer.
Of course, I'm not saying it's absolutely impossible to fall asleep in an upright airplane seat — even one with cramped legroom. According to an aircraft seating designer speaking to Travel + Leisure in 2018, while a person generally does need a lie-flat seat to get the best quality of sleep, making sure that you feel comfortable temperature-wise, that your seatbelt is buckled over any blankets you have on, and that your earplugs are firmly in place will help you get some much-needed zzz's on long-haul flights.
4. If You’re Above 5’7”, It’s Worth It
It’s no secret that legroom in airplanes is getting tighter and tighter. If you’re above 5’7” and not sitting in an exit row — where you then have to accept responsibility for saving everyone’s lives in the case of an emergency, which is a lot if you’re just trying to go on vacation! — chances are that you’re folding yourself in a weird position for the duration of the flight just to make your human legs fit in the tiny amount of space allotted to your seat.
This isn’t a thing in Club World, and honestly, I think for this alone the higher price tag is worth the money. Not only do you have all the leg room you could ever want, but you also have a foot rest, and, as aforementioned, the seat reclines all the way back into a literal bed. You could be over six feet tall and you would still be comfortable for the whole flight. That’s worth all the money. (Pro-tip: While lay-flat seats aren't common outside of business or first class cabins, customers do often have the option on major airlines to book a premium ticket over a basic economy ticket, which usually offers more leg room at a cheaper price tag than business class.)
5. If You Plan To Check Any Bags, It’s Worth It
Gone are the days of included checked baggage in standard airline tickets. Now, travelers who book cheaper tickets are required to pay a minimum of $30 — and sometimes as much as $60 for basic economy! — per bag they wish to check on a flight. While booking a cheaper ticket might make you think you’re getting a better deal, it only really works out that way if you don’t need to check a bag. If you do need to, you’ll likely need to pay extra to do so, and at that point, it was probably worth it just to book the more expensive ticket option that included checked baggage.
For Club World passengers, checked baggage is included in the price, which takes the conundrum of hidden fees out of the equation. Additionally, their baggage allowance rules go above and beyond the norm — instead of one free checked bag, Club World passengers get two checked bags free, in addition to their normal allowance of a carry-on bag in the cabin, and a laptop or handbag. Unfortunately, this is a policy pretty much unheard of in economy classes without tons of extra fees (unless you're flying Southwest Airlines within the U.S., where they still maintain a policy of two free checked bags for all customers), but it is standard in most airlines' premium/business and first class cabins.
6. If You Want To Eat On Your Flight, It’s Worth It
Also gone are the days of free meals and snacks on long haul flights, especially if you book the basic economy option when you buy your ticket. This is fine if you don’t expect you’ll want to eat during your flight — but if you’re traveling for more than six hours, it’s impossible that you won’t at least get a little hungry. Sure, you can bring some snacks, but that just ends up being more money you’re spending on top of the airplane ticket you bought. Buying a ticket where a meal is included, though, and knowing that meal is actually a good one? Not a bad deal.
In Club World, passengers are treated to breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, depending on how long their flight is. The meals are served with actual tableware, and you’re able to choose from a three-course menu with options that actually taste good. Included meals aren't standard in most airlines' economy classes — even the long-haul ones — without extra fees, so this is also a benefit of paying more for a upper class ticket.
You don't just have to be going to London to take advantage of an experience like British Airways's Club World. British Airways, specifically, flies all over the world with Club World as an option on their flights, and many other major airlines offer their own versions of the experience at similar price points.
While I am always going to be a proponent of finding the best deal there is for a trip, I can't deny that this experience taught me the value of considering what's included in your ticket when you book rather than just jumping for the cheapest flight option.
Plus, it's kind of amazing to leave a long flight actually feeling refreshed instead of totally and utterly horrible. Who knew that was actually a possibility?