Unless you have an infinite supply of miles, you’re probably going to face this dilemma at some point: assuming both cabins are available, should you save with Economy Class, or splurge for Business?
On the one hand, redeeming Economy Class leaves more miles for the next trip. On the other, you could probably afford an Economy ticket if you really had to- just how often do you get to fly Business?
In this post, I thought I’d share a bit how I decide whether to redeem Economy or Business Class awards.
Redeeming Economy is an option?
Now, I should preface this by saying that in general, Economy Class redemptions represent poor value. If you regularly redeem miles for Economy Class seats, you might be better off using a cashback card instead.
However, there are situations where Economy Class redemptions can make sense:
- If you’re booking a one-way ticket (one-way redemptions typically cost 50% of a round-trip, but one-way cash tickets can be disproportionately expensive)
- If the cost of cash tickets has skyrocketed (assuming the frequent flyer programme doesn’t adopt dynamic pricing)
- If the airline does not impose fuel surcharges (the value per mile drops significantly if so)
- If you can generate miles at such a low cost that the typical 1.0-1.4 cents per mile from Economy Class redemptions doesn’t faze you
Assuming those conditions are satisfied, here’s some factors I look at when making the decision.
When I first started playing the miles game, I had a simple heuristic: if a flight were six hours or more, I’d redeem Business Class. Anything less, and Economy would do.
But growing older has blurred the lines somewhat (believe me, Economy seats feel very different at 35 compared to 25). Call me a princess if you want, but years of enjoying the miles and points bounty in First and Business has lowered my pain threshold. These days when I fly Economy I find myself obsessively checking the inflight map, willing the captain to come on the PA with the “cabin crew, secure cabin for arrival” announcement.
Then there’s the question of day time vs night time flights. A very manageable five-hour day flight can feel unbearable at night. In my previous life as a consultant, I was a regular Economy passenger on SQ422 to Mumbai (departure time: 0235 hours), and believe me, those five hours did not pass painlessly.
These days, I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule regarding flight durations. Obviously I won’t redeem Economy Class to the USA or Business Class to Kuala Lumpur (unless perhaps I felt like revisiting the Qatar Premium Lounge!), but anything in between is more on gut feel than anything else.
Priority security & immigration
Changi Airport runs with such flawless efficiency that it’s sometimes easy to forget how security and immigration can be nightmares elsewhere.
With all the travel chaos we’ve seen in Australia and Europe recently, I’d be more inclined to redeem Business Class if I know there’s fast-track access for premium cabin passengers. For example, Business Class passengers on Singapore Airlines can get fast-track services at the following airports.
|✈️ Airports with Premium Passenger Priority Lanes|
|💡 Star Alliance Gold Track Lanes|
|It may not be necessary to fly Business Class to enjoy priority security and immigration, thanks to Star Alliance’s Gold Track Lanes. These provide Star Gold members in Economy Class with a fast track option at participating airports including AMS, IST and SYD.|
This becomes even more important if I’m travelling on separate tickets and haven’t been able to check my bag through, which means needing to clear immigration, collect my bag, check my bag again, and clear immigration again. When every minute counts, the last thing I want is to get stuck in a long line, and that might justify shelling out for Business Class on the first leg.
You should know by now that now that not all Business Class seats are made equal. On some aircraft, Business Class seats are pseudo-suites with closing doors and full flat beds. On others, Business Class seats can be nothing more than glorified recliners.
Fortunately, this is less of an issue on Singapore Airlines, since the fleet has become remarkably consistent over the pandemic. Gone are the A330-300s and B777-200s with their horrible angled-flat seats, and you’re guaranteed a flat bed in Business Class on every aircraft except the B737-800.
Inconsistent products are a bigger issue on other airlines though. On Qatar Airways, some B777-300ERs have B/E Minipod 2-2-2 seats that recline at 170 degrees, others have QSuite 1-2-1 seats that are on another level entirely.
Likewise, British Airways Business Class is a mix of old high density 2-4-2 seats which look flat out terrible, and modern 1-2-1 Club Suites which look very nice indeed.
Every time I redeem Business Class, I make it a point to look up the kind of seat deployed on the route. Flightradar24 and FlyerTalk are good places to start; the former shows you the serial number of the aircraft which ply the route, the latter usually has a thread that tracks cabin products by serial number for the major airlines.
- ANA (if you’re aiming to try their new First and Business Class)
- Emirates (if you’re aiming to try their new First Class)
- Qatar Airways (if you’re aiming for QSuites)
- Turkish Airlines (if you’re hoping to avoid those aircraft with 2-3-2 Business Class configurations)
In most situations, Business Class passengers enjoy the same lounge as elite members flying in Economy Class.
However, that’s not always the case. I’m more likely to book a Business Class ticket if it means getting access to a special lounge which is available to Business Class passengers only. Two noteworthy examples are the United Polaris Lounges, and the Qatar Premium Lounge.
These lounges offer an elevated experience including dine-on-demand, with quality that would put Singapore Airlines’ flagship SilverKris Lounge to shame. The catch is that you can’t access them as an elite passenger flying in Economy Class. It doesn’t matter if you’re Star Gold or oneworld Emerald, the only way you’re getting in is with a Business Class ticket.
I always look forward to visiting one of these lounges, and that might be enough to tip the balance in favour of Business Class.
This isn’t so much an issue for me when flying with Star Alliance, since my elite status provides extra luggage allowance. But if I’m planning to buy a lot of things overseas and my only flight options are with non-Star carriers, then the additional luggage for Business Class passengers may come in handy.
Business Class passengers typically enjoy about 20kg more luggage, or one additional piece where the piece concept is used.
While duration is the commonly-used heuristic that drives most peoples’ decisions whether to redeem Economy or Business, it’s important to consider other factors like whether it’s a day or night flight, the presence of a special lounge, the type of cabin product, and whether you’re on a tight connection.
Put it another way: if duration were the only rule, then First Class on a 75-minute flight to Jakarta would make no sense at all. But I personally made this redemption just so I could visit The Private Room at Changi, and I’d do it again if I could find Saver space.
How do you decide whether to redeem Economy or Business?