Flying first class is associated with the luxury of traveling like a celebrity or otherwise important individual–an experience of transit that is not just functional, but enjoyable. And while first class seats do typically offer more personal space, better service, complimentary drinks, and other various pampering, there are a few different ways to travel more comfortably without necessarily flying first class.
Business class is an often misunderstood seat option because it varies by airline. For some (Air Canada, Delta, Virgin Atlantic), business class and first class are analogous, and for others, business class may even be superior and thus pricier. Sometimes business class is offered on only certain routes–between New York and Los Angeles, for example. But for many airlines, business class is an excellent option that offers almost the same amenities as first class, but at a much cheaper price-point. Check out the specifications for both first and business class when given the option of both (again, every airline differs), but generally, business class still offers priority boarding, more attentive service, and less crowded seating (although almost always two-by-two instead of solo rows). If there is a substantial cost difference, jump on business class for reasonable upgrades for great value.
If a flight is over-sold, airlines will often offer vouchers (and credits!) to those willing to take different flights. If you elect to fly later, you can often have carte blanche when it comes to choosing seating, so you can opt to sit in a preferred location-sometimes including in business or first class. Ironically, flying standby is a great way to accidentally end up in better seats, as there are usually a couple seats left in higher classes as set aside by airlines.
Emergency Exit Seats
While sitting in emergency exit seats comes with the responsibility of facilitating emergency exits if necessary (which passengers must confirm prior to flight), they typically offer much more spacious seating, with more legroom and less seats total across. While this option obviously doesn’t change the overall amenities or services, it does earn you the ability to sprawl a bit more for the price of a coach ticket. On most airlines, these seats can be selected at time of purchase.
Specific airlines tend to develop reputations: for their customer service, their cleanliness, their bells and whistles (or lack thereof), etc. While much of reputation is based on word-of-mouth and personal preference, some airlines do offer more desirable options and amenities with standard coach seats than others. JetBlue, for example, still boasts the most legroom of any coach seating, and comes with free Wifi (with the option to upgrade for greater bandwidth). Virgin America is known for its ambient lighting, comfortable seats, individual television screens, and friendly staff. So if these touches on a coach budget are important to you, do your homework to find the best airline for you.
While this option may seem unabashedly lavish, for those who already travel very frequently at the first-class level, private jet flights may actually be as or more economical than first class seats, believe it or not. Private jets are bought out hourly instead of by seat, so for large groups traveling relatively short distances, chartering a jet can actually be more cost-effective while also luxurious. Private jets always come equipped with catering and amenities can be customized. Note, though, that when traveling overseas, it is almost always more cost effective to purchase first class seats because of the plane size needed for transit.