Once you’ve flown business class for the first time, it’s hard to accept anything less than a lie-flat seat and a glass of welcome Champagne (served in a real glass, obviously). The best business class airlines aim to make flying a luxury again rather than a headache, but all those little touches and high-end hospitality come with a price tag that isn’t always sustainable if you travel as much as I do.
As a full-time travel writer and luxury aficionado, I’ve made it my personal goal to fly business as much as possible and I’ll be the first to tell you: it’s actually not all that difficult to get an upgrade if you know where and how to look. Below, you’ll find some of the best business class airlines and how to score upgrades to the premium cabin without blowing your entire travel budget.
There’s a lot to love about Turkish Airlines; the Istanbul-based carrier flies to 122 countries and 304 destinations worldwide which is more than any other airline in the world and makes it extremely easy to get to where you want to go without worrying about codesharing or multi-carrier itineraries. Turkish Airlines’ business class in particular is well-worth writing home about and happens to be my favorite airline in terms of quality and comfort. The airline is the only commercial carrier to offer onboard chefs, giving the Turkish-influenced menu and curated wine list a serious leg up.
Here’s the trick, though. During the off-season in Türkiye, you can grab roundtrip flights from the U.S. to Istanbul for as little as $1500 and once you’re there, you can fly pretty much anywhere in Europe in under four hours. Turkish Airlines also sweetens the deal with its optional Stopover in Istanbul program which allows you to extend your stay in Istanbul for free and includes two nights in a five-star hotel with the option to extend for $50 each additional night. Who doesn’t want a free trip to Istanbul?
Hawaiian Airlines is going to be your best bet for domestic and international business class flights — especially if you’re located on the west coast. The Honolulu-based airline consistently offers the lowest prices for their business class tickets year-round but particularly during off-season travel.
That said, Hawaiian Airlines is just as competitive during the summer and throughout peak holiday travel — and not just for flights in and out of Hawaii. The international carrier also offers extremely economical deals on business and first-class flights from the U.S. to Asia or the South Pacific.
The Island-style design and Hawaiian hospitality are complemented by 180-degree lie-flat seats, a curated culinary experience by some of Hawaii’s top chefs and my favorite feature, twinkling fiber-optic lights inspired by the constellation Makali’i that divides the premium and main cabins.
Flying business class airlines is always a great experience, but if you’re aiming for a budget-friendly airline you’ll want to prioritize splurging on business when you’re flying overnight. That’s where Icelandair comes in. The premium carrier offers affordable business class flights from North America to Reykjavik (and beyond) with comfortable lie-flat seats and gourmet meals with chilled Champagne included.
Once you’re in Reykjavik, you’ll have access to the rest of Europe at your fingertips. This gives you the option to splurge on shorter-haul business class flights to get where you’re going, or you can simply opt for short-haul jaunts in economy. Reykjavik International Airport to London Heathrow, for example, is less than $50 and only about three hours.
Help, My Window Seat Doesn’t Have a WindowOne travel writer’s reoccurring run-in with the dreaded seat with no view
You might not immediately look to Qatar Airways when conjuring up images of budget-friendly business class experiences, but like Turkish Airlines, you should be able to conjure up pretty good seasonal discounts on business class tickets during off-season travel. The Doha-based carrier has an “all-inclusive companion fare” that can be used during the off-season and also provides a pretty decent rewards program — Qmiles — that can be used for upgrades and even free flights.
The Qatar Airways Qsuite was voted the World’s Best Business Class in 2022 by Skytrax World Airline Awards and is particularly worthwhile for couples traveling together. The spacious middle seats offer privacy doors and can convert into a double bed for a true hotel-quality experience in the air.
It’s also worth looking into the Qatar Stopover — which can turn your holiday into a two-for-one experience. The stopover experience by Discover Qatar allows you to extend your layover in Qatar by up to four nights with four- to five-star hotels starting at $14/night.
Here’s where things get really economical — if you’re able to track down the right flight path. JetBlue offers Mint, a low-cost business class product that doesn’t skimp on luxury, on select transcontinental and domestic coast-to-coast flights.
The ticket includes everything you’d expect from a decent business class and then some — full lie-flat seats with an exclusive Tuft & Needle sleep experience, in-flight entertainment on the largest TV on a U.S. airline and dining options curated by top New York chefs. Every Mint Suite ticket also offers direct aisle access and a covetable sliding door for additional privacy.
The only hitch is that the JetBlue Mint product doesn’t fly everywhere, so you’ll really have to look to try and take advantage of the low-cost high-end experience. The Mint Suite isn’t available on every JetBlue flight but it’s usually available on flights to Latin America, the Caribbean and select long-haul domestic flights.
Norwegian Air claims to be the best low-cost carrier for long-haul flights in the world — and after booking a flight, you’ll probably agree that it lives up to its name. The low-cost airline offers budget-friendly business class flights to destinations across Europe with price points that are typically just a bit higher than the average economy flight. The airline doesn’t focus as heavily on long-haul flights but it’s still going to be worth the extra cash to secure a spacious seat, complimentary in-flight meals and drinks, and of course access to the airline’s lounges.
The Oslo-based budget carrier is already pretty affordable but combining off-season pricing will secure you that business class ticket for next to nothing. You’ll also want to consider joining the Norwegian Air loyalty program which will net you CashPoints that can be used for future flights or business class upgrades.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.