Buying an airline ticket to your desired destination will get you where you need to go regardless of where you sit. "Class," however, refers to the level of comfort, convenience and the service you'll receive while in flight. Generally speaking, you pay significantly more for first class airline tickets than you do for economy class tickets, with some exceptions.

Before Flight

In a few minutes and with a few mouse clicks, you can buy an economy class ticket online for a reasonable price -- possibly less than $500 -- depending on where you're going and the season. To fly first class, you also can purchase tickets online, but expect to pay several thousand dollars, regardless of your destination. As a first class passenger, you'll typically be offered use of a luxurious lounge in which to relax before boarding your flight; economy class passengers must sit in sometimes overcrowded waiting areas before boarding. First class passengers always board the airplane first, before economy class passengers.

Personal Space

Airplane models vary along with cabin design. First class seating in airplanes designed for short-distance flights may be wider and offer more leg room. The aisles also may be wider and trays bigger, providing passengers with ample space for electronic devices and reading materials. Airplane models designed for long-distance, international flights may offer first class passengers privacy seating, true reclining chairs and even sleeping accommodations. Regardless of airplane model, economy class seats tend to be narrow and offer limited leg room and space to move around.

Meals and Extras

Food and beverage offerings also vary between first and economy class. Some airlines use tableware to serve first class passengers meals. First class passengers also may be offered a menu of specially prepared foods from which to choose, as well as additional snacks and beverages at no charge. Economy class passengers are provided with pre-packaged meals and are served beverages from disposable cups. Unless it's an exceptionally long international flight, economy class passengers usually aren't offered more than one snack. First class passengers may be offered outlets to charge smartphones and other devices; outlets usually aren't available in the economy class cabin.

Upgrade Options

In spite of the drastic price difference between the two classes, occasionally an airline may offer first class upgrades at a discount to economy class passengers, depending on the travel season. Frequent flyer program members can often use their miles to upgrade, or may receive a complimentary upgrade on a regional flight. When purchasing tickets, you may receive first class upgrade offers at random online or for points earned on a particular credit card. You also can ask about upgrade options at the airport when you check in.