Buying an airline ticket to your desired destination will get you where you need to go regardless of where you sit, on long-haul flights though, a seat with first-class cabin perks may be worth the cost. "Class," however, refers to the level of comfort, convenience and the service you'll receive while in flight. First class flights with airlines like Emirates, Etihad, or Air France may have amenity kits or lie-flat seats and exclusive first class lounges. Generally speaking, you pay significantly more for first class tickets than you do for economy class or business class seats, with some exceptions, but for longer flights, the difference may be worth it.
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, despite domestic flight status. As a first class passenger, you'll typically be offered lounge access 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 before economy class and international airlines such as Qatar, British Airways, or Singapore Airlines have lounge spaces in major airports such as New York (JFK) that make the wait fly by.
Airplane models vary along with cabin design. First class seating in airplanes designed for short-distance flights may have wider seats and offer more leg room than offered to those flying business class or economy. 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 such as a flatbed. Regardless of airplane model, economy class seats tend to be narrow and offer limited leg room and space to move around, with international first class offering an elevated round trip experience.
Meals and Extras
Food and beverage offerings also vary between first and economy class. Some airlines use tableware to serve first class passengers a full meal, usually containing much better food than economy seats . First class services also may include 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 by flight attendants. First class passengers may be offered outlets to charge smartphones and other devices; outlets may not be available in the economy class cabin.
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.
For those hoping for an elevated but slightly less costly option several airlines offer premium economy, or business class cabins. Business class tickets usually cost less than the first class experience but business class flights could have meal service or premium cabin perks similar to flying first class. Business class passengers offer a great alternative for those who may not want to spend the domestic first class fare. Also consider using miles or points through frequent flyer programs in carriers such as American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, or Lufthansa to save money on your first class flight.