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What You Get in Business Class

Mark Orwoll, seasoned traveler and Travel + Leisure's Managing Editor, is here to help you with your travel questions. To ask a question, send an email to AskMark@amexpub.com

** Please note: Mark can answer questions in his column only; the volume of mail he receives makes it impossible for him to send personal replies. Check back here daily to see if your question was answered, or search the Ask Mark archives to see if a similar question was previously answered.

Q. What is the difference, other than price, between Business Class and Economy Class for international travel?

A. Did you ever see the Woody Allen film Stardust Memories?In one scene he boards a train that is grim and gray, with ugly passengers and frightening conductors. Before it pulls out of the station he sees another train. Inside it is brightly lit and colorful. A party seems to be going on—people laughing, drinking, kissing, having a merry old time. Well, my friend, that could basically sum up the difference between Economy Class and Business Class.

All right, all right, maybe I've overstated the case. But my basic belief is that Business Class is where they treat passengers like dignified human beings and Economy Class is where... well, where they don't. The meals in Business Class are not only better, the choices are often more varied. Entertainment in Business Class is increasingly on personal entertainment devices that have a choice of movies, television programs, and games—included in your fare—as opposed to the single crappy movie on a distant screen for which Economy Class flyers must pay $4 or so (granted, some airlines let you watch the crappy movie for free in Economy on international routes). Service in Economy Class is generally nonexistent, while Business Class has one flight attendant for every 15 or so passengers. But the biggest difference is in the comfort of the seats—most Business Class seats these days have a pitch (that is, the distance from the front of one seat to the front of the next seat forward) of around 52 inches, whereas the seats in Economy Class have an average pitch of about 31 inches (Business Class seats are also proportionately wider and recline farther).

But Business Class seats can cost four or five times as much as Economy Class seats, which is one of the reasons why I believe that using your frequent-flyer miles for an upgrade is sometimes a better way to use those miles than to exchange them for an Economy Class ticket.

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