Miles or Money? It Depends. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to the question above, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on whether it is worth paying for (or paying for an upgrade to) Domestic First or Business Class. Since our hobby widely varies based on airline, alliance, etc, it really depends on all the factors that make up the flight. Generally speaking there are a couple of things that are important when it comes to even thinking about paying for Domestic First/Business Class (or paying for an upgrade):

  • How long is the flight?
  • What type of aircraft is being used? (what are the seats like?)
  • What airline is it and does the airline have a good hard and soft product?
  • What is the price difference?
  • Is there a good way to use miles for the flight?

Now, of course, there are probably hundreds of other different questions you could ask yourself – but it all depends on the scenario. To make things simple, I’ve decided to use United as an example.

Domestic First Class (SEA-LAS-SEA)

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$284 for Economy and $480 for First Class – it just so happens that First Class costs less than twice what Economy costs. In this case I’d always pay $196 more for the First Class fare – however that all depends on a couple of things:

  • What is the booking class?
  • How many miles will I earn in Economy vs First?
  • Are they direct or connecting flights? (how many segments in First?)

Let’s take a look at Economy for $284 USD, it books into K class which is generally a heavy-discounted Economy fare.

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Now of course the number of miles you will receive varies from programme to programme. Since Enhancements Miles & More is my primary frequent flyer programme, I will use it as an example.

Per the chart below, K class on United will earn me 25% miles of the distance or 250 miles minimum.

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In this case, the total distance flown (round trip) is 2184 miles and if I credit these flights, I will receive ~273 miles one-way (which is close to nothing). Since $284 is for the round trip (and on the way back the routing is the same), I will receive ~546 miles even though I flew 2184 miles (and let’s not forget I will be stuck in Economy).

Now let’s look at First Class. The price is $480 round trip and it is booked into a P class, which earns 100% miles (again, this varies based on your frequent flyer programme).

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Round trip in First Class for $480 earns you 2184 miles and let’s not forget you have a comfortable leather seat and complimentary food and alcoholic drinks.

To sum it up:

Economy Class (K) First Class (P)
Price $284 $480
Flights (round trip) 4 4
Miles earned (varies) 546 2184
Seats Average economy seats Premium leather seats
Food & alcoholic drinks $$$ Free
Free Bags 0 ($25/1 bag) 2
Legroom (varies) standard a lot

Now, again, the above varies by aircraft, route, and the mileage varies based on what fare you book and what programme you credit the flights to. Personally for me, $196 more for First Class is worth it (mainly for the miles), but also for the premium travel experience.

Using miles

If I were to use my miles for the flights, I would need 25k for Economy or 35k for First (Business) Class if I were to use Miles & More.

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Since the flights are so short, I’m not quite sure I want to spend the same amount of miles that can get me to Europe (again, varies).

What about buying Economy and upgrading with miles? Don’t. It will cost you more money and miles (if you were to use United miles, which is the only option as it is a K fare). For an upgrade, it would cost 20k MileagePlus miles plus a $75 co-pay one-way. Not worth it! What about buying an award ticket using United miles? For a saver award, it would either be 25k for Economy (round trip) or 50k for First (round trip). Do I really want to pay 50k miles for such short flights? No. What about paying for an upgrade? The upgrade is probably not going to cost less than $200 (one way), so again, not worth it.

In the end it comes down to each individual person and you have to decide for yourself if paying X number of dollars more is worth more to you than X number of miles. You should also take into consideration the differences between Economy and First and if the X number of miles/dollars more is worth those differences.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one solution for every flight and as I’ve mentioned before, YMMV (your mileage may vary), based on the route and the fare class. In my case, I will generally see how much the flight costs in dollars and in miles and go from there with follow up questions like are X number of miles worth more than X number of dollars? Overall, I tend to avoid using miles for short itineraries since I could use those same miles to fly Business Class to Europe and the cost of a short flight is probably not worth more than the miles required for that same flight.

Hopefully this somewhat makes sense and will help you make good decisions while travelling on short flights/itineraries.