How Much Money Do You Need To Fly Business Class On Every Flight?

How Much Money Do You Need To Fly Business Class On Every Flight? post image

I used to think that buying a business class ticket was crazy. Who does that? Even if you’ve got all the money in the world, why waste a few thousand bucks on a couple of inches of legroom?

Of course, that was all before I flew business class.

I don’t want to say it was a life changer or anything, but it’s pretty sweet.

And it’s not just the extra legroom. It’s being summoned when it’s time to board instead of nervously pacing and queuing at the gate. It’s skipping all the lines. It’s the free food and immediately available WIFI. It’s the showers and the full night’s sleep.

And aside from all of that, it’s fun.

That said, I wasn’t about ready to go crazy and start spending 1000’s of extra dollars on every flight.

I’m a travel warrior! Give me a middle seat on a long haul to Tokyo and I’ll endure leg pain and a subpar movie selection with monk-like discipline.

But it all got me thinking. Certainly somebody thinks it’s worth it.

Is there a level where flying business class goes from a luxury to an investment?

Perhaps. Here’s my thinking. My (somewhat suspect) napkin math says if you earn $277,014.40 annually or more (and this number could be lower or higher depending on how your fuzzy math works!), flying business class could actually be an investment in your time.

Quick disclaimer: what follows is just a type of game I like to play. I’m not advocating this mindset or approach to personal finance.

It’s worth saying that I think personal finance math games like this can be risky if you are just getting started. A classic middle class example is to “invest in a good mattress” because you spend so much time there. Anyone who drops loot on a mattress (or similar) before they pay debts or build small assets is risking their future.

I’d sleep on the floor.

That said, here’s a scenario I went through this week when booking a flight to Spain (which I eventually booked on miles and a little cash with the help of my friends from

Long haul flight round trip to Madrid in economy class (never mind the China Southern part :) 

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.27.40 AM

Long haul flight round trip to Madrid in business class

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.28.06 AMBased on all the benefits listed above, I’ll not only work and sleep more, but I’ll avoid some jet lag and hit the ground running in my destination. That’ll save me an estimated (here’s the napkin math part) 7 “productive” hours for each round-trip long haul itinerary booked in business class.

My thinking is that I’d save an additional 3 hours on 25hr+ itineraries like USA -> Asia, although this is all fuzzy math and it varies from person to person of course.

Feel free to plug in your own numbers!

  • Productive hours gained from flying full business class itinerary: 7
  • Production hours per week: 20 
  • Productive weeks per year: 48
  • Weeks worked per year: 48
  • Total productive hours annually: 960
  • Cost difference between economy and business class: $1947
  • Cost per productive hour gained: (cost difference / 7): $278.14

Result: If you purchase a ticket at this price level with this rationale, you are valuing your time at at least $278.14/hr.

Verdict: if you make the above assumptions, you can fly business class on every flight if you earn over $277,014.40 annually (or if the future asset value of your productive energy can be valued on an annual basis at or over this number).

Is this insane?

Yes, probably. For somebody in a cash crunch or who is just getting started building their empire, it’s crazy to “invest” in a marginal 7 or so hours of productivity before you’ve proven that your time (as currently being spent) is a sound asset.

Ian and I have experienced something that may be something of an analog in our inventory business. Early in our business (2009 timeframe), we’d regularly be out of stock of items because we weren’t sure what the behavior of the asset would be over the long term.

Now that our business is mature, we’ve noticed that the risk of being out of inventory is greater than the risk of extending our cash (but early on cash was the priority).

The same could be true of the business class flyer.

If you are generating enough income with your productive hours, the risk of losing a few (or many!) working days a year could be greater than the cash you spent to get them back.




PS, there are a million ways to skin this cat. What’s your business class threshold? Love any tips and tricks as well :)

Published on 04.02.14
  • MarkManson

    This was a fun read. I’ve just hit the point where I’m actually tempted/considering business class on a few of my longer flights but I’ve yet to shell out the money for it. Still never flown it. But this gave me a fun way to think about it. :)

  • Very interesting! I’ve not yet reached the business class point yet, but I’m starting to move towards taking the pricier, faster, more convenient flight instead of the absolute cheapest one with 4 horrible connections and spending the night on the airport floor.

    On my last trip to the U.S. I went from Brazil to MADRID to New York… talk about an indirect route. The problem is that during the travel itself, I’m like “ugh, I’m never taking the cheap flight again” but then afterwards I’m all “meh that wasn’t so bad.”

  • Rob_Latam

    Plus, business class can be a good place to make useful contacts. Not that coach isn’t, but C-level execs and celebrities generally aren’t flying at the back

  • MarkManson

    I’ve heard a few people say that business class is worth it for the networking alone.

  • brokerchange

    Never upgrade, you’ll never want normal again. Always upgrade, you’ll never want normal again.

  • Shayna one of the worst flights I’ve ever had in my LIFE was from Simon Bolivar airport to Miami. I literally prayed all the way! Anything flying from South America that isn’t direct gets me really scared. That trip sounds like it was hell on earth, lol

  • Reader

    I would say that the majority of business and first class flyers fly on company expenses and I personally don’t mind sub par legroom and food for a long haul flight to save 1k+. On short haul flight there hardly ever is any proper business / first class department anyway, so it’s basically pissing away money.

    If you have a company, pay corporate taxes and can find a business reason to fly somewhere first class then it’s a no brainer, but with a low to no tax setup it usually starts to cut into your personal income, which makes it just not worth it for someone like me who makes less than 45k.

  • I fly business on every long haul and economy on every short haul (<5 hours). My most common route is Western Europe SE Asia and it is easy to find business class tickets (with fully lie flat seats) for less than a thousand $ each way so there is really no point in suffering in the back of the plane. Besides, you get a lot more miles when you fly in J so you get free tickets a lot faster.

  • Yeah 5 hours seems to be a good cut off for me as well.. interested in finding ways to do this cheaper as well e.g. points/free tickets etc.

  • yeah that’s true RE: corporate, makes the meeting people angle less attractive.

  • haha true !

  • I’ve never seen any fruit here despite hearing it off and on…. best place for networking for me has been exit row on budget Asia carrier flights… lots of entrepreneurs and 1-2 hour flight they like to talk

  • yeah i feel ya in general i’ve been putting more budget towards expediting my travel… bossman said a few podcasts ago “throwing money at things solves problems quickly” i think the dynamic of time/cash is very interesting… as I value my time more i’m putting a little more cash to re-invest in it.

  • thanks Mark I was hoping for that, was fun to toss out this idea with a few guys in a coffee shop and discuss what they all thought of it. also a word of advice, once you go business brother you’ll have a tough time not hovering over the upgrade button forever and always after!!! :D

  • Funny I was just talking about this with Hot Money & JWC and we settled in on $300k a year. I used to fly biz class on all International flights in my corporate days and it IS a life changer.

  • Rui Zhi

    The good thing if you fly frequently with emirates is that you’ll never need to purchase business — they’ll either always upgrade you or you can upgrade yourself with points

  • angrejkumar


  • yeah some other reader mentioned that getting airline status can substitute for a lot of these benefits even if you are flying coach… i’m not familiar with how that world works yet

  • that’s probably where my gut would have been too and it probably motivated some of my fuzzies above.

  • Stacey

    Just can’t stomach to fly coach on long haul/international anymore. Once I started hacking Business & First, there’s no going back :) OH…and I did have the best networking experience of my life on a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class LHR-LAX flight at the bar on the plane (yes, they have a bar in Upper Class!) – amazing! It made 11 hours fly right by…

  • Yeah I feel ya here… i feel like i’m a broken man here and it’ll be hard to go back… all the more motivation to keep the business strong :)

  • Elyna

    For Emirates Skywards, you just need to get up to Silver and you will get upgraded to business often. True story. P/S: The A380 lounge/bar is a dream-feels like I am on my own private jet when you look out the window with a cocktail in your hand.

  • Bob

    The China Southern to Madrid is 30 hrs/ 3 stops.
    Time is money!

  • agreed! just grabbed the first one for price illustration

  • No matter how expensive the price of the business class, there are a number of buyers who want to book it. It can be explained. Quality is what people are looking for. The more expensive the price of a product, the more exclusive it is.

  • Dimitri Prado

    I am planning my trip to DCBKK, GRU->BKK->GRU is USD6.5K for business and less than USD2K for economy. The 4K difference will by an entrepreneurmobile :)

  • YO!!! Hells yeah :D

  • Sakshi Singh

    am flying from mumbai, india to london and wondering if I should stick to economy or upgrade to business? I am OK with spending the extra bucks but wondering if its worth it?

  • Exactly a year ago I decided that Business Class would be better for my health, happiness, and productivity. That’s been to goal ever since and now I can’t go back to being broke. Flying biz class has been a GREAT motivator.

  • yeah buddy I can’t seem to break the streak either… SIN Kris lounge as I type :) I want to stay here too…

  • To be honest, when I first read the “Bragging Thread” in the DC, I closed it without replying and thought these guys were a bunch of a-holes for showing off. But I always kept it in the back of my mind, knowing that I could either brush them off as someone I didn’t want to be or I could use their success as inspiration. I picked the latter and finally got to sit up in the front row with the big boys =)

    Thanks for the inspiration guys. My next goal. Crush the buffet Singapore’s SilverKris Lounge with the TMBA.

  • haha hells yeah buddy!!!!!

  • SouthOfTheBorder

    What sites do you use to buy discount biz class tix?

  • and

  • garden-of-eden

    To me, it seems like a number of the people who DO make the money to fly business class actually don’t because their frugal mindset and how much they value their hard-earned money (which are the things that got that much money) discourages them from doing so.

    I have a few friends who pull in quite a bit more than your calculated $277,014.40, but they fly coach because while they’re doing really well, they don’t feel they have enough to blow on a flight that costs as much as a compact car. However, another friend of mine who makes nearly $1M a year flies first class regularly. I suppose there’s this weird kind of rich-middle-ground somewhere between those numbers.

  • agree… at the 1M point it’s not much of a discussion for me! :D

  • Abundance is an interesting concept. Its not about the money always but about the relationships. I wrote a book on it and the first two chapters can be found on this site.

  • Halvor Halvorsen

    The thing that complicates it is if you’re already making enough to justify flying business class costwise, say low six figures, it’s often easy to get business tickets a lot cheaper or almost free from loyalty bonuses and points collecting. Especially if you can earn miles based on your company’s transaction volume.

    I had 6 return trips from Asia to Europe in 2016 and 2015 with Thai, I paid promo economy for 4 of them and nothing except taxes ($52 + $78) for 2 tickets, and had 3 business and 3 economy flights with star alliance gold access. If I had some modest Thai credit card use I could have redeemed a business ticket instead of economy, and the business upgrades for a return 28 hour trip from Manila to Oslo were $1000-$1200, so not really a bad figure per hour if you enjoy flying business. So for $2000-$2400 and some extra miles I could have flown all business 6 trips/2 years.

  • Trip Phobia

    Thank you
    your story really inspires

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