My first business class flight (and what happens when the airline downgrades you involuntarily) 1

After nearly three years of travel hacking I finally booked my first non-economy class flight for our trip from Uganda to New Zealand. We knew it was going to be a lot of flying so we splurged on redeeming 100,000 American Airlines miles to fly in business class with a lie-flat bed.

The original goal of this blog was to write more flight and hotel reviews, but has shifted somewhat to just highlight our favorite activities and budget travel tips. Since this was a special flight for us though, and we had a crappy but unique situation come up, I thought it deserved it’s own post.

Leg 1:  Entebbe to Doha on Qatar Airways, 6 hours

Check-in at the premium counter was smooth so we headed to the lounge with our business class lounge passes, though it was the same lounge access as we would have had anyway with Priority Pass, even if flying economy. Soon after arriving in the lounge the agent came to get us and told us the flight was oversold and since we had booked with miles we were the low-man on the totem pole and one of us would have to move to economy. My husband being the generous guy that he is let me stay in business class. No compensation was offered though and the agent was quite rude about it. We tweeted at Qatar and American Airlines but they only sent us a link to AA’s customer service page. Later we had to submit the details but were only awarded 10,000 miles for the trouble. Has anyone had this happen to you before? What compensation did you receive?

Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge in Doha

This lounge was probably the highlight of the whole experience. We only had about a two-hour layover, which was barely enough time to explore the massive lounge. We drank a glass of champagne and nibbled off the buffet in the main restaurant, though you could also order off a full menu, then made our way to the smaller cafe for a glass of wine and gourmet sandwiches. All too soon it was time to get on the next plane.

Here’s a full review of this lounge from One Mile at a Time, who takes much better pictures than this blurry shot.


Leg 2: Doha to Perth on Qatar, 11.5 hours

Luckily the bump was only on the first segment, so we were back together in business class on this flight, the longest one. The dinner service was incredible as well as the wine selection, though we were pretty drowsy at this point since it was the middle of the night. We turned our seats in to beds, changed in to the provided pajamas, freshened up with items from our complimentary amenity kits and slept for several hours.

Qantas Business Class Lounge in Perth 

At this point we have no idea what time it is because we’ve been flying for so long and have crossed several time zones. We decide to just keep eating and drinking and indulge in another dinner (lunch?) and some craft beers. It’s officially Caleb’s 30th birthday by this point, so we have cause to celebrate!

Leg 3: Perth to Auckland on Qantas, 5.5 hours

Switching airlines was only slightly confusing at the Perth airport, but the change in comfort from Qatar to Qantas was more noticeable. The lounge was definitely not as nice and our seats on the plane didn’t seem a whole lot bigger than a normal economy seat. The service was fantastic though, and I loved the Kate Spade amenity kit. We got in a few more hours of sleep because our arrival in Auckland was at 7a.m. so we knew we had a full day ahead.

Overall Experience

While it was a major bummer to have Caleb downgraded on the first segment, in the end that was the best flight for it to happen and it really wasn’t such a big deal. The lie-flat bed was clutch in helping us get some sleep, as I am purely a stomach sleeper therefore can rarely sleep in an economy seat. But the biggest benefit was the food and beverage service. I loved how you could order whatever you wanted off the menu and have it delivered whenever. I am sucker for champagne so loved having a glass as soon as I was seated. While I wouldn’t necessarily book business class on every flight from this point forward, I think it’s definitely worth it on itineraries such as this one, with multiple flights and layovers and 22 hours of flying time.

The biggest differences between flying in economy and business class are the size of the seat (and capability to lie-flat) and the service that you receive, including lounge access, premier drink and food options and more attention from the flight crew. Using points to upgrade to business class is a fantastic way to fly up front, but I can’t say we’d ever pay more to upgrade on a paid flight, unless it was a very special occasion. Even with using miles I have a time hard justifying it unless it’s a very long flight. For example, on our upcoming flight from Hong Kong to Zurich we’re flying 12.5 hours nonstop in economy. I can’t say I’m looking forward to going back to cramped seats and crappy food, but we can suck it up for 12 hours in order to save 60,000 points, which is worth at least $600 to us. 

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