Smiles from a First International Business Class Flight

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Beginning many months ago I started helping my in-laws plan their next big trip to Europe using airline miles.  They had been to Europe a few times before, but like most people lucky enough to travel on Trans-Atlantic flights, they had always done it in coach.  Now, at close to 70 years old, they decided that business class sounded much more comfortable than another long-haul from Kansas to Europe.  Amen!

We tweaked their award flights as award availability fluctuated and improved, and they ultimately crossed the pond in US Airways Envoy Suites (business class) booked for 50,000 American Airlines miles each.  They will be flying back in Aer Lingus business class booked using British Airways Avios

They sent me the shot below taken shortly before departure, and those smiles look to me to be the smiles of two travelers that have found their new favorite way to fly.  I know because I’ve seen those looks before from my mom and aunt on their first international business class flight to Europe last spring…  Heck, I’ve seen the same look on my husband’s face on his first international business class flight!


Where you sit on the plane does not make or break a trip.  However, it absolutely can make the trip a little bit more special (and comfortable) if you sit up-front.  If you are like most people and only take a really big international trip every so often, you can choose to save up your miles and do it in style.  It may take a little extra time or work to earn the miles and find the availability, but it absolutely can be done.  Even if you are already 70 years old (or older, one of their travel companions is 80!), it is not too late to add “international business class traveler” to your travel resume.  Heck, my own 65-year-old dad just got his passport for the first time, so there is nothing wrong with changing up your travel patterns a bit at any point in your life.

I can’t wait to hear all about their 45th wedding anniversary trip where they will meet relatives in Eastern Europe for the first time, cruise with friends, and of course have some time in the “good seats” as they fly above the Atlantic.

Do you remember your smile on your first international business class flight?


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  1. Love it! My first time in international business class was flying home from a family wedding in northern Italy on BA years ago – Nice to DC. Our group was seated in our middle row coach seats when a woman in the row ahead announced to the FA that she had 4 business class seats for herself and her family, but she would like to trade with four people in economy so she could sit with her friend. My hand shot up so fast, and I couldn’t get the words, “We’ll trade!” out quick enough. Lucky for us, she accepted the trade, and four of us were promptly escorted to our new “fancy” seats. I can honestly say that was the best international business class flight I’ve ever taken, and I’ve been hooked on sitting in the front of the bus ever since!

  2. I’ve been lucky enough to fly countless times in international business class cabin for work (more than I ever wanted) but I still remember the first time I flew on international first class. I was boarding a flight HKG-JFK on a Cathay Pacific business class ticket and at the gate when I gave the agent my boarding pass she scanned and it beeped and a red light appeared on the screen. She looked at me with look like she was embarrassed and said: Mr…. I am so sorry but we had to change your seat assignment (when she said that I kind of got disappointed since I had booked the best seat on the upper level business class) and immediately said: Your new seat is 1G!! LOL!!!! I smiled at her and the passenger boarding behind me said something showing he was very jealous I was the lucky one to be moved from business to first. At that time I was One World Emerald (Executive Platinum with AA) and probably was at the top of the list to move to first when business class got oversold. :))))

  3. mommy points , sounds great. I am trying to plan our first Europe trip in September. Can u explain how u “tweaked” their fares and was the 50,000 points round trip each person? Thank you

    • We tweaked their flights as better options opened up. The originally had an overnight in Miami we were eventually able to get rid of in favor of a different flight. There were no fee for these routing changes on their American issued award. The 50,000 mile price was one-way. They are flying back using British Airways Avios.

  4. My mom flew to Germany a few years ago to visit family and I surprised her with an upgrade at checkin. She’s going this year and I have enough miles for a round trip business class ticket, CLT-FRA on US, 100k AA miles. My 83 year old mom, traveling in style!

  5. My first international business flight was on December 25, 2013 (Christmas Day), DFW-LHR on AA. Economy was overbooked, so AA moved me up to business at no charge. I thought I did good in selecting the exit row in economy, but business was in a different world. Needless to say, I definitely found my favorite way to fly long haul (8+ hours).

  6. Remember it well! Of course, it was less than a year ago, so I should be able to remember it. It was on the slippery slope seats of Lufthansa (we will be flying on Turkish and United this year, hopefully even better!), but we still liked it pretty well. Best part was the how much my wife and 4 children liked it. Pretty amazing that my 8 year old has flown in international business class younger than I flew anywhere in any class (so did my 10 and 11 year olds, I never flew anywhere until I was 12). Points and miles make travelling pretty sweet for my family.

    • How do you get enough points & find availability for a family of 6 in Business Class? I would love to know – I have 4 kids myself and have been using points for hotels for a long time, but am newish to the idea of miles for flights (other than earning them by actually flying). Do you have a lot of business travel?


      • No, I only get about 50,000 miles per year from actually flying (less now with United only giving miles based on fare). Miles come from credit card sign ups and spend. Between my wife and I, three United cards, 2 personal and two business ultimate rewards earning cards. We also have about $60,000 per year of business expenses that happen to fall into the 5x earning categories for the ink cards. The sign up bonuses and the spending category bonus added up to about 650,000 United miles in a year.
        Finding availability comes down to dogged determination. I have only been able to find availability without surcharges in Star Alliance. Basically, check all North American United/air Canada hubs to all European destinations. If that doesn’t find you the transatlantic flights, then check all European hubs (DUS, FRA.MUC, BRU, DUB, IST, LIS, OPO, GVA, ZRH, WAW, CPH, OSL, ARN) for all North American destinations. Once you find the transatlantic flights, domestic and European regional flights are usually much easier to find.
        You don’t often get the most direct route (this year we are flying from Orlando to Montreal to Istanbul to Athens, then returning Istanbul to London to New York to Chicago to Orlando. Quite a lot of flying, but with most of it in business (except the New York to Orlando piece at the end), it isn’t so bad.

        • Thank you for all of the details – it helps to know where to begin to look. Actually, it helps to know that it is even possible to find business class for that many people, as the other stuff I have read made it sound fairly impossible (but I am new at this like I said) Thanks again!

  7. Love your post! I am doing this as well to my mother, I used miles and I am surprising her to her first transatlantic business class trip (SJO – MAD)! Can’t wait to see her face! 🙂

  8. My first time wasn’t such a memorable experience. I was too young to know. The experience I do remember was on a flight last year (or the year before) braving KLM’s old World Business seats. Did some work in Amsterdam and spent some time with friends. I fell in love (erm…lust) with a friend of a friend. You know…tall, handsome citizen-of-the-world-type…typical Dutch. When it came time for me to come home, I was at once grateful for having the opportunities to travel and meet amazing people, and really sad that I had to leave having met someone I really liked. I spent almost and entire night walking down the canals alone being super dramatic and pensive (lol). Walking onto the plane I made my left turn towards the nose of the 744, and as soon as I looked up I noticed that it was one of the few planes with the new seats. I remember how that flicker of excitement lifted my spirits. It ended up being a great flight in 1A. Lost touch with the guy, but have been and will be back in those seats plenty. LOLOL…

  9. My first Business Class trip was on SQ in 2007 RT SFO- South East Asia. My brother gave it to me as a gift using his miles. I was in Business Class and my wife and 2 kids were in economy class. On the way back, they upgraded my wife to Business Class! It was an amazing experience and it was the most relaxing flight I had ever taken.
    In 2012 we went to China on Cathay Pacific economy class but were upgraded at the gate to Premium Economy nice! In 2014 we flew on Cathay Pacific again and this time were upgraded to Business Class from economy class 🙂 🙂 :). Just lucky travelers I guess.
    I got involved with points and miles 3 years ago and now I no longer need to rely on dumb luck to be able to travel in a premium class. Thanks to points and miles this year my wife and I will travel to Asia two times Round Trip on Singapore and JAL business class, and one trip to Europe on BA Business and First Class (will be our first time ever). I have always traveled previously in economy class so now I am just so super happy to be able to fly in Business Class thanks to all that I have learned over the past 3 years.

  10. My first time in international first class was way back in 1989 from JFK-CDG on PanAm. Talk about ancient history. How we got the miles was wild.
    The previous year, my husband and I took our first European trip together (I’d been twice before in 1970 as a student and on a cycling trip thru the French Alps in 1982). When we booked that trip (to Germany), PanAm was running some kind of crazy promo called something like “the half-fare, no-fare fare” – essentially, for 2 people, fly one trip (Germany) and one person flies at half price, then on the next trip (we went to Hawaii), one person flies free. Since our Hawaiian flight was connecting, we earned segment legs that got us bonus miles under another promotion. Our first class to Paris was something like 70K each – totally crazy. But before you get jealous, the outbound had only 2 rows (12 seats total) and smoking was allowed in those days. There were 2 smokers (directly behind us) and they smoked liked chimneys. Plus the galley was right in front of us – not exactly quiet. However, on the return flight we were in the 1st row on a 747 with legroom to spare. I still have the menus in my photo album!! (yeah, this was also the pre-digital age!)
    After that, it was back to coach, since we didn’t earn miles except from our UA Visa cards. Have had a lot of free coach flights to Europe, Alaska and out west but didn’t fly business class until 2009 for my 60th birthday trip to Europe, and only got into the miles and points game more seriously 3 years ago.
    But, like they say, you never forget your first time!

    • Was in moderation – must have been first time commenting from that IP. All approved now and thanks for sharing!

  11. Those smiles look familiar!

    My first and only non-coach flight to Europe was on Lufthansa in F. What a way to start and end a special 3 week trip. Talk about getting spoiled for further trips!

    Hope they have a great time!

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