The big difference in seating options on airplanes boils down to comfort, service and price. Most of us have sat behind the curtain in coach and watched travelers in first class sip mimosas and dine on airplane food. Whether it’s travel envy or a long flight that has you considering an upgrade, here’s when it’s worth it to fly business or first class.

What’s the difference – domestic flights?

Most domestic flights consist of two-cabin planes with first class and coach (a.k.a. economy). Coach on domestic flights will get you from Point A to Point B, but don’t expect many amenities. Some airlines have eliminated snacks in coach, let alone meals, so it’s up to you to keep yourself fed and entertained. Read our blog post “Tips for no-frills flights” to determine if the cost savings are worth it for your next trip. First-class seats are wider and offer more leg room than those in coach, and a ticket will score you a free adult beverage.

What’s the difference – international flights?

International flights generally operate with three-cabin planes with first, business and coach cabins. First-class cabins generate significant revenue for airlines and, as a result, receive the most attention in both seat ergonomics and on-board service. Emirates – the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based carrier – revealed a new first-class suite in 2017 inspired by Mercedes-Benz and its iconic S-Class luxury sedan. The suite features virtual windows, 40 square feet of space and complete privacy. Most other airlines – while less extravagant – distinguish first-class cabins with entertainment options, food and beverage service and enhanced comfort. Passengers also may have access to a fancy airport lounge and separate check-in line; however, first-class and business passengers often share these amenities.   

Business class on international flights is a step below first class but still exceeds the offerings of domestic first class. However, not all business class experiences are equal. Some airlines offer fully reclining seats while other airlines offer extra wide seats with a foot rest. Either way, it’ll be easier to stretch your legs. Food and beverage service is still significantly better than the economy cabin, but you might have to settle for New York strip versus filet mignon. Just be sure to study up on the differences, as each airline has its own definition of luxury.

So, how much does it cost?

It’s free for some. One perk enjoyed by frequent flyers loyal to one airline is the complimentary “bump” to first class. One the other hand, those paying for the privilege of first-class amenities may spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands more. The booking window, flight duration and first-class capacity influence the cost formulas.

If debating whether to splurge, consider the duration of your flight and how much you value the extras. Would more legroom or the ability to lay flat save you on a 16-hour flight? If the answer is yes, it may be worth the steeper ticket. If free alcohol and a meal are your motivation, keeping yourself fed and hydrated will cost significantly less if you choose to pay out of pocket for these perks when the beverage cart passes through coach.