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Are business class tickets worth the price? And how do I score one (without paying a bundle)?

JetBlue’s Mint passengers get extra-long lie-flat seats with massage functions, artisanal, small plate menu options from well-known restaurants, top-drawer spirits and wines, and one of the largest libraries of free in-flight entertainment. Jetblue
Economy airline seats are getting tighter and tighter. Overhead space is limited. Food, if available, is bad. Service is slow. And, if you want a guaranteed assigned seat, preferably next to your beloved travel companion, you’ll probably have to pay extra for it.

But while this is happening, the flip side is that airlines are making business class seats a lot more comfortable and luxe. You’ve taken a peek, right? While you make your way down the crowded aisle to the back of the plane, hoping there’s still room in the overhead bins for your luggage, the biz class passengers are already enjoying complimentary champagne and snacks, stretched out in fully reclining bed-seats. Their carry-on luggage has been stowed, warm finger cloths and travel amenities (eye cloths, slippers, soft blankets, luxury lotions) have been offered, and orders for their first meal, which will be served on real china with premium liquors and wines, have been taken.

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The difference between the economy and business class cabins is huge. Sadly, so is the price difference. According to farecompare.com, on average, a business class ticket costs four times the amount of a coach ticket. But airlines are betting that customers on long-haul flights are willing to pay the difference and have been adding and upgrading their business class offerings, while shrinking economy class spaces and perks.

“Simply put, business class is more profitable for airlines, so they’re investing more money into that cabin versus economy class,” says Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder, ExpertFlyer.com, an online service that tracks available upgrades on flights.

Today, some of the business class perks are downright plush, bringing airline travel to a whole new level. For example, Delta One, available on selected international Delta Air Lines flights, offers 180-degree flat-bed seats, each with a sliding glass door for extra privacy. Other upgrades in the Delta One business cabin include new chef-inspired menus, TUMI amenity kits, noise-canceling headphones and Westin Heavenly bedding.

In 2016, United launched its Polaris business class, which is now available on long-haul international flights. “Our focus as we developed the United Polaris experience was to provide international travelers with what they’ve asked for: better sleep in the sky,” says Maggie Schmerin, spokesperson for United Airlines.

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United conducted more than 12,000 hours of research including focus groups, inflight product simulations, and overnight sleep tests, to receive feedback on what worked and what didn’t. The new Polaris business class features include a custom-designed personal suite with added privacy that is currently rolling out across the airline’s international wide-body fleet, sleep-focused amenities such as custom Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, Cowshed products from Soho House & Co., and dining options created in partnership with chefs from The Trotter Project. Polaris business class passengers also have access to the Polaris lounge, currently available at Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport; other Polaris lounges are also planned for Los Angeles and Washington Dulles International Airport. Lounges have restaurant dining, bars, private relaxabiz class passengers are already enjoying complimentary champagne and snacks, stretched out in fully reclining bed-seats tion areas, and shower suites.

JetBlue offers one of the most affordable business/first-class experiences with its JetBlue Mint class. Mint passengers get extra-long lie-flat seats with massage functions, artisanal, small plate menu options from well-known restaurants, top-drawer spirits and wines, and one of the largest libraries of free in-flight entertainment. Out of Boston, JetBlue Mint seats are offered on flights to Las Vegas, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Aruba, St. Maarten (seasonal service) and Barbados (seasonal service).

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Emirates is consistently ranked high in customer service and overall experience, and offers some of the nicest economy class flights in the air. Jump to its business class and you may not want to get off the plane. Emirates flies its Boeing 777 from Boston to Dubai daily, and recently invested in a new lounge at Logan International, offering quiet seating areas, top-notch dining, premium spirits and wine, and direct boarding from the lounge to the front of the plane. The company’s newly-refurbished Boeing 777-200LR planes with larger lie-flat beds in a more private and spacious 2-2-2 configuration, are not in the Boston area yet, but the existing fleet still offers a plush business class experience, with lie-flat beds and an award-winning food and wine program.

American Airlines Flagship business class, offered on international flights longer than 3,000 miles, includes a slew of indulgent perks, like lie-flat beds with Casper bedding, priority boarding, multicourse meals, and a curated wine and spirits menu. It also includes access to their Flagship Lounges in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York (JFK), a new space with quiet rooms, shower suites, specialty cocktail and premium wine bars, and upgraded dining.

You get the idea: fly business class and you get to be wined, dined, entertained, and a lot more likely to arrive at your destination well-rested. So, how do you snag a business class seat without plunking down a load of money?

“Unfortunately, securing an airline upgrade today is much more complex than it used to be,” says Lopinto. “Upgrades are awarded not only based on your elite status level with an airline company, but also on how ‘profitable’ you are to the airline overall.”

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Airlines now use complicated algorithms to determine who gets an upgrade, generally based on how valuable a customer is to the company. In other words, how much did you spend with the airline this year? But even if you’re not a big spender, there are ways to up your odds of securing an upgrade.

Be a loyal customer

Airline companies reward their most loyal (read: profitable) customers. Join a frequent flyer program, and consider using airline credit cards to boost your status with everyday purchases.

Often the simplest way to upgrade a plane ticket is to use accumulated frequent flyer airline miles. The miles needed to upgrade vary but are typically based on the fare you’re upgrading from. In other words, if you paid more for your original ticket, you’ll need fewer miles to upgrade.

And remember to check in with the airline frequently. Just because an upgrade is not available when you book, doesn’t mean it won’t change, often at the last minute.

Arrive early

“Get to the airport a little earlier than usual and check-in using an airline kiosk. Sometimes they will offer an upgrade for a step-up price,” says Lopinto.

Assuming the big spenders have been accommodated, if you’re the first to ask, you may be first in line to snag an available seat.

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Get bumped

Is the flight overbooked? Be the first to volunteer to take a later flight. Often, the airline will reward you with a better seat on the next available flight. (This is another reason we rarely check luggage.)

Travel off peak

Avoid Monday through Thursday, early morning and end-of-day flights, popular with business travelers. These frequent flyers represent big revenue for the airlines, and if they haven’t already booked a premier cabin seat, they’re likely at the front of the line for an upgrade.

Be informed

Several airlines allow you to bid for upgrades through online auctions platforms. Policies vary, some airlines send e-mail alerts to passengers to let them know if seats are up for bid. Some list available seats and prices for upgrades on their websites. Popular apps, like seatfrog.com and seatboost.com, offer live bidding for last minute upgrades on selected flights. With the expertflyer.com app you’ll get alerts if a better seat opens up on your flight.


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.