In a previous post, I talked about why travel is a good use of money, which is largely because people tend to underinvest in experiences and overinvest in material goods even though experiential purchases tend to make people happier than material purchases. Taking this another step, I’ve realized that it doesn’t really make sense for me to redeem for business class; I should instead redeem for either coach class or first class.
In order to maximize my happiness, I should maximize my experiences. This can be accomplished either through taking more trips or by making the trips that I do take as memorable as possible. Since business class awards usually exist in the odd space where they’re considerably more expensive than economy class awards but not that much cheaper than first class awards (e.g. a one-way United award from the US to South Asia is 32.5k in coach, 60k in business, and 70k in first), it doesn’t seem to make much sense to redeem for business class awards. I can take nearly twice as many trips if I avoided business class altogether, and thus maximize experiences through maximizing trips, or I can spend a little bit more in miles to fly in first class, which I believe is a significantly more memorable and special experience for the marginal miles cost.
Don’t get me wrong, business class can be great, but it’s primarily about comfort while flying and not pampering and creating superlative flight experiences. I’ve had good experiences flying in business class, but none of those can compare to things like taking a shower on an airplane. And personally, the biggest factor in determining how much sleep I get on a flight is not seat comfort but whether or not the flight time overlaps with my current sleep schedule, so a fully-flat seat isn’t a guarantee of any sleep (e.g. I slept for less than 2 hours on a 12-hour flight in a fully-flat business seat because the flight left at 11am and landed at 11pm my time).
Ultimately, whether or not you should redeem for coach or business or first or even magazine subscriptions depends on your utility function. What do you derive the most happiness from? No one else can determine that for you, but I hope that explaining my own thought processes might help illuminate your own preferences.