It might not seem like a big deal at first, but I’ve come to realize that booking different classes of service on a trip with your partner can create some animosity! All over the web I hear reports of husband / wife splitting up between First and Business class like it’s no big deal. I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the issue, but I figured I would discuss a past predicament.
Long story short, I booked myself and my girlfriend into Cathay Pacific business class in order to get to Thailand last November. We found award seats with Alaska miles going over, taking advantage of the stopover in Hong Kong before eventually going to Bangkok. On the way back to the U.S., we found award seats on Cathay Pacific business class once again, but this time with American miles. All in, we spent 120K each for round trip tickets, which I consider to be a great deal.
But, with my optimizing tendencies, I thought to myself why would we want to settle for business class on a 21+ hour journey? Is there any way we can secure first class seats? The answer is maybe, maybe not.
In classic fashion of award junkies, we booked our flights at the 330 day mark to ensure we got our butts in lie flat beds for the long journey. After, I also accrued an extra Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card to stack up some more Alaska miles. I figured, heck, if some First class award opens up, at least we will have the miles to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s only a bump from 50K to 70K miles for First class, so what’s an extra 20K miles at that point?
After checking periodically for months, it turned out that we a First class seat showed up on the exact flight that we were originally planning to take. Without hesitation, I called Alaska and they gladly upgraded my ticket to First, with a nice window seat at 2K. At that time, there were still 4 seats open in the cabin. Meaning, chances could be good to get my girlfriend up in First with me!
Fast forward two more months to T-6 weeks and a different story emerged: looking at the seat map on Expert Flyer showed one open seat. Yikes! Given the stories from folks who book these awards frequently, Cathay Pacific often does not open up award availability when there are less than two seats remaining. I’m not banking on this seat opening up for availability, and who knows if a revenue passenger will decide to book this seat as well.
So here we are, my girlfriend holding a business class ticket, and me holding a first class ticket. On the one hand I’m glad we have the chance to experience first, but on the other hand I know someone will be disappointed if we don’t both secure the coveted first class seats. In thinking about our best options, I have come back to my original predicament: who should be able to fly first class, and does it make sense to gamble for two first class seats, or downgrade so we can enjoy business together?
Here are the scenarios I’ve played out in my head:
- Option #1: Keep my ticket in first class, and hope that the last seat opens up for an award. If only one seat remains, I take it.
- Probability: 100%
- Option #2: Keep my ticket in first class, but give the seat to my girlfriend and swap with her. I would take business and she would enjoy first.
- Probability: 100%
- Option #3: Proactively downgrade my existing ticket to business class and give up on the first class experience for one or both of us.
- Probability: 100%
- Option #4: Wait until 3 days prior to flight to see if a first class seat opens up, and downgrade to business at that time if nothing opens. This might not be possible if business class award availability is gone, and brings us back to option #1 or #2.
- Probability: medium
- Option #5: Wait until 3 days prior to flight and see if we can switch to a different flight, and both secure first class.
- Probability: low
Of all the options, I don’t see one that is a clear winner. I’m a full believer that a shared experience will be more enjoyable overall, but I also think it would be a real treat for someone to enjoy first class. Not to mention, we also would gain access to American Flagship First Dining at JFK and the first class lounges in Hong Kong. I think that’s certainly a huge benefit to keeping a first class seat in our back pocket, regardless of who would get to sit up front.
One large consideration on this whole plan is our lack of flexibility. We were leaving on a very specific date, and did not want to switch dates. Luckily, JFK has the most daily flights, meaning the number of awards is plentiful for the route.
In a situation like this, It would be a shame to downgrade to business after upgrading to first, but perhaps this is the only fair way to go about this decision.
What option would you choose?