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PAMPERING Prices, luxuries getting sky high to go first class



Published: Sat, February 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Business class can cost thousands more, but you'll feel the difference.

By MARY ANN ANDERSON

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Forget the Godiva chocolates, forget the lacy red Victoria's Secret lingerie, forget the FTD bouquet. If you really want to do something romantic for your sweetie, then indulge a little and whisk her off in high style to someplace far away and wonderful by springing for a business class ticket.

We all know business class and coach get to the airport at the same time, give or take a few seconds, since it's all one airplane. But the question is: How far are we willing to splurge for a trip that lasts for only a few hours? Is it worth the extra cost -- sometimes exorbitant cost -- to fly at the front of the airplane rather than cramped up in the back in cattle, uh, coach class?

That depends on just how pampered and fussed over you want to be -- and more importantly, just how deeply your pockets and frequent flyer accounts are lined.

Paris

Life doesn't get much more romantic than intoxicating Paris on Valentine's Day, so let's compare prices with the City of Lights. For simplicity and fairness, the comparison is only among the top six American-based carriers that offer nonstop trans-Atlantic business class service to Paris from one of the airline's hub cities. All fares were quoted on the same day, with an outbound date of Feb. 10 and an inbound return Feb. 15, which gives you not only Valentine's in Paris but also a long weekend of ooh-la-la-ing.

So here's the "fare" deal when it comes to business class services. All of the airlines featured here offer upgraded services of separate priority check-in desks, priority boarding, mileage bonuses of up to 150 percent, spacious ergonomically designed seats that either lie flat or almost flat (think about that next time you're sitting up in a regular coach seat for hours on end), entrance to business-class lounges (almost worth the extra price alone when you have several hours between flights), personal video systems with seemingly endless entertainment choices, satellite telephones, a large selection of magazines and newspapers and laptop power ports.

Plus, in business class, flight attendants know your name and call you Mrs. Anderson (but only if your name is really Mrs. Anderson) instead of the standard coach class query of, "Hey, you! Blondie! Over there in the window seat! Want something to drink?"

And in case you're having a "duh" moment, I am blonde -- thanks in part to Miss Clairol -- and my last name is indeed Anderson.

Extras

In addition to these comforts and conveniences for blondes and Andersons and everyone else, there are always a few extras that you'll get in business class, depending on each of these airlines:

American Airlines offers a New York (JFK) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) flight that includes extra goodies like destination specific wines -- including Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Vintage Champagne -- ice cream sundaes and Temple Spa amenity kits. The business class price is $6,391.20, as compared with $384.20 in coach. Frequent flier mileage awards are 90,000 for business and 40,000 for coach.

One of Continental's hubs is Houston/George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). Flights from IAH into CDG will cost $7,230.10 in BusinessFirst, as compared with $517.10 in coach. Mileage awards are 80,000 for business and 50,000 for coach. For the extra $7,000 or so, you'll get award-winning cuisine and wine served on real china. And its "Executive Meal Option" allows you to dine at anytime during the flight. The seats are some of the widest in business class and come with privacy hoods and seat side wings, which, if you snore, is a blessing to not only you but also your fellow passengers.

You'll pay $7,422.60 for Delta's BusinessElite service and a mere $484.60 for coach on nonstop service from Atlanta to CDG. You'll have to cough up 90,000 Delta Skymiles for business and 50,000 for coach. But you get five-course dining with international selections, a no-middle-seat seating plan and an award-winning wine selection.

Big winner

Northwest is the big winner when it comes to business class fares. From Detroit (DTW) into CDG, you'll pay a relatively paltry $3,306.60 in World Business Class, while coach is $504.60. To use miles, it'll cost you 80,000 in business and 50,000 for coach. For extra comfort, Northwest's new lie-flat bed on the Airbus 330-200, designed primarily for international travel, has an endless array of adjustments that you select rather than pre-set positions featured on most business class seats.

A flight to the City of Love from Chicago (ORD) will set you back $7,025.60 on United Business, while a seat in coach costs $408.60. Mileage awards are 80,000 for business and 50,000 for coach. From personal experience and a monster subtraction from my frequent flier mileage account, I can attest that United has excellent food and wine choices, not to mention perhaps the friendliest service in the sky. And that alone can sometimes make all the difference on a long-haul flight.

US Airways offers nonstop service to Paris from Philadelphia (PHL) to CDG. The price is $5,333.70 in Envoy Business Class and $408.70 in coach. Mileage awards are 80,000 for business and 50,000 for coach. The airline offers premium wine and champagne choices and personalized four-course meals including a choice of four entrees plus snacking stations between meals.

Some fares are quoted with a $5 telephone reservation fee.

In case you don't want to fly a U.S. airline, you can also get to Paris via other non-U.S.-based carriers such as Air France nonstop through several cities including New York and Atlanta, British Airways through London and Air Canada through Montreal and Toronto.

Do travelers actually pay the extra dollars when it comes to flying business class and arriving at their destinations a little more refreshed and relaxed?

"They pay it all day long," stated a representative from Continental's telephone reservations. "They don't even bat an eye. They'll fly business class, no matter the price, no matter what it takes."




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