So in this article I take a look at British Airways’ European Business and European Economy products and ask a fundamental question – is it worth paying a little bit more for an upgrade.
Well if the price is the same or cheaper then it’s pretty much a no brainer, but what happens if it just a little more.
Now to subjectively work this out, I did the trip twice, once in business leaving from Heathrow up to Edinburgh and a second time back down in economy.
European business is pretty standard across the board with the major players like KLM and Lufthansa all offering similar experiences. However, British Airways recently implemented some quality-of-service improvements to economy that made travelling with them a bit more compelling.
Is it enough to justify staying in economy or does it make sense to upgrade for a little more?
What is European Business?
So the best way to tackle the topic is to explain what the difference between European business and Economy is, surprisingly it’s a topic that’s not really explained anywhere and you’re just supposed to know.
it’s important to be clear that European business is not about the seat it’s wholly different to something equivalent that you get on a regional Asian or American flight knowing this can avoid a lot of disappointment.
In many ways, the proposition for Business class is all about a streamlined experience and convenience
- 64Kg of luggage
- business class check in
- fast track
- Lounge access
- priority boarding
- blocked middle seat; and a
- complementary meal and drink
So why is it different?
Well, in short, European business is a product arising out of two factors
Firstly, The proliferation of low-cost carriers is driving costs down, it’s very hard to continuously fill regional business class seats when the market is conditioned to cheap flights. It’s no surprise that business seats among full-service airlines in Europe resemble that of their low-cost carrier counterparts, but in Asia and America, there is still a strong differentiator in seat quality and design.
arguably because competition from low-cost carriers isn’t as strong like it is in Europe airlines can still afford to have a larger, more expansive seat, without affecting their bottom line too badly.
This leads into my second point, as a result of stiff competition, airlines need to be continuously flexible. It’s a well-known fact that low-cost carriers need a load factor of at least 90% on each flight before they can even potentially break even. Full-service airlines wanting to compete with budget airlines, therefore, need to be able to operate within such tight margins.
A saving grace however for full-service airlines is the ability to offer a business class product that has the potential to yield greater profits.
What this ultimately means is that airlines need to be able to offer seats at a low enough cost to compete with budget carriers, AND to have enough business class seats available per flight to satisfy lucrative demand. But this is easier said than done, an empty seat does not generate any profit, so too many economy seats and you lose out on highly lucrative Business class traffic
too many business seats that you cant fill means seats go empty and you can’t lower your economy fares to the point which compete with budget airlines.
So how do airlines balance to demand?
well a year-ish in advance an Airline will open up a number of business and economy seats they expect to sell based on a myriad of historic data
But as time goes on, and as seats start to fill up, a carrier can dynamically increase or decrease the number of business class seats on offer based on the number of bookings received vs predictive demand by simply moving a dividing curtain down the aisle.
In other words, if business is filling up faster than expected the airline can convert a row of standard economy seats to high yield business class seats by moving a curtain, This dynamic and flexible approach is why the two cabins share the same seat
one of the main advertised benefits of flying business (and the most likely to sway on costs) is the included luggage when you fly business.
included are 2 x 23kg bags which bought on their own is an additional £150 (if bought at the airport) on the cost of an economy ticket.
priority check-in is one of those small benefits.
but priority check-in is only useful if it saved you time, and in a Covid environment it doesn’t save you time if there is no one at the airport.
also, a point to note is that – per BA trade documents – If you are an Executive Club Gold or Silver Member you can use the Fast Track Security channel too.
Paid for Lounges
If you are doing this trip in economy and want to enter the lounge you have two options, the Aspire or Plaza Premium lounges – both accept Priority Pass or Dragon Pass respectively. As most of the world has priority pass, you would most likely be gravitating towards the Aspire lounge by gate A18
in Edinburgh it’s the same story, but the Aspire lounges (there’s two here) would be your only option and one of them is right next to the BA lounge by Gate 5
If you’re travelling in business, then, of course, you get access to the business class lounge access.
In comparing the two, Heathrow and Edinburgh operate Galleries lounges – meaning you can pretty much expect similar levels of service between them. Just Heathrow’s southern business lounge is 6 times the size Edinburgh’s Galleries lounge.
Edinburgh BA Lounge
That being said, In the Edinburgh lounge at least, you can expect a slightly better lounge experience than other BA lounges as it is a major hub for the airline, in this lounge you will get:
- an area with arm chairs and sofas complete with plug sockets
- An office/ workspace area
- A dining area
- And a self service bar and food counter – which wasn’t self service at the time due to covid
For a quick bite, I elected for a chicken tika and Pullman’s sandwich, a scone for dessert and a Bloody Mary to wash it all down. Now I don’t think anyone has actually gone to European business lounge for the quality of food an airport can provide. Lounges are usually synonymous with free food and drink and if you are trying to justify if business is worth it, you can always make the money back in the bar.
Heathrow BA Lounge
At Heathrow, take a few steps back from Aspire lounge and you will find the escalator that ascends to the BA Southern lounges – this one escalator will take you up to 3 of the 6 BA lounges here at Heathrow including the flagship Concorde Room.
Heathrow, on the other hand, was a little different on this occasion, due to covid the business class lounge was closed and I had the misfortune of having to painfully endure the first class lounge instead #firstworldproblems.
As you have likely surmised BA lounges are not flashy, the airline has opted to rely on its pedigree more than anything else. If you’re observant BA has an impressive art collection filled with Damien Hurst, Peter Doig, and Bridget Riley – although not sure if it is has or had now because at one point BA did sell some pieces to help them get through Covid. With that said there are Gems everywhere, like as you go up the escalator, in the entrance hall and even in the bathroom.
And while it is the first class lounge, it’s not really the first class experience that you would expect since they had to merge the business and first lounges together
With that said, just like the Edinburgh Galleries lounge, the seating is similar and enough bottled water is provided to give doomsdayers a run for their money.
There’s also very well stocked and manned bar
And like other covid combi-lounges, the terrace was roped off for actual first-class travellers
Heathrow 40 Winks Experiance
Quite fortuitously though, being here meant I can have a try at the new “40 winks” experience. I would have preferred a massage but benches it is If you have never sat in one of these, they are as comfortable as they look
20 minutes is the recommended rest period and all you really need0, to be honest, I did the time and I did not relax for one moment, I was counting the seconds as I was way too scared of passing out and missing my flight
Showers were available but only if you were travelling long haul so the only left to experience was the food
Heathrow Lounge Food
Everything in this lounge was done by QR code as you would expect. The menu wasn’t too extensive and was definitely a step up above the norm as everything was ordered and brought out a la carte.
Out of the 10 items on the menu I ultimately went with the chicken with roast potatoes, it was nice dish, if your definition of nice is food without flavour.
But in mirroring the experience in Edinburgh I ordered a scone which was definitely better and of course, this had to be followed up with an obligatory bloody Mary here too
being in business you got to board before everyone else in group 1. great if you want an uncontested space for your cabin bag, but in economy, you have to board with the rest of the proletariat
When you eventually get to where you need to be remember that British Airways European Economy and Business use the same seat.
In business the middle seats blocked and a side console in its place. This is of course one of the advertised benefits of choosing business over economy, and nearly all European carriers do this.
For example, Lufthansa is no exception but as you can see you are not 100% guaranteed with a centre console.
That said when you start talking about the seat itself, within the a320 family a lot of this really rides on the registration of the plane and out of Heathrow you are likely to run into two variants. 1. the newer EU variant and 2. the older BMI Variant. either way, legroom is decent, Wifi is available and each seat has its own individual air nozzle
On the EU variant the seats are a little nicer and recline a small amount, But on the older A320’s the seats in economy are fixed in place like you would see on a budget airline.
The same goes for the headrest which is somewhat adjustable on the new A320 but on the older models you can’t do very much.
If you are near the pointy end, on the newer A320’s the centre console is locked into the frame of the seat, and you, therefore, you still get the usability of the armrest
but on older models, the armrest is part of the support for the centre console and unlike the newer EU variant locked in place for the whole flight – but as you can see it gives you about an inch more space.
As to the meal, complimentary food is a staple of the European business experience, and BA is no different
Since the introduction of Do & Co in 2018, on European flights, travellers are put into 1 of 5 catering bands – well if you count express as a band
In a nutshell, the further you travelled the more food you were given as you had more time to eat it.
Side tracking a bit, BA does a good job of keeping the menu’s fresh. On Heathrow services, the menu changes twice monthly and changes depending on the time of day.
a standard afternoon/evening menu for bands 1 and 2 consists of Main with two options – usually meat and a vegetarian dish, a Bread Roll, a side, and Desert which is usually a chocolate pudding or a crumble
In Bands 3 and 4 you get an extra mains option – which is more often than not a cured meats dish, as well as an extra cheese plate as a side
For Drinks, BA runs what they call a fully stocked bar in the air
So beers, spirits and wines are included, naturally, you can also get soft drinks and juices, traditional or herbal teas, coffees, or if you prefer a Cadbury’s hot chocolate.
It’s definitely a darn sight better than the sandwich in a box BA used to serve up during covid
In Economy – everything gets slightly messy. In the middle of the pandemic, BA decided to improve their standards but completely half-arse their implementation.
The good news is that everyone now gets a packet of crisps and a bottle of water.
However, at the same time, they kicked Marks and Spencer’s out as their preferred caterers and decided to go their own with Tom Kerridge. It replaces the old buy onboard service with the new Speed Bird Cafe BUT is currently operating on a pre-order basis where you have to reserve your choice no later than 24 hours before your flight.
and while Its actually good to see BA diverging from it pursuit to directly compete with low-cost carriers, I wish they made a bigger effort to you know tell people in advance.
Don’t expect any real savings here – the menu is priced just as high as other low-cost carriers – quality though – to be seen
As I am not currently stuffing my face with food, I had a chance to see the bathrooms – which there isn’t much to talk about
Although I will mention that while it was kept clean, it was clearly designed for children.
Another comment that I would make is that the look and feel are reminiscent of the default colour scheme out of the airbus buyers manual.
Now the last thing to look at is the onboard wifi
not all planes are equipped with Wi-Fi as yet – but if the seat didn’t give it away
then as you board lookout for the .air symbol on the side of the plane
On-board Wi-Fi is not ‘gate to gate’ meaning it only kicks in when the aircraft is at an altitude above 10,000ft.
Prices are calculated for millennials who can’t be away from their phone. In other words, you can choose between just messaging or browse and stream plan – both of which are pretty self-explanatory
It should be mentioned, short-haul wifi prices are calculated by time (as opposed to data which is seen on some long-haul routes)
- Messaging starts from £1.99 or £2.99 depending on flight distance.
- Browse & Stream (one hour):£4.99
- Browse & Stream (whole flight):£4.99 to 9.99 depending on the distance
I’m quite glad it’s gotten a lot simpler since its inception like you can now actually checkout as a guest
The trade off is you will need to enter your card details each time – which wasn’t too much of an ask
The really annoying thing about this is that Shop.ba.com (which is for the BA onboard Wi-Fi) is different to Shopping.ba.com (which is for the Executive Club e-Store) and use two different logins.
Your BAEC credentials do not work for Onboard Wi-Fi.
But as there were only a few more minutes left to the flight anyway so I didn’t bother.
So that’s pretty much it in terms of what you get on a short-haul flight – whether you travel up in front or in the back there are some differences.
And as we’re now back on the ground, this is a good time to wrap up
as to the original question, if European business class was worth it –I can tell you on such a short paying twice the economy ticket price definitely isn’t worth it
however, if the question was if it was worth upgrading, say if the price was similar or competitive
then In my view, it is, but before everyone kicks off in the comments let me explain
if you are looking for the cheapest ticket going then economy would be the only way and at this point, you would be comparing prices to Ryanair or Easyjet
in this case, the argument of choosing to upgrade is similar to that of choosing economy or premium economy, still the same but slightly different
European business is all about convenience and a streamlined travel experience.
So having services such as included luggage, fast track, lounge access and a complimentary meal is quite beneficial – so quite literally your mileage may vary depending on your threshold and willingness to pay for these services.
If you can justify the cost being slightly more and are happy to pay for it then you should go for it.