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Flying in Emirates Luxury Business Class Vs. Economy


  • Writer Tonya Russell traveled to the Maldives and tried Emirates business and economy class.
  • Russell loved the meals, seats, and lounge in the air in business, but thought the economy had merits, too.
  • “While economy class has proven to be very good, the upgrade is worth it at least once,” she writes.

I’ve racked up miles over the past two years, and decided to splurge on Emirates Airlines’ illustrious business class cabin on a pre-wedding trip to the Maldives this spring. I thought a YOLO trip required a YOLO flight experience, but unfortunately I could only afford a one-way upgrade (I was flying weeks before my wedding, after all).

Still, traveling business class one-way on a long-haul flight still has its merits, and there are notable differences. They start as soon as you arrive at the airport.

How to Upgrade to Business Class on an Emirates Flight

If you use the same airline family, you may be able to transfer miles from another airline to your Emirates flight. Plus, some credit cards let you use points to rack up miles, which is an easy way that many upgrade — or at the very least buy lounge access.

Shutterstock/Dmitry Birin

You can also pay for an upgrade. As soon as check-in opens online, a limited number of business class seats are offered at a deep discount ($500 vs. $4,500+).

With Emirates Business Class and First Class, you skip the check-in queues – sort of

Some international flights do not allow you to check in in advance, especially in our post-COVID flight era. The main advantage of mobile check-in is to avoid queues, but when applications and forms need to be downloaded, you sometimes have to wait in line.

Tonya Russell

In business class you have your own line. This means that instead of being 20th in line, I was only behind a couple, a family and a single person.

There is also a first class line, but few people were there, and I was led to this line to drop off my bag. Business class customers can drop off two bags for free, instead of one bag for economy.

Tonya Russell

With that business class perk and the TSA pre-check, I went through security smoothly. Also, although it only works on the US side, Emirates Business Class passengers can benefit from an expedited customs process upon arrival at their destination.

After clearing security, you are free to walk around or head to the lounge

This trip was my third time at a salon, and the one on the Dubai leg of my trip could fill a mall wing.

There were plenty of showers and dining options, including a Moet lounge, various offerings at a few different buffet stations, and plenty of comfortable seating to relax or sleep in. I’ve had worse buffet food than I paid for.

Tonya Russell

My travel companion didn’t have access to business class, but he was able to purchase a lounge pass and he felt the $150 it cost made sense for such a long trip. After all, the cost of keeping us busy for six hours would have been a headache and a stomach ache. Dubai airport is overwhelming.

To take a step back, I had to first arrive in Dubai from JFK

The plane was quickly going into sleep mode, but entering business class set the tone. Finding my seat and settling in was like jumping into an old-fashioned Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or even a limo, with drinks readily available in a lighted compartment.

Tonya Russell

There were more buttons than I knew what to do with, plus a slide-out touchscreen controller for the TV or making requests. As soon as I sat in my seat I was greeted with champagne or juice. I chose the juice, of course, because I don’t like to drink while traveling.

I had 12 hours to go and needed a few hours of sleep before taking advantage of the amenities offered on my flight. I chose to go to sleep immediately because I knew I could ask for my food when I needed it.

Business class was full, but as more passengers entered it seemed less chaotic than economy class

It helped that it was set up like cabins so there was little disturbance from your neighbours. I sat in the middle, but there were only two seats in the middle, instead of a row of three or four like in economy class.

Tonya Russell

My seat had controls like a car, and instead of leaning back, my seat moved forward into a bed. My legs ended up under the oversized television screen. I could imagine someone quite tall, unless they play basketball (in which case, maybe consider first class).

I was able to do more work in business class, since my station included a fold-out tray that covered my knees.

I had a multi-course vegetarian meal in business class

Airlines rarely have non-dairy milk, but a flight attendant brought me some of the crew’s oat milk for a cappuccino.

Before the meal, I received a Mediterranean platter with baba ghanouj, hummus and fresh vegetables. At first I thought it was the meal, but that was only the first course.

Tonya Russell

For the meal, I had a vegetarian plate consisting of Indian style vegetables and basmati rice. After the main meal cart, another flight attendant brought hot fresh rolls and dropped off not one, but three (I won’t say how many I ate).

I used the outdoor lounge to eat, stretch and relax

Emirates has a bar on the second floor, unlike most other airlines. Even in business class or first class, many planes don’t offer the option of taking a seat away from your seat or a place to mingle. That’s exactly what I did in the sky lounge, listening to people make deals while half the plane slept.

Insider/Rachel Hosie

I was there because my appetite is in the air. Forget the fact that we already eat and drink at times we wouldn’t at home, but I eat on a plane out of boredom.

In the Emirates in-flight lounge, you can be served or you can help yourself to a snack. I took advantage and ate a slice of apple cake after my meal when I probably should have slept. Even if you don’t want snacks, stretching your legs or sitting down at a normal table breaks the monotony of the flight.

I checked in for my next flight — economy class — at the counter

Again, I checked in at the counter. The queue was longer, and since business and first class arrived so quickly, a few of us were checked in at the business class counter.

Tonya Russell

I placed my oversized luggage on the scale and held my breath, hoping I wasn’t over the limit. Economy allows one checked bag, and there were oversized baggage fees.

After going through security, I had about an hour to spare before my flight, so I didn’t feel so bad about not having access to the lounge. I also had a shorter layover, so I wandered around the shops while waiting for my flight. My bags were checked through to my final destination, so I didn’t have to go through security again.

My economy class seat was fine, but mealtime made me miss business class

Upon finding my seat, I easily found space above my head for my carry-on, which contained random items that would have tipped the scales of my suitcase. I had plenty of leg room (I’m 5ft 6in) and didn’t have a seat mate. In my row, only the two aisle seats were occupied, and I was able to lift my armrest and feel like I was in a larger space.

I asked for a vegetarian meal in economy class which meant I got my food before everyone else. I received some kind of lentils with basmati rice.

Tonya Russell

I received something similar in business, but the difference was like getting a Trader Joe’s version instead of doing it from scratch. The alternative to meat was a televised chicken dinner with rice, which was not as appetizing as the salmon that circulated in business class.

The entertainment offerings were the same, but with a smaller screen. It was still enough for me to have fun when I wasn’t trying to sleep.

Emirates is on top in every way you can imagine, catering to people who can have it all

Being able to get a slice of such extravagant transportation is definitely something to behold. While economy class proved to be just fine, if upgrading is within your means, it’s worth it at least once.



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