“My First Time Flying Business Class (and How I Was Upgraded for FREE!)”

“My First Time Flying Business Class (and How I Was Upgraded for FREE!)” – as told by Filipino and International Travel Bloggers

(Updated 4 July 2016 to include international travel bloggers)
Not your typical airline food. My meal aboard Air Serbia from Belgrade to Istanbul. I can remember everything I had in this photo like I had them yesterday! Fresh couscous, tenderloin steak with sweet potato mash and one of the best baklava I’ve ever had, all served in pristine ceramic ware. Photo by thetravelguyshops
Let me start off by saying what we were all thinking before we actually started doing it: Traveling is THE dream. But after you’ve been on countless budget airlines and economy class flights, you feel the need to upgrade yourself. That’s why people start setting their sights on getting upgraded: flying Business Class is now THE dream. (As for First Class, well… that will *probably* have to wait a few more years.)

I must confess, in order to have the chance to be upgraded I have resorted to what could be considered ‘questionable tactics,’ such as: 
1) Being the last to check in in hopes that that the flight is fully booked. But with my luck even though the flight is technically fully booked, the check in staff still manages to find an aisle or middle seat for me.
2) Bitching about not having a window seat (because they’re usually occupied.)
3) Bitching that the seat I will be assigned has its entertainment system broken, which is completely unacceptable to me. But even then, the same assigned seat’s entertainment system became magically functioning again. Odd.
Needless to say, I have failed each time. There wasn’t even an instance where I *almost* got upgraded. I suppose that’s not how it works, or I’m just really unlucky or unqualified to be upgraded.
Of course we have a general idea of what goes on behind the curtains. There’s business class lounge access prior to boarding, then an early boarding privilege, a special welcome drink, newspapers, slippers, menus, more space and recline, and being the first to board and disembark. But one can only vicariously experience these through someone else for so long. As for what it’s really like, there’s only one way to find out – and that’s for me to experience it for myself. 
Me aboard China Airlines from Taipei Songshan to Tokyo Haneda. Extended recline: check! Warm blanket: check! Noise-cancelling headphones: check! Smug look: Check! I’ve never felt cozier on a plane. 🙂
My First Time
I flew with China Airlines from Tokyo Haneda to Taipei Songshan round trip
Funny story. It was a business trip and naturally, the company had to pay/reimburse me for my flight. The intended flight via China Airlines was for a certain budget, but I discovered that flying business class only had a difference of USD 220 round trip! The overall price for a business class flight was something I’d never seen before. I tried to justify the total cost by considering that this was in fact a business trip, how many more miles I can get, having access to the exclusive Business Class Lounge, etc. After thinking about it for a couple of hours, I decided to book it anyway, even though I knew that I probably wouldn’t be reimbursed. I’m the kind of person who simply could not let go of a good (and possibly once in a lifetime) deal. I was like ‘whatever I can afford it anyway,’ so I did. #yolo after all.

Hello from the other side. On my Tokyo Haneda to Taipei Songshan flight

At the airport, I remember using the self-check in counter and being disappointed when I got a simple boarding pass printout that looked like a tape receipt. Thankfully the access to the Japan Airlines lounge at Haneda Airport was wonderful. In typical Japanese fashion, it was minimalist yet really classy and the food was delicious as expected.

Fancy and authentic Japanese meal aboard China Airlines from Taipei Songhan to Tokyo Haneda. Maybe too authentic for my non-Japanese tastes.
Knowing I would be flying business class that day, I knew I had to dress appropriately. As soon as I boarded the plane, one of the FA approached me to take my coat, to be personally handed back to me later. The best part about flying Business Class is the recline. OMG the RECLINE. I can only describe the first time I reclined to nearly 180 degrees on a plane was, for lack of a better word, simply euphoric, if not orgasmic (not to be taken literally of course.) 
Golden Ticket. Photo taken from the Air Serbia lounge. I was the only one in that class on that flight. #special haha
My Second Time
I flew with Air Serbia from Belgade to Istanbul
My second time flying Business Class was unexpected. When the airline emailed me an offer of the option to bid for an upgrade on my flights between Istanbul and Belgrade, I seriously considered it. I could have mid a minimum of USD 100 up to USD 200 (if I recall correctly.) I chose the lowest possible amount, entered my credit card details, and eventually they emailed me to say they were pleased to inform me that they had accepted my bid (I later found out no one else did on my flight.)

As I literally walked down the red carpet that Air Serbia had laid down for their business class passengers, I can tell from afar that the look on the senior check in agent was one of doubt, especially since I look young and like a backpacker at that time. But before turning me away, she received my passport and confirmed that I was in fact checking in at the right counter. 
The swanky new Air Serbia Premium Lounge at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport.

In hindsight, since I had the option of upgrading either or both of my round trip flights,  I’m thankful I opted to upgrade only my return flight because it would mean 1) I could compare their economy class upon leaving and business class upon returning 2) I had access to their newly-constructed lounge at Belgrade Airport where I was beyond impressed. 
I have to admit, I felt an air of superiority sitting in Business Class while the Europeans were making their way to the back. I wonder what they thought of me? Was I the heir to the Toyota zaibatsu? Or the Samsung chaebol? They can only guess.

What I love most about my upgrade was the food: from the lounge all the way to the meal service on board. At the lounge, you can order anything and everything off the a la carte menu and it would be prepared and served to you, on top of what they were already serving at the snacks area and bar. 

Although there was limited recline as you can tell (then again I was seated in Row 2 and not 1), the food and lounge access made this two-hour Belgrade to Istanbul flight upgrade on Air Serbia totally worth it.

My Third(?) Time
Although it wasn’t business class, here’s a tip! The last time I was “upgraded” (although not technically) was when I flew yet again with China Airlines from Manila to Taipei Taoyuan. As usual, I asked for a window seat, which they ran out of. So the check in girl (god bless her heart and soul) told me she would seat me at a different section of the plane, which I didn’t fully understand at that time.

When I boarded, I couldn’t believe I was led to the more spacious 
second level of the aircraft! I’m not sure what happened, but I think I have an idea: this flight did not have a First Class service, so they sold the seats as Economy Class instead (or this could have been an aircraft they don’t normally use for this route.) The extended recline, which was non-existent in economy class, felt familiar.

Nonetheless, although it wasn’t business class, it was the next best thing, especially since it’s FREE! Moral lesson of the story? Ask what kind of aircraft your flight will be using when you check-in!
Economy class, but not really, on China Airlines.
I asked for the help of a few other travel blogger friends and collected details on what they had to say about the time they flew business class for the first time FOR FREE*. (They almost make me wish I didn’t have to pay for mine.) Below are excerpts:

* * * * *
How I got the upgrade: I was invited by Qatar Airways to be on this flight, along with other travel bloggers.
I flew from Bangkok via Doha to Atlanta and I had the pleasure to do this all in Qatar Airways’ business class on the A380. The plane is split into two floors and just in case you didn’t know: the A380 has a bar on the upper level! The airline provided some neat gifts for their business class travelers. A gorgeous leather cosmetic bag by Bree, filled with useful things like face moisturizer, lip balm, socks, sleeping mask and ear plugs. 
The seats in business class are just amazing. They provide a lot of space, including a side table, storage for your personal items and power sockets. Every seat can turn into a flat bed, which allows you to sleep quite comfortably in the sky. Pillows, blankets, bed sheets, pajamas, slippers – everything will be provided to make you feel as comfy as possible. I had to giggle first when they handed the pajamas. Who would change their clothes on a flight? It turned out almost everyone put on their pajamas. I guess we all looked quite funny later while standing at the bar sipping champagne in our PJs!
Yes, there is a bar on board of the A380 and it is absolutely spectacular with pompous chandeliers, leather couches, fresh roses. It’s an extraordinary place and a little heaven in the sky – perfect to get a change of scene, and have a glass of champagne in a magnificent ambiance. The bar was also a great place to get online. There is WiFi on board (and not only at the bar.)

Just minutes after take off, the flight staff was placing cupcakes, canapès, nuts, olives, chips, chocolate bars and plenty of other delicious snacks along the curved bar. To be honest, the cupcakes looked too beautiful to eat. On a side note, a flight attendant from Ukraine made the strongest cocktails ever. I slept 8 hours straight after that.”

* * * * *
How I got the upgrade: Complimentary upgraded flight as part of an arrangement with 
the airline’s marketing team
“Soon after we reached cruising altitude, a cabin attendant emerged from the galley, white mantelpieces in hand. He gingerly picked one and set it carefully onto my tray table. For this ritual is unheard of back in coach, I tried to compose myself despite being so giddy. Philippine Airlines’ Master Chef Series, exclusively for business class, showcases some creations from their experienced bunch of chefs de cuisine. There wasn’t kung pao chicken nor beef stew, but there were deep-fried beef tenderloin in garlic pepper sauce by Suwanna Puangdee of Benjarong Royal Thai Restaurant, grilled chicken in lemongrass with kalo-kalo fried rice by Fernando Aracama of Aracama Filipino Cuisine, and grilled cod in herbed butter by Clifton Lyles formerly of Alaska Airlines. In the mood for Asian fusion, I chose the first one.
Philippine Airlines Business Class meal. Photo from Lloyd Salac
As I was catching a whiff of what was cooking in the galley, the senior cabin crew came out with a pile of iPads we were allowed to loan. Instead of fitting seats with traditional inflight entertainment (IFE) screens, Philippine Airlines is stepping up its game and keeping up with other top carriers by opting for tablets in their newer aircraft. Their iPads contain a bevy of new and classic movies, music albums, apps, and games, although what tickled my fancy then was the TV show The Carrie Diaries, which I have always been curious about.
…(F)lying business class is one dream crossed off my checklist, and I cannot let myself be deprived of the joy of sharing (read: flaunting) it. The way I see it, the experience was as significant as other life events—like my first passport stamp, for instance. However, it’s no secret that flying fancy can cost a bundle. After all, industry experts claim that while there are fewer passengers riding these sections, airlines make more on them in total. I honestly cannot make this a regular thing as I would hope, but I am overly content that at least I am now aware of what truly happens beyond the curtain.”
* * * * *
Dr. Gelo Santos of http://www.docgelo.com/
How I got the upgrade: Economy class was full.
“I almost went through the day smoothly despite those multiple airport-hoppings in South America until I learned that my 50-liter-backpack was missing! I left Sao Paulo airport and boarded my second to the last flight to Rio de Janeiro without it! The airport official in Sao Paulo provided a signed form proving that my backpack was out of sight. After all the inevitable hassles I experienced in one of the longest days of my life, I finally arrived at the counter of Emirates in Galeão International Airport, in Rio de Janeiro. Tired, hungry and sleepy, I could bet my last dirham on my pocket that I surely looked so messy and unpleasant that moment.
The saving grace for the entire day was the generous offer of Emirates for my ticket to be upgraded from Economy seat to Business Class. I saw fireworks and heard cherubs singing! Hahahaha! Of course, I was too weak to resist! It would be my first time in Business Class ever! Thank you, Emirates! Thank you, Universe for making the Economy seats in that flight full of passengers hence, I was upgraded for free! I so welcomed it as my Rio de Janeiro-Dubai was a long 14-hour-flight! Shukran, Emirates!”
Emirates Business Class meal. Photo from Dr. Gelo Santos
– Free flowing champagne, red wine, white wine – French and Californian. Hallelujah!
– Utterly comfortable Business class seats, spacious leg room and remarkable service!
– From the menu, I opted for an aubergine omelet as an appetizer.
– That plate of tastefully seasoned prawn on top of a bed of couscous salad, served with sashimi, was just heavenly!
– I opted for Rack of lamb with Ratatouille for my main. Sublime!
– I perfectly ended my meal with a cheese board. 
* * * * *
How I got the upgrade: Upgraded using miles! Long haul so super worth it!
“I loved the overnight kit for this flight – inside the Bally toiletry bag was a Clarins Hand and Nail Treatment Cream, Clarins Cologne, Clarins Moisture Replenishing Lip Balm (tried it a while ago – pretty good results), a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, a good dark eyemask and cotton socks. Razor kits can be requested. 
Philippine Airlines Business Class. Photo from Melody Co

For the main course, I chose the Stuffed Glazed Pork Roll by Chef See Cheong Yan. I liked the look of the Beef Estofado by Chef Fernando Aracama.. Honestly though, For after meal delights, there’s Molten Lava Cake, Malagos Blue Goat with Swiss Gruyere, Magnolia Ice Cream and Fruits. For anytime dining, there’s all-you-can-eat Nuts, Chips with Salsa Roja, warm panini sandwiches and Arroz Caldo. For breakfast, I chose Mushroom and Gruyere Omelette by Chef Clifton Lyles. 
After dinner, I spent a bit more time tinkering with my very high-tech seat haha. There’s a call button there too so I don’t have to go up to push the other call button near the lights above. I loved the extra pocket on the side so I can keep my must-have stuff from falling. This seat has lots of options (customizable per seat) when it comes to reclining and I had a wonderful time pushing the buttons to get the right incline and position for me! I love the massage button too for my back.”
* * * * *
How I got the upgrade: Being a Silver Skywards member, I am entitled for an automatic class upgrade in case the flight is fully booked.

“The food and drinks in any business class would rival a decent fine dining restaurant. In economy class, the flight stewardess would normally ask chicken or beef? Whereas in Emirates business class you can select a mouth watering dish from the menu; you have at least 3 choices. Trust me, the food tastes great and the presentation is appealing. After the main course, I asked for fresh fruits as dessert and it came with a heavenly taste Godiva chocolate. Perfect for bottomless french red wine.
Emirates Business Class meal. Photo from Wels Cua
After meals, it was time for my favorite activity during the flight: watching movies until I fall asleep. Aside from thick and comfy blanket and a bigger and fresh pillow, they put a 1-inch thick mattress on top of your seat making it somewhat like a bed. Yes, I mentioned like a bed because the seat can be reclined to almost 180 degrees without bothering the passengers at your back. Ooops, before I forget I need to press a button to activate motorized blinds as well since I don’t want the sunlight seeping through my window while I am asleep. And for a bit of privacy, I can even raise the partition panel in between passengers.
Breakfast comes in several selections. The fresh croissant is superbly soft and buttery while the firm wheat bread is a perfect partner for a steaming brewed coffee. From time to time, I ask for a choco muffin. During the entire flight, they distribute a thick, steaming hot hand towel so you can freshen up from time to time. All Dads love the feeling of having a hot towel being rubbed on their face and neck after several hours of sleep. It also provides a clean feeling before and after the meal. As for the toilet, you share common toilets with the pilot and his co-pilot. Free shaving and dental kits and sealed comb inside, not to mention the Emirates face towel which I love to collect since it can be used by my youngest kid who perspires a lot in school.
After a couple of movies and a few hours of sleep I would be arriving at the airport feeling fresh and well rested, unlike when I travel in economy class where I normally arrive soggy and tired. Another best thing is you would be ahead of the pack when you disembark.”
* * * * *

How was your own first time flying Business Class? Discuss in the comments below!
Connect with me via email thetravelguyshops@gmail.com

Share this post:

Hi! I'm Kevin, a published travel writer, and this is my travel blog about first and business class flights, airport lounges, shopping, visa information and local travel credit cards for mileage programs. In 2017, I fulfilled my personal goal of visiting over 30 countries before I turned 30 years old and I would be more than glad to help you achieve your own #travelgoals too. ;)

Please follow me on IG at:

6 Responses

  1. mydentalcareguide.com

    Choosing to fly Business or First Class is not always an option, and it certainly never was for me. In my mind those plush seats and three-course meals were for next-level travelers only. The ones who were either well off or geniuses with their point programs—something I could only hope to one day be.

    • thetravelguyshops

      Now you know that it’s not as impossible as we thought!

  2. Noel

    I don’t think I’ll ever be upgraded for free. I always check-in online and arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before the flight. Also, I have always thought I’ll only be seated in comfy seats for the upgrade but would still be serve the same economy class meals. Not I know! Hahaha.

    • thetravelguyshops

      Hi Noel! Thanks for commenting. I know EXACTLY what you feel like when I found out it’s possible to be upgraded AFTER I already paid to be upgraded. lol

      I used to think it was impossible too, but now we know. Where there are full, overbooked flights, there is always hope for an upgrade.

      Fingers crossed 😛

    • thetravelguyshops

      also normally if economy is full and you get upgraded, your meal might still be economy IF they don’t have extra business class meals 🙂

    • Noel Cabacungan

      And now to find out which middle eastern airlines gets usially overbooked. I’ll see my chances. Hahaha. Thanks for this collaboarive post.

Leave a Reply