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The Reason You Should Fly Only First Class
 

A co-founder of TheKnot.com relates how he went from a life of layovers and red-eye flights to flying only first class. Here's the debate over whether you should follow his lead.

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As an entrepreneur, you're keenly aware that every penny you spend on nonessentials is one cent you're not investing in building your business. So there's no doubt you devote plenty of energy to negotiating hard with suppliers, thinking carefully before splurging on office perks, and denying yourself luxuries.

This attitude may be extremely sensible, but that doesn't mean there is one cost-saving measure that you should simply skip. That's flying anything less than first class.

A little welcome champagne and some extra legroom might not seem like it's worth shelling out significantly more for your ticket, right? But have you really thought about what that higher fare buys you? David Liu, co-founder and CEO of TheKnot.com, recently related his first-class conversion experience in The New York Times's Travel section, explaining why he thinks business owners and execs should rethink their habits of flying coach. 

He writes:

I'll never forget one of my first meetings with a venture capitalist. I booked the round-trip ticket for less than $200. Of course, on the way back, there were three layovers. It didn't matter to me because any money I saved could be used to hire personnel.

It was a great meeting because she understood how we were trying to grow the business. I told her that I was leaving for the airport at 3 p.m. for a red-eye back to the East Coast. She was really confused because obviously a red-eye flight doesn't leave midafternoon. But then, I told her my flight from Los Angeles had several layovers and I was actually going to get back to New York at 6 a.m. She looked at me like I was crazy.

I remember her telling me that travel can make people stressed, and they couldn't afford to have a stressed-out C.E.O. She rebooked the flight for me and got me a first-class ticket… I've always remembered her advice that having a chief executive who is half-dead from bizarre travel schedules doesn't do a company any good.

Entrepreneurs make a fundamental mistake when they value the cost of a flight, remembering to factor the sticker price of the ticket into their thinking but wildly underappreciating what their time, patience, and good humor upon landing is worth, according to both Liu and the VC who finally made him see the air-travel light. Unless your company is in its infancy or dire financial straits, take a clear-eyed look at the costs associated with economy, and the case for avoiding cattle class becomes clear, they assert.

It's a compelling argument and one a great many penny-pinching founders should hear, but it's not universally accepted.

Other entrepreneurs have highlighted less well-understood benefits that come with flying coach. Jean Hoffman, president and CEO of Putney, for instance, told Inc.com that flying coach has hidden value as a networking opportunity.  

"My most interesting networking realization is that in 30 years in international business, I have yet to meet anyone personally or professionally interesting in first class. However, nearly every time I fly economy on a miserable, long flight, I am seated with someone who proves to be an interesting person and from whom I can learn something. Inspiration does not come in first class or from a consultant with an M.B.A.!" he said.

If, like Hoffman, you're also in the market for man-on-the-street wisdom and serendipitious encounters, Liu's first-class logic may make less sense.

What's your take: Should entrepreneurs stick to coach or upgrade themselves to first class?

IMAGE: Richard Moross via Flickr
Last updated: Jul 19, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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