Flying first class is terribly romantic to entrepreneurs, sort of like a stopgap between slumming in coach and having one's own Lear jet. Like high funding valuations and getting good press, sitting in first class makes it feel like you have arrived.

And all that said, it isn't worth the money. While a coast-to-coast flight on one of the big carriers may run you $400, a first-class ticket could easily go $2,000 or more.

I've been able to fly quite a few first class domestic flights based on smart frequent flyer point management and rare deals, and I was shocked at how little value the average entrepreneur would get if they paid airline first class sticker prices. International first class is a different (and more expensive!) subject, but doing first-class flights within America doesn't quite add up.

Surprised? Here's why:

Meals are hit or miss... assuming you get one. Here's a fact: Unlike the past, not every first class flight has a meal. A few two to three hour flights I took just served up very nice snacks (premium nuts, gourmet popcorn) and a few drinks. The meals themselves are a mixed bag, from cheesy noodles to fancy fish.

The problem is that you could be starving even in first class. On one redeye flight, the older gentleman next to me was sorely disappointed that his late dinner would consist of snacks. I offered my artisan cookie to him.

Perks are available otherwise. Free baggage, priority boarding and other first class benefits can be gained even if you're riding in coach. Every airline has free or low annual fee ($99 or less) credit cards that give you the same perks without you paying exponentially more for first class seating.

Notably, the more frequently you fly, the more likely you'll be able to get elite status on a carrier. While each program is different, elite status means that you've earned benefits similar to flying in first class. In fact, the highest echelon of elite status often gets you automatically upgraded to the highest class available--which means you're paying coach prices for a first-class ticket.

You lose networking opportunities. My biggest surprise was how little connection happened within first class. The average person in first class may want to just get their work done quietly, or sleep, or drink (it's essentially an open bar). In coach, however, you could connect to an aspiring entrepreneur, or a journalist, or even a potential customer. As odd as it sounds, the closer quarters and diversity in flyers makes coach much more conducive to meeting interesting people, a philosophy that some entrepreneurs live by.

How often do you pony up the money to fly first class?

Published on: Nov 6, 2015