Most major airlines have introduced elaborate new business class offerings in the past few years. Given the time it takes for airlines to overhaul fleets, the latest seats are just now becoming commonplace on long-haul flights.
The gap is narrowing between the best available and worst available business class seats. Almost no major world airlines operate long-haul services with inferior angled seating in business class. Lie-flat business class beds are now the norm.
The latest and greatest seating products now sport features above and beyond just a horizontal flying position, like direct aisle access, personal storage closets and even doors that form enclosed compartments — once a luxury reserved only for the most exotic first class cabins.
With some patience and clever planning, it’s possible to fly even the most excellent business class seats using points and miles, paying very little cash out of pocket. Many travel rewards credit cards come with introductory bonus points that can just about take care of a one-way ticket on most of these seats.
Finding points and miles seats can be tricky in business class, so be prepared to be patient, persistent and opportunistic if you’re looking to score a seat in these top-notch business class seats. For those with limited time, an award booking service like Points Pros or Juicy Miles can take care of the legwork.
5. United’s Polaris Business Class Pods
The much advertised Polaris seat isn’t quite the brightest star in the sky, but it certainly comes close.
The genius design, which French seat maker
Recaro Zodiac developed in an exclusive partnership with United, provides direct aisle access to every passenger while maintaining United’s dense capacity in business. That means United can offer more business class seats on its aircraft than competing airlines do on the same planes. Awards and deals are thus easier to snag.
A brilliant element of the design: seating nooks are staggered such that, without careening to peer around the seat enclosure, one cannot see any other passengers when in a seated or reclined position.
The seats also feature several storage compartments, an infinitely adjustable takeoff-to-bed recline control and darn stylish table lamps.
How to find these primo seats: United will eventually install the Polaris seat on its entire long-haul fleet, but for now the seats are available on all Boeing 777-300ER jets, a growing number of 767-300ER jets and a few newly refitted 777-200 aircraft. The airline’s new Dreamliner 787-10, set to appear on transcontinental routes next year, will come equipped with Polaris seating.
United makes it easy to identify both the aircraft type and seating configuration on its reservations page. Under the ‘Seats’ link, Polaris seats show up in their unique staggered layout.
Best Ways to Fly Free: United often runs introductory bonuses on its MileagePlus Explorer card, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 miles when new cardholders spend $3,000 in three months.
4. B/E Aerospace “Super Diamond” Seats (Air Canada, American, Avianca, China Airlines, KLM, Virgin Australia)
The B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat is the latest perfection of the lauded “reverse herringbone” style lie-flat business class seat.
These lay-flat seats face away from the aisle, giving each place the feeling of a semi-private cubicle. An improvement over earlier reverse herringbone models, the Super Diamond seat has additional storage compartments, extra table space and a huge foot ottoman.
How to find these primo seats: Air Canada operates this seat on all Boeing 777 and 787 model jets. American Airlines has now retrofit most of its 777-200 fleet with these seats. AA uses the seat on some Boeing 787 Dreamliners and offers an equally desireable reverse herringbone design on their 777-300ER aircraft. Avianca and KLM both use this seat on new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, used to serve transatlantic routes. China Airlines now exclusively uses this seat on 777 and A350 jets that cross the Pacific Ocean. Virgin Australia uses the Super Diamond on all U.S. routes.
Best Ways to Fly Free: With so many airlines offering service on this highly desirable seat, you can contribute points from just about any travel rewards card to a trip in the Super Diamond. American Express Gold and Platinum cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi ThankYou Premier cards are among our favorites for versatility.
3. The Apex Suite
Traveler reviewers have raved about the Apex suite. Even though these seats are positioned side-by-side, a crafty staggared design allows all passengers to access the aisle directly, and each seat is contained within a partially encolsed compartment.
Storage is adequate, and unlike many business class seats, passengers have wide open ottomans on which to place their feet.
How to find these primo seats: The Apex Suite is in use on Korean Air Boeing 747-8 jets and 787 Dreamliners, and on some 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Japan Airlines (JAL) has installed the Apex Suite across most of its long-haul Boeing 777 and 787 fleet used on U.S. and Europe flights. Check SeatGuru maps for configurations with “open suites” in business class.
Best Ways to Fly Free: Since withdrawing as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, Korean Air business class has become one of the most challenging points and miles tickets around. The airline rarely makes its premium seating available to partners like Air France and Delta Air Lines, and there are no direct 1:1 transfer partners remaining.
Japan Airlines business class seats, on the other hand, can often be booked through partners Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, each of which offers their own lucrative frequent flyer mile credit cards. American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program for what is often the most cost-effective redemption on JAL, Chase Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to British Airways Executive Club, and Citi ThankYou Points can be transferred to Qantas Frequent Flyer.
Marriott-Starwood points (you can get a boatload through either the AmEx or Chase Marriott Bonvoy cards) can be transferred to Japan Airlines’ and Korean Air’s own frequent flyer programs at a 3:1 ratio.
2. Delta One Suites (and SAS’ Nearly Identical Seat)
Delta leapfrogged rival United by doing something no other U.S. carrier had ever done: putting seats in a private compartment. Delta’s newest Delta One business class suites come with a private partition that closes to create a small mini-cabin. The suites are diminutive compared to first class offerings on super-jumbo jets, but are certainly more comfortable than most business class options on the market.
Entertainment displays on the suites are best in class, and beds feature wider footwells than any other Delta seat.
The seat itself is available on other airlines, notably Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), without the addition of the partition door. SAS serves six U.S. cities and offers business class passengers free Wi-Fi.
Where to find these primo seats: Delta’s suites are offered on all Airbus A350 next-generation jets, which are used on routes from Detroit to Amsterdam, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, Atlanta to Seoul and Los Angeles to Tokyo.
The airline is already retrofitting its Boeing 777 fleet with the new suites. It will be at least a year before all the 777s are refit with the suites. You can check Delta’s seat map before booking; the suite-equipped planes have seven rows of Delta One business class seats, rather than 11 in the old configuration.
SAS uses its similar business class seats on all U.S. flights.
How to book them for free: The only reliable way to book Delta’s newest seats is to accumulate SkyMiles; Delta has been releasing scant few Delta One suites to its SkyTeam partners like Air France. American Express membership rewards can be transferred directly to a SkyMiles account, and a bonus from the Gold Delta SkyMiles or Platinum Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express could also help meet the sometimes incredibly high mileage awards Delta is demanding for its newest seats.
The published ‘Level 1’ award rate for Delta One suites on the Detroit to Amsterdam route is 70,000 SkyMiles, one-way, but I’ve virtually never seen that price available. Suites to Japan should start at 80,000 SkyMiles, but again, Delta is more inclined to ask a ridiculous total exceeding 200,000 or more SkyMiles.
It may be far more practical to look for this seat experience on SAS instead. The Stockholm-based carrier makes a fair number of business class seats available to the Star Alliance network of airlines, including United, a Chase Sapphire transfer partner, and Aeroplan, an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner.
1. Qatar Airways QSuite
Qatar Airways has far outdone any airline in the world with its QSuite. Designed to replace first class on its mainline fleet, the QSuite layout is so private and spacious it might even render first class options on rivals Emirates and Etihad obsolete.
Like Delta’s business class suite, the QSuites come with closable privacy partitions. They are larger though, by a significant measure. The seats feature copious storage and table space comparable to many first class offerings. A flexible design allows for travelers to confer. By opening up certain partitions, Qatar’s flight attendants can turn eight of the seats into mini four-person dining tables.
An added bonus, Qatar serves what many airline observers consider the best business class meals in the world.
How to find these primo seats: Qatar is slowly expanding deployment of QSuites throughout its fleet. The new seats are on all new long-haul Qatar aircraft, including the new Airbus A350-1000, which is currently flying nonstop between New York Kennedy (JFK) and Doha.
Qatar also serves Miami with a Q Suite-Equipped Boeing 777-300ER. Beyond those reliable routes, figuring which specific aircraft have the suites can be tricky. There are several online message boards that keep up with Qatar’s QSuite planes.
Of course, you can always call the airline’s reservation department before booking if you have any doubts.
How to book them for free: The best business class seats in the world are surprisingly accessible using a variety of points and miles cards. Qatar is a member of Oneworld, meaning seats can be booked using American Airlines AAdvantage program, British Airways Executive Club (Chase Ultimate Rewards partner), Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (American Express Membership Rewards partner) and Qantas Frequent Flyer (Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner).