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A Taste of Luxury in Economy

Business-class benefits on low-cost airlines

When it comes to business travel, budget is the new black. But cheaper fares don't always come at the expense of comfort and convenience, and some low-cost carriers get you where you need to go with business-class benefits. Take a look.



Virgin America

Save Money
  • $30 to $100 one way
  • Main Cabin Select option (roomier coach seat with first-class amenities).
  • Two free checked bags for first class. One for MCS.

Do Business

  • In-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Power outlets for every seat.
  • First-class lounges at some airports ($35 fee for all passengers).

Feel Rewarded

  • Healthful (and higher-end) food and drinks.
  • Touch-screen entertainment system with music, movies, video games and passenger-to-passenger chat.

Verdict
Pros:
With mood lighting in cabins and a seatback food ordering system (no aisle jams!), flying commercial doesn't get hipper.
Cons: Extremely limited routes. Cramped coach conditions are a drag.
 



Southwest

Save Money
  • $15 average Business Select option includes priority boarding and an onboard cocktail.
  • No change fees.
  • First two bags free.

Do Business

  • Terminal gates have plug-in stations and seating areas for business travelers.

Feel Rewarded

  • Business Select travelers get extra frequent flyer benefits and "fly-by" security access at some airports.

Verdict
Pros:
The low-cost carrier with the fewest fees, the most extensive routes and the nicest reputation.
Cons: Zero frills. Hard to feel like a VIP with unassigned seating.
 



Airtran

Save Money

  • $49 to $129 business-class upgrades (12 seats on every flight), available even after takeoff.
  • $15 for the first bag.

Do Business

  • In-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Large overhead bins to avoid gate-checked luggage.

Feel Rewarded

  • Three round-trips in business class equal a free one-way ticket.
  • Business elite qualification is just 25 one-way flights a year.
  • XM satellite.

Verdict
Pros:
Business class is a good value, with plenty of flights out of the Atlanta hub.
Cons: More fees than the rest--it's even $20 to reserve an exit-row seat.
 



JetBlue

Save Money

  • For $10 to $40, get Even More
  • Legroom seats (about eight inches better than average).
  • First bag free.

Do Business

  • Red-eye flights offer free Shut-eye kits with eye mask and ear plugs.

Feel Rewarded

  • Seats are leather and provide at least three more inches of legroom than most other airlines.
  • Live TV programming on individual screens.

Verdict
Pros: Great perks: Free checked bag, DirecTV and satellite radio, extra legroom and unlimited snacks and drinks.
Cons: Few departure cities and a bare-bones frequent flyer program.

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the February 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Taste of Luxury in Economy.

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