Growth Strategies

A Taste of Luxury in Economy

Business-class benefits on low-cost airlines
This story appears in the February 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.