Original question from Quora:

How wealthy do you need to be to travel first class?

My Answer:

I don’t think it comes down to how wealthy you are at all. In the right situation, it would make total sense for someone making $40,000 a year to fly first class. Allow me to explain…

There are two situations where flying first class makes complete sense. But before looking at this, it’s important to think about the economics of first class and how much money we are really talking about.

I just looked up a first class ticket from Omaha, NE to Los Angeles, CA for a single person round trip flight. It was around $1,400. The coach version was around $800.

That is a $600 premium.

That’s a good amount of money in some circumstances, and not a lot in others.

Which gets back to the idea of flying first class. When is it worth spending say $600 more on a round trip ticket?

The first situation is as you asked, if you are wealthy enough, say you are making $2 million dollars a year, spending $600 more on first class might be worth it. At some point if you make enough money, $600 isn’t worth worrying about.

I don’t know the exact number where this happens, but at some point your time is valuable enough where an extra 2–4 hours of work on a flight might be worth $600. At $150 billable per hour, 4 hours pays for the first class premium.

But there is another reason why people might fly first class that has nothing to do with how wealthy they are.

Imagine you are a speaker that travels all the time, or a salesperson selling multi-million dollar business deals, or a surgeon who is needing to be someone fast, or a professional athlete who needs their rest and comfort to stay in top physical condition.

All of those people are in a situation where the value on the other side of that flight is greater than the premium difference of first class travel. If a salesperson closes a $60,000 commission and pays a $600 premium to fly there, it’s worth it right?

Or if a professional athlete makes $100,000 per game, $600 is less than 1% of that.

Many of those situations the organizations these valuable people work for end up paying for the travel anyhow and it’s negotiated as part of the deal.

Ultimately, first class travel isn’t about being rich, it’s about getting more value for the premium difference between coach and first class. When your time, skills, and energy are worth more than the cost difference, it makes total sense to fly first class.

At the ultra-wealthy level of millionaires/billionaires, private jets make sense for the exact same reason. A guy like Warren Buffet’s time is worth far more than the cost of a private jet trip.

Warren Buffet knows this, and that’s why he doesn’t fly coach. Flying coach would cost him more in his time/comfort/value than he’d save on the ticket.

Wealthy people understand value, which is why they are wealthy.

-Brian

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