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When it's Worthwhile to Splurge on Airfare

Stay within your budget without compromising on quality in-flight experiences and services.

U.S. News & World Report

When it's Worthwhile to Splurge on Airfare

On the airplane

Learn when it's worthwhile to spring for or skip a seat upgrade. Getty Images

There are a variety of decisions that come with planning a vacation. Where should you go? When should you go? How long should you go? But perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is: "How much do I have to spend?" If you're on a tight budget, you may need to consider whether it's worthwhile to spring for upgrades and premium-cabin seats or if you're better off flying in economy. After all, in the past few years, airlines have tacked on plenty of fees for extras such as baggage fees, in-flight Wi-Fi, onboard snacks and priority boarding access. As aggravating as some of these costs are, some extra perks and premium seating can be well worth the investment, especially if you're taking a long-haul flight or planning a trip with multiple layovers. If you're wondering where you should save or splurge on your airfare, here are key tips to keep in mind.

Save… on Commuter Flights That Take an Hour or Less

Even if you've racked up enough frequent flier points to upgrade to a more desirable seat, many commuter flights do not offer premium-economy or business-class seats on shorter routes. And though you can expect the aircraft's seats to be smaller than a standard commercial airline, if you're only in the air for 60 minutes or less, let's face it: Extra legroom and added perks aren't essential. So, bring a book, take a nap and enjoy the quick journey. A great low-cost carrier for quick domestic flights is Southwest Airlines. You can often snag affordable flights, plus they don't charge for checked bags. Even better, you'll enjoy complimentary beverages and a snack – even on short flights.

Save … on Domestic Routes That Take Three Hours or Less

It may seem tempting to pay the extra cash to upgrade your flight seat, but it's likely a more worthwhile investment to apply those hard-earned vacation dollars to something else, such as a massage, a memorable meal or a new vacation outfit. Keep in mind, budget carriers, such as Southwest and JetBlue Airways provide comfortable economy-class seats, grant passengers one free bag and even offer a complimentary in-flight a snack.

Upgrade … on Cross-Country Routes That Take Longer Than Four or Five Hours

For any flight that takes more than four hours, you should consider upgrading to a premium-economy, business- or first-class seat to ensure your flight is both comfortable and productive. Virgin Atlantic's premium-economy seats, which are moderately priced, include a complimentary sleep kit, ample legroom, in-air entertainment systems, gourmet in-flight cuisine, complimentary wine or beer and even access to the "Wander Wall," an area available on Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircrafts that gives fliers a chance to stretch their legs and pick up a snack or beverage. Plus, fliers can stay connected and productive, thanks to the carrier's in-flight Wi-Fi capabilities.

Save … on Transatlantic and Transpacific Flights

Flights that take six to nine hours tend to come attached to a high price tag, so if you're on a budget, it's a smart idea to save the extra dollars (or frequent flier miles and points) you would redeem to upgrade your flight for other vacation expenses. Also, remember to choose your carrier wisely. Emirates Airline, for example, has won multiple awards for its premium-economy seats, which afford a myriad of in-flight entertainment options, gourmet cuisine, a complimentary sleep kit (with face cream, socks, toothpaste and a toothbrush) and spacious seats. Turkish Airlines also offers impressive economy class experience, with fine dining options, in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity and even an adjustable footrest for added comfort. Cathay Pacific, on the other hand, boasts in-seat power outlets, touchscreen TVs, a choice of complimentary cocktails and excellent in-flight fare.

Splurge … on Long-Haul Flights

If you're planning a trip to a far-flung destination, now is the time to splurge or redeem your collected miles and points for a comfortable seat. For a flight to remember, consider booking yourself in the ultra-luxurious Singapore Suite (available on flights from New York City to Frankfurt, Germany, among other routes). Designed by French luxury designer Jean-Jacques Coste, the individual cabins feature a sliding door, a leather armchair, a private bed and a 23-inch LCD screen with over 1,000 entertainment choices, from TV and film to music and apps. And the culinary options – think: poached lobster and seared filet mignon served with Dom Perignon champagne – takes the in-flight dining experience up a notch. In addition, every suite passenger receives a bag with upscale Salvatore Ferragamo goodies for freshening up, complimentary pajamas and a robe.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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