When it comes to flights, the region I love most is Asia. They’ve got the best airports in the world, and plenty of outstanding airlines that beat the socks off their embarassing American counterparts. There’s also a tendancy to use wide-bodied aircraft on short routes. Between Hong Kong and Bangkok, with a flight time of only three hours, you have your choice of a Thai Airways A380, Emirates A380, or Cathay Pacific 747, among other fifth freedom routes by airlines such as Royal Jordanian.
Outside of major cities, there are some little-known domestic routes flown on wide-bodied jets: Bangkok to Chaing Mai, and Bangkok to Phuket on Thai Airways, both only one hour flights, have flights operated on a 747. In the US most one hour flights are on tiny regional jets, and Thai Airways is flying a massive 747!
Another unique aspect of Asia is that the price premium for business class is quite reasonable. Combined with the fact that you can land yourself in some far more interesting products than the recliner-style domestic first class here in the US, there’s lots of opportunity for exploration. Often times it really does make sense to pay an extra hundred dollars or so to get in business class on an interesting plane.
On those Thai 747 routes to Chaing Mai and Phuket, business class can be had for about a $50 premium over coach. But there’s a trick to stretch this even further: on domestic routes, Thai Airways does not sell first class seats, even on three class internationally-configured 747s. Rather than let the seats go empty, if booked in business class they allow you to choose a first class seat at check-in.
When I was in Thailand last October, I did just that: booked a business class one-way from Chaing Mai to Bangkok operated on a Thai Airways 747 for $79 (at the time), then checked in immediately at the 24 hour mark. There was one first class seat available (2K), and I secured it at checkin. This was my first experience in the nose cone of a 747, and although it was only a one hour flight with limited service, the seat was enormous, and it was wonderful having a forward-looking view out of about 20 windows in the nose cone.
If you’re ever in Asia, keep this in mind and see if it might make sense to book business class - especially if there’s a prospect of sitting in a first class seat!