Scoring an airline upgrade—be it through credit card points, status, or cold hard cash—may mean arriving rested and ready at your goal race.
The good news is that airlines are trying to “out amenity” each other. “Both business and first-class products have improved tremendously over the last decade,” says Zach Honig, the editor-at-large for The Points Guy, a site all about maximizing upgrades. But not all upgrades are created equal, Honig says. “The service you can expect depends on the length and destination.” Hopping from Atlanta to, say, D.C., is not going to offer the service that flying from New York to London might. As a general rule, the longer the flight—and the ritzier the destination—the better the service. The takeaway? Save your points and pennies to splurge before races in Hong Kong, London, or Dubai.
Here are some tips for the best airline luxuries for endurance athletes:
Sleep: Shut-eye is near impossible in the tin sardine can that is coach. Up front, things get way better. “Most carriers are shifting to lie-flat seats on long-haul flights. All U.S.-based airlines offer lie-flats on overnight, long-haul routes,” Honig says. And airlines are adding bedding from luxe companies too. “American has a partnership with sleep experts Casper, while United offers Saks Fifth Avenue bedding,” says Mateusz Maszczynski, a flight attendant and author of the PaddleYourOwnKanoo.com travel blog. He adds, “Be sure to ask for the ‘secret’ sleep menu items on United, including a cool gel pillow, slippers, and even pajamas.” (You get to keep the pajamas too!)
“United has the best eye masks but not the best earplugs,” says Honig, though he also likes the soft eye masks that British Airways provides, too. “No one airline is doing the best everything,” he says regarding sleep kits. In fact, he mostly brings his own ear plugs.
Eat: The best food is on international flights, Honig says. Still, it can be hard to find healthy options. “I think airlines prioritize indulgence over healthy eating. It’s a special treat, it’s the time to splurge and put the calorie counting on hold.” One tip to get around this is to ask for additional courses. For example, ask for two salads if the cheese-with-cream-and-more-cream pasta dish isn’t for you. Singapore Airlines recently partnered with Canyon Ranch, a wellness retreat, to do ultra-healthy dining, and Honig says he was impressed with how tasty everything was. “It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had on a plane.”
Domestically, Alaska Airlines is going to be your best bet. The Pacific Northwest-inspired cuisine features smoothies, salads, and cheese plates. The night before your flight, you can actually order your meal, so you get what you want. If you’re carb-loading, Alaska also offers ice cream from Salt and Straw, a Portland scoop shop with a cult following.
Distract: Thinking and rethinking about all your missed workouts during long flights isn’t going to help you. Luckily, you won’t be staring at your tray table if you bump up to first class. Cathay Pacific has 17-inch at screens you can tune into while letting a built-in seat massager work out weary muscles. Singapore Airlines, meanwhile, has 1,800 movies, shows, and games on demand. And Emirates wins best for TV with 23-inch screens and HDMI inputs, so you can binge whatever you want.
Lounge: The best perk of flying first class isn’t on board at all, it’s the lounges. Honig’s favorite are the United Polaris Lounges. Domestically, you can find these in Newark, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco. Not only can you get a great meal, free wine, beer, and good coffee, you can also take a shower and stretch out for a nap in a “Quiet Suite.”
Abroad, do not miss the Air France lounge in Paris. Famous French chef Alain Ducasse crafted the restaurant’s menu, and guests are encouraged to indulge in free 30-minute spa treatments. Because walking from the gate to the lounge is for peons, you’ll be shuttled between the two in a sleek black sedan.
And if you’re stuck in coach? Well, at least you’re in good company: We’ll be there too.