I paid $500 to upgrade from business to first class on British Airways. I was blown away by luxury perks like a private suite and massages.

paul oswell drinking beverage in airport lounge (left), sitting in first class suite (right)
I upgraded my British Airways ticket from business class to first class for $500 a few days before the trip.Paul Oswell
  • Before my trip from Sydney to London, I upgraded my British Airways ticket to first class for $500.

  • The 22-hour journey gave me access to VIP airport lounges and the airline's new first-class suites.

  • The upgrade was worth the money, but I don't think I'd pay thousands extra for a first-class seat.

A few days before I was due to return to London from Sydney, I upgraded my $6,500 British Airways ticket from business class to first class for an additional $500.

I'd flown in the airline's economy and business class in the past, but never in its first class — or its new suites, which are only on select aircraft. So, I decided to treat myself.

It felt like an especially good value since the upgrade applied to both legs of the 22-hour journey: Sydney to Singapore, then Singapore to London. Had I paid full price, it could've cost me over $12,000.

Here's what my experience was like.

The upgrade meant I got to experience British Airways' new first-class suites, which have private doors, lie-flat seats, and in-flight entertainment.

The upgraded first-class suites have lie-flat beds and privacy doors.
The upgraded first-class suites have lie-flat beds and privacy doors.Paul Oswell

In 2019, British Airways unveiled its plans to roll out upgraded first-class suites on select planes.

The airline advertised the suites, which are in a 1-2-1 configuration, as having direct access to the aisle, doors for maximum privacy, seats that convert into beds, more storage room, and in-flight entertainment screens.

The most obvious change I noticed was the suite doors, which give each first-class flier more privacy.

After checking in at the Sydney Airport, I headed to the Qantas International First Lounge.

The Qantas lounge is on level four of the airport.
The Qantas lounge is on level four of the airport.Paul Oswell

Sydney Airport has a check-in desk designated specifically for British Airways' first-class customers, and I was one of only two people waiting in line for it.

As a first-class passenger, I was eligible for the fast-track security lane. Once I was through, I made my way to the Qantas International First Lounge.

Door attendants greeted me as I approached, and I made my way along a hallway with a verdant plant wall. I then took an escalator to the lounge area, where the front-desk staff welcomed me.

I was very impressed with the lounge and even got a complimentary 20-minute massage.

The treatment was short, but it was a relaxing way to start my 22-hour journey.
The treatment was short, but it was a relaxing way to start my 22-hour journey.Paul Oswell

As I presented my boarding pass at the check-in desk, I received an unexpected invitation to the spa at the far end of the lounge. First-class passengers can get free treatments, and I was lucky enough to arrive right as a spot opened up.

An attendant led me to my treatment room, which was filled with floor-to-ceiling greenery. The spa offers treatments ranging from massages and facials to eye treatments, and I chose a 20-minute back-and-neck massage.

The complimentary treatment was short, but I couldn't imagine a more relaxing way to begin my journey.

The food in the lounge tasted like it came from a full-service restaurant.

I ordered a club sandwich before my first flight.
I ordered a club sandwich before my first flight.Paul Oswell

After my massage, I had time to take in more of the lounge, including small design touches such as a retro analog departure board. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer unrivaled views of the runways, and huge wooden arches give the space a midcentury modern look that I really liked.

There are also various booths, several dining sections, and quiet nooks that resemble miniature libraries. I was hungry, so I took a seat at one of the linen-covered dining tables and ordered a delicious club sandwich from a server. Then, I retired to a booth to lounge and read.

Of course, the lounge has a full bar with vintage bubbly and wines, hot and cold snacks, drinks, and candy. I also spotted plenty of places to charge electronics. The lounge has shower facilities, too, though I didn't use them.

Even though I was in the lounge during a busy time of the day, I had plenty of personal space. I was so comfortable that by the time I had to leave, I was almost sad to go.

I arrived at my first-class suite for the first leg: a nine-hour flight from Sydney to Singapore.

The suite felt private and quiet inside.
The suite felt private and quiet inside.Paul Oswell

The first-class cabin had two window seats in the front row and two rows of seats in a 1-2-1 formation. It felt spacious compared to the business-class cabin.

The cabin crew greeted me by name and escorted me to my aisle seat before offering me sparkling wine, a Temperley London sleeping suit, and slippers, which I stowed away for later. I settled in to review the amenities and found a blanket, pillow, and extra cushion in my seat.

The beds inside are 6-feet-6-inches long, meaning I had plenty of room for my 5-foot-8 frame. The armrests have leather trims, and the comfortable seat belt looked like the ones I'd seen on car seats.

The inside of the suite was lined with felt, which dampened ambient cabin noise, and since privacy is one of the things I value most on a flight, I loved the sliding doors. The first-class area already feels like a very private cabin, and the doors only added to the exclusivity. Even though my seat was adjacent to another passenger, I could easily maintain my privacy by pulling up the screen.

First-class guests had their own restroom area, along with a galley where the cabin crew prepared our meals. We could also stop there for mid-flight snacks.

The first-class suite had plenty of storage options.

Even though the space wasn't huge, it had plenty of nooks for storage.
Even though the space wasn't huge, it had plenty of nooks for storage.Paul Oswell

I like to work on flights whenever possible, and so I was pleased to find many spots to store my phone, laptop, and books in the suite.

I had my own overhead bin for carry-on luggage, a deep storage compartment in each armrest, and a small cabinet with a vanity mirror on the door behind my head, which is where I kept my passport and other personal items.

I stored reading materials in the left armrest compartment, and the space to my right had USB ports where I could charge my phone, a headphone jack for the in-flight entertainment system, and a power plug.

I could put extra clothing layers in the cubby hole that I later used as a footrest — it also transformed into part of my bed. My seat also had a pop-out cupboard and a hook on the door that was perfect for hanging jackets, a feature I didn't see in business classes.

I received an amenity kit that came with a host of useful travel accessories.

These small amenities proved useful during the long flight.
These small amenities proved useful during the long flight.Paul Oswell

When I boarded the plane, a sleek black-leather pouch with grooming products and accessories inside was waiting for me on my seat.

It contained Elemis lip balm, relaxing pulse-point oil and moisturizer, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, socks, a high-quality eye mask, a comb, tissues, and a ballpoint pen.

The eye mask and earplugs came in handy once the captain dimmed the lights, adding an extra sense of seclusion.

My suite had a table that I used to work on my laptop, read, and eat.

The inside of the suite never felt cramped, even when I had all my items out.
The inside of the suite never felt cramped, even when I had all my items out.Paul Oswell

There are times during long flights when I have a lot of items — such as snacks, laptops, and books — out at the same time.

The first-class suite had plenty of space for my things, with a small shelf near my right armrest and a retractable table.

I put my snacks and drinks on the shelf and placed my laptop and book on the table. I pushed them aside to make space for dining trays during mealtimes.

The table was positioned at a good height for me, whether I was sitting upright or slightly reclining.

I could control the TV screen in my suite using a remote or touchscreen buttons.

I could track the plane's progress to Singapore on an interactive map.
I could track the plane's progress to Singapore on an interactive map.Paul Oswell

I felt like I was in charge of my immediate environment, thanks to all of the controls available to me. I could adjust lighting using a lamp on the shelf and a small reading light behind me.

Buttons just above the right armrest controlled the seat, meaning I could adjust the headrest, reclining angle, and lumbar support.

A remote also controlled the entertainment system, and I could use my fingers on the touchscreen to select movies and view the flight map.

The cabin crew was incredibly attentive and helped customers feel oriented with various aspects of the suite.

First-class passengers had access to free WiFi throughout the flight, but I didn't really use it.

The screen was large enough for me to comfortably watch movies and TV.
The screen was large enough for me to comfortably watch movies and TV.Paul Oswell

With 22 hours to kill in the air, I wasn't planning to work the entire time.

Luckily, the screen in front of me offered plenty of distractions, such as movies, TV shows, music, and guided meditation recordings.

On-board WiFi was also free for first-class passengers. I didn't really use it during my flight, but it seemed to work well enough.

One of the crew members brought me canapés with salmon, prosciutto, and avocado salad.

I started my dinner with canapés shortly after the plane took off.
I started my dinner with canapés shortly after the plane took off.Paul Oswell

Before dinner, a flight attendant brought me canapés, which I didn't receive when I flew in business class. The small plate had smoked salmon, prosciutto, and avocado salad.

A full beverage menu with bubbly, wines, and cocktails was available, though I drank tomato juice. There were five or so options for starters and main courses. I went with smoked salmon to start and mushroom tortellini as my main course. For dessert, I ordered chocolate ice cream, though I could've chosen one of the cheese plates.

I ate the meal on a crisp white-linen tablecloth with real silverware. I even got a bowl of freshly-shaved Parmesan for the pasta.

The meals I ate in business class on my flight from London to Sydney were excellent, but the ones I received in first class were even better. It seemed like there was more attention to detail in the service and the dishes.

About an hour before we landed in Singapore, the crew served first-class passengers a light meal.

I ate the pie with chicken and mushrooms inside.
I ate the pie with chicken and mushrooms inside.Paul Oswell

Starter options were three salad variations — beetroot, grilled chicken, or mixed-leaf — with a choice of chicken-and-mushroom pie or warm-edamame salad for main courses.

I had the beetroot salad and the pie. Again, the food and service were excellent.

The first leg in first class was much more comfortable than my journey to Australia in business class.

I flew to Australia in business class, so I was able to compare the two cabins.
I flew to Australia in business class, so I was able to compare the two cabins.Paul Oswell

I decided not to sleep on the first leg to Singapore since I wanted to sleep during the second leg to London, where I would arrive early in the morning and hopefully be adjusted to the time difference.

During the nine-hour flight to Singapore, I worked, watched TV, and briefly napped in my seat. The crew regularly checked in on me, making sure I had everything I needed and regularly bringing me bottled water.

The sliding doors and privacy screen made a real difference, and it felt like a real upgrade compared to British Airways' business class.

The plane refueled at the Singapore Changi Airport, where I waited in a VIP lounge.

Passengers in first class and business class had access to this lounge.
Passengers in first class and business class had access to this lounge.Paul Oswell

The plane stopped for 90 minutes on the ground at Singapore Changi Airport to refuel and allow more passengers to board, so I walked 10 minutes to the British Airways lounge, which was open to business-class and first-class passengers.

The lounge host told me that first-class passengers had access to an even more exclusive space within the lounge. They gave me a card with a combination on it to enter the VIP section.

Before I went, I used the lounge's shower facilities and changed clothes in a bathroom that was comfortable, but not over-the-top.

After, I located the door to the VIP section and punched in the code to enter the small room with its own dedicated host. I could help myself to hot and cold drinks or order from a food menu with pasta, steak, and salads. However, I wasn't hungry enough to eat anything.

I just rehydrated with some water and enjoyed the tranquility inside this private spot, which I shared with just one other person.

When I heard the announcement that the plane was ready to board again for the final leg of my trip, I made my way back to the gate.

After getting back on the plane for the final leg, I ordered a king prawn as my lunch appetizer.

Every meal I had during this journey was delicious, and I was never hungry.
Every meal I had during this journey was delicious, and I was never hungry.Paul Oswell

About an hour after taking off from Singapore, the crew took our lunch orders.

With so many time-zone changes, my internal clock felt slightly out of sync, so I had to just trust the airline's schedule.

This lunch felt more like supper to me. There were five starters, and I had a king prawn as my appetizer.


For my main course, I selected a pan-fried snapper filet.

My lunch entrée was this pan-fried snapper.
My lunch entrée was this pan-fried snapper.Paul Oswell

There were four main courses to choose between, and I went with a pan-fried snapper fillet for my entrée.

Once again, the standards were impeccably high. I certainly didn't go hungry on this leg of the journey. Though, to be fair, I had plenty of delicious food when I was in business class, too.

The crew transformed my seat into a bed, and I had no trouble falling asleep.

The bed was large enough for me to stretch out on.
The bed was large enough for me to stretch out on.Paul Oswell

By this point of the journey, I was feeling tired. While I was in the bathroom changing into my slippers and high-quality cotton sleeping suit, crew members made up my bed. When I returned, my seat was flat with a mattress topper, a cozy comforter, and a pillow.

The captain dimmed the cabin lights, and when I closed my suite doors and turned out the lights inside, my makeshift bedroom was suitably dark.

I still had plenty of space in the bed, even when I fully stretched out, and it was wide enough for me to roll over and sleep on my side.

With so few people in the first-class cabin, the noise levels around me were very low. The suite's doors and felt interior made everything feel even more serene and private.

I fell asleep very easily, and I'd definitely rate it as one of the most comfortable nights I've ever spent on a plane. Once my eye mask and earplugs were on, I was cocooned in my own world.

When I woke up, we were approaching London, but I still had time to enjoy an English breakfast.

Breakfast was my final meal on the plane.
Breakfast was my final meal on the plane.Paul Oswell

About an hour before we touched down in London, the cabin lights came on, and I woke up feeling incredibly well-rested.

I changed back into my clothes in the bathroom while the cabin crew rearranged my bed into a seat. When I got back, they offered me breakfast.

I enjoyed a fruit plate with yogurt and a full English breakfast complete with sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns, and tomatoes.

After pairing this breakfast with some fresh orange juice and a coffee, I felt ready to take on the day.

We arrived at Heathrow on time, and before I left the airport, I headed to the VIP lounge to sip coffee and read the newspaper.

I spent some time in the VIP area of the lounge.
I spent some time in the VIP area of the lounge.Paul Oswell

We landed at Heathrow at 6 a.m., almost exactly on time. Just past customs, terminal five has a lounge for business-class and first-class passengers arriving from international flights.

I'd used it a couple of times before, but never as someone coming from a first-class cabin. So, I was excited to find out that my ticket gave me access to yet another VIP section.

When I entered the lounge, I found a small restaurant that seats about 20 people and has a complimentary breakfast menu.

Sadly, I was still pretty full from my breakfast on the plane. However, it was lovely to sit, drink coffee, and read the newspaper in a very comfortable environment.

I had a couple of hours to kill before I could check into my airport hotel, and the VIP lounge was a perfect way end to the trip.

British Airways' first-class cabin is more luxurious than its business-class section, but I'm not sure I'd pay the full price to experience it again.

The upgrade was worth $500, but I probably wouldn't spend thousands on a first-class seat in the future.
The upgrade was worth $500, but I probably wouldn't spend thousands on a first-class seat in the future.Paul Oswell

My total fare came out to about $7,000, which, as I mentioned, isn't the full price. I wouldn't usually spend this much on a plane ticket, but between the special occasion I was coming from and the rare upgrade offer, I splurged.

I was also intrigued by the chance to experience the new British Airways suites with privacy doors. Being in first class was a completely different experience from flying in economy or business class, which I've done many times in the past.

The difference between business class and first class comes down to details and individual preferences. The elevated menu options and food quality are notable in first class, as is the crew's attentiveness.

Other perks — such as lounge access at airports, serene cabin, amenities, and high crew-to-guest ratio — made the journey an even more fantastic experience. Arriving at my final destination well-rested and refreshed was worth the $500 upgrade.

Obviously, I can't always rely on time-sensitive upgrades like the one I got for this trip. And though I think my $500 was well-spent on my first-class experience, I don't know if I would be willing to pay full price. That being said, if I see reasonably priced fares in the future, I'd have no hesitation booking a first-class suite again.

This story was originally published on July 21, 2023, and most recently updated on February 26, 2024.

Read the original article on Business Insider