3 Extravagant Flights You'll Never Be Able to Afford

Flying overseas in first class with U.S. legacy companies such as United Continental (NYSE: UAL  ) and American Airlines Group (NASDAQ: AAL  ) is a luxurious but pricey affair -- unless you're a road warrior who can get elite status upgrades. To reward their best customers, United and American offer special lounges, turn-down service, and (in some cases) semi-private "suites" in first class. If you're paying full price, these tickets could cost more than $10,000 round-trip!

Some United first-class tickets cost more than $10,000 round-trip!

However, this is nothing compared with the luxury a few international carriers provide on their long-haul flights. From onboard showers to fully private suites to gourmet delicacies, these airlines have designed their service so that passengers are in no rush to land.

Not surprisingly, the prices for this kind of service can be astronomical. Here are three particularly extravagant examples.

The new gold standard

In the past decade or so, Emirates has quickly risen through the ranks to become the largest airline in the world in terms of international traffic. It has also developed a well-deserved reputation for luxury. The price matches the service; a round-trip first-class ticket from New York to Dubai for early March costs just over $22,000.

For that price, pampering begins long before you get on board. Emirates offers a complimentary "chauffeur drive" service to first- and business-class customers in most of the cities it serves. You don't have to worry about arranging a car service to get to the airport: Emirates will pick you up in a Mercedes.

Emirates is the largest operator of the massive Airbus A380 (Photo: Emirates.)

First class passengers get "fast-track" vouchers to speed up the check-in and security process at the airport. After clearing security, first class passengers have access to the Emirates Lounge, which has a gourmet buffet, open bar, TVs, Wi-Fi, and even showers.

Emirates flies the massive Airbus A380 for flights from New York to Dubai, and it uses the extra space well. First class passengers have fully private individual suites on Emirates' A380s, with seats that convert into a mattress for sleeping. At mealtimes, Emirates offers a seven-course gourmet lunch/dinner. However, first-class passengers can also order a multi-course meal at any time during the flight.

The onboard shower is a unique touch on Emirates A380s (Photo: Emirates.)

If you get "cabin fever," Emirates has lounges on board where you can get a drink and socialize with other passengers. Lastly, Emirates even has two showers that you can use before landing so you can hit the ground running upon arrival.

An Emirates first-class ticket is perhaps the most expensive thing in the air short of a private jet -- but you do get a lot for the money.

The business traveler's dream
While Emirates is rising fast in the aviation world, Singapore Airlines has also developed a great reputation for its premium services. It's comparatively affordable, too! Singapore Airlines no longer offers nonstop flights to the U.S., but its one-stop service from New York to Singapore costs just about $13,000 round-trip. (The plane makes a stop in Frankfurt along the way.)

Check-in for passengers departing from Singapore is especially luxurious. First-class passengers are directed to a dedicated check-in lounge where a Passenger Relations Officer handles the check-in process.

Most international travelers would love a lie-flat seat. Singapore Airlines' first-class passengers get a real bed! (Photo: Singapore Airlines.)

Singapore Airlines also uses the A380 for flights to New York. Like Emirates, it has used the extra space to offer private "suites" -- with leather and wood trim -- for first-class customers. A unique feature is that the suites feature standalone beds that fold down from the wall; first-class passengers don't have to sleep on a converted seat .

Singapore Airlines has impressive dining options, too. The airline offers gourmet cuisine from a variety of the countries it serves. It also has a unique "Book the Cook" feature that allows you to pre-order your main course from a wider selection of entrees 24 hours before the flight. The service may not match Emirates in every respect, but it's pretty close.

The classic
Cathay Pacific has been flying from Hong Kong since shortly after the end of World War II, and over a long period of time it has built a reputation for high-quality service. It flies to a variety of U.S. cities. A round-trip first-class ticket from Los Angeles to Hong Kong for early March would you set back almost $16,000.

As a member of the Oneworld airline alliance, first-class Cathay Pacific customers have access to airport lounges in most major cities across the world. In Los Angeles, the Oneworld lounge has hot and cold buffets, a bar, and shower facilities. In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific operates several lounges with different premium amenities.

Cathay Pacific doesn't have private suites -- but its first-class seats are still very nice. (Photo: Cathay Pacific.)

Onboard Cathay's Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) 777-300ER aircraft, each first-class passenger has a semi-private suite. Not surprisingly, the seats convert to flat beds, and passengers are supplied with 500-thread-count linens for sleeping. Many Cathay Pacific customers swear by the carrier's flat-bed seats as the most comfortable in the industry.

Cathay Pacific offers meal service for first-class customers whenever they want to eat, and it has toasters, skillets, and rice cookers in its galleys so that food can be made to order. Other first-class amenities include organic cotton pajamas and his-and-hers toiletry kits. Cathay Pacific may not be as flashy as Emirates or Singapore Airlines, but it's comfy. The service is attentive, too, with two flight attendants assigned to the six-seat first-class cabin.

Foolish bottom line
Unless you're a multi-millionaire, flying first class on Emirates, Singapore Airlines, or Cathay Pacific is out of reach. Even multi-millionaires might think twice about dropping $22,000 on a round trip from New York to Dubai!

Still, for these prices, first-class fliers do get plenty of perks. Whether it's an onboard shower with Emirates, a real bed on Singapore Airlines, or Cathay Pacific's gourmet cuisine, first class means real luxury on these international airlines. U.S. carriers like United and American do their best to offer an attractive first-class product, but at this point, they're not in the same league with some of their global rivals.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 1:11 PM, Bozo1 wrote:

    All well and good but turbulence is still turbulence.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 2:51 PM, PrudentCourier wrote:

    Does this cure jet lag?

    I just did a round trip to Abu Dhabi to visit my daughter who is a teacher there. 9 hours difference. We flew Etihad non-stop from Dulles. I never did adjust. All you can do is go till you drop, then rest, then go again. 2 weeks after returning home, I am back to normal. I don't think the extra money will re-set the clock.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 3:42 PM, snowday97 wrote:

    LOL, just funny,; here is one thing 100% sure; this writer favors DAL more than any other airline;

    He writes good things about DAL and writes something that could influence bad for other airliners, especially for AAL and UAL which are the most aggressive competitor against the DAL.

    If you looked on the stock chart, DAL is the worst among AAL, UAL, & DAL for this year so far.

    People are flowing more with AAL; Their price gap is nearly $1; It was $3~$4 different just couple days ago. DAL's 4th earning report is 21st of Jan., so it would probably gap little more, but AAL also has their report by next week too.

    UAL had a nice run just few days ago.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 5:11 PM, TMFGemHunter wrote:

    @snowday97: How does this article show that I favor DAL more than any other airline? Delta isn't in the article at all, because it doesn't have first class on international flights.

    Also, I don't base my investment advice on stock charts. When a stock goes up, that just makes it more expensive; it's more likely a reason to sell than a reason to buy.


  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 7:51 PM, mco747 wrote:

    $13,000 - $22,000?

    Why cant I afford that now, or ever? Im far from a "multi-millionaire" but I can purchase that right now if I want to.

    What an arrogant and elitist title for this story.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:26 PM, ColRonson wrote:

    I was thinking the same thing. $13,000-$30,000 is hardly unaffordable to anyone except a multimillionaire....

    i make ~180k a year before taxes, i'm pretty sure i could splurge on one of these flights in my lifetime....

    Somebody who makes $60k a year probably could too if they wanted to be financially irresponsible.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 11:55 PM, 5eagles wrote:

    ColRonson, with all due respect you might want to "splurge" on your writing skills. (i make ~180k) ? While we're at it, there's no shortage of people making 180k, who are "financially irresponsible"! You can come down from your high horse now.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 5:23 AM, tlrp wrote:

    The writer is naive if he thinks one has to be a multi-millionaire to fly any of the mentioned First Class roundtrips. That is definitely not the case. First off, my company's travel policy allows First Class travel on these routes for VP level and above. These employees are highly paid, but NOT millionaires in most cases.

    And I've occasionally splurged on fares in this range for my personal travel. Not often mind you, but for a special vacation, sometimes you just want to "do it right".

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 9:48 AM, TMFGemHunter wrote:

    I guess we have different ideas of what "afford" means. Obviously, if your priority is to take a first class flight rather than buying a house, sending your kids to college, saving for retirement, etc., then you could "afford" one of these flights with much less income. And I'm also not talking about somebody else picking up the tab (either your company, or frequent flier miles you earned on company travel).

    But IMHO, ~$20K is a ridiculous amount to spend for 30 hours in the air even if you're making $500K.


  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 12:50 PM, squigmyster wrote:

    can you imagine paying that much to be the second ones to die if it crashes lol

  • Report this Comment On July 21, 2014, at 6:45 PM, aikhanoum wrote:

    The key wording in this article is "If you're paying full price". You don't have to pay anywhere near the prices quoted in this article to enjoy the travel experiences mentioned.

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Adam Levine-Weinberg

Adam Levine-Weinberg is a senior Industrials/Consumer Goods specialist with The Motley Fool. He is an avid stock-market watcher and a value investor at heart. He primarily covers airline, auto, retail, and tech stocks. Follow him on Twitter for the latest news and commentary on the airline industry!

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