Is there any data (reports, statistics, etc.) on the percentage of first and business-class airline tickets that are purchased out-of-pocket by the passenger?

Meaning, NOT received due to a loyalty-program upgrade from Economy, NOR purchased by the passenger's employer/business arrangement/etc.

Articles like these make it clear that for medium- to long-haul flights, First and Business class tickets can routinely cost $10,000 or more. I can't imagine many people actually pay the full sticker price out of their own pockets.

  • 1
    Anecdotally: yes, but it's not all too common. I've done it a few times in the past when I've really wanted a good night's sleep (I'm not very good at sleeping in even premium economy). It's also possible to find surprisingly good value fares - I wouldn't pay $10,000 even for a return trip!
    – Muzer
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 18:17
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    Sure, if you rock up to the counter three hours before departure and want a first class ticket, you're going to pay the maximum price. Very few people do this. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 18:21
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    There are many international business class fares that do not cost $10,000 even for a round trip, especially if you’re booking in advance and not incredibly picky about the time and airline choice. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 19:09
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    The way the question is framed is not very useful. North American domestic and intra-Europe premium classes are a very different product from their transoceanic counterparts, for example. Second, while it is possible to venture educated guesses as to what proportion of seats are paid and which are other (award seats, non-rev, sky marshals, etc.), distinguishing between people who pay out of pocket and those who are simply buying tickets that are later reimbursed by an employer is a tall order, and no airline is going to reveal what kind of discounts they give to volume purchasers.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 19:11
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    @JonathanReez you mean 11 million millionaires. However, being a millionaire does not necessarily mean being able (and much less willing) to afford those. Anyone who owns a decently sized home in any of the larger (and more expensive) cities is a millionaire, that does not mean they have the required cash flow.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 23:26

2 Answers 2


There are many ways to get a business class tickets so statistics will be hard to come buy.

  1. Buy economy and buy up with cash
  2. Buy it with miles or points from loyalty or rewards prog
  3. Upgrade with a mixture of miles and cash
  4. Upgrade with instruments
  5. Upgrade with cash through an auction (Swiss, Lufthansa, TAP are doing this now)

You need to specify what exactly you mean by "out of pocket". With option 1,2 & 5, the customer still covers the entire cost of the ticket, just not with a single cash transaction. I've certainly done all of the above at some point.

Even when you buy straight business, you can safe a lot of money buying the right fare class: for example on United a P or Z fare is drastically less expensive than a C or D fare, which is again less than a J fare. $10,000 seems harsh. At the moment you can get transatlantic for less than $3k and Australia (furthest destination) for less than $7k

  • This basically says: impossible to answer. And while technically a non-answer, not possible to answer can be an acceptable answer here.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 14 at 8:13

Some actual statistics, courtesy of the New York Times:

In 2011, for example, only 14 percent of Delta Air Lines’ first-class seats were paid for. The rest were given away or remained empty.

By last year [2015], slightly more than half of Delta’s first-class passengers had paid to be there. By 2018, Delta says it hopes that percentage will grow to 70 percent, which would leave less than a third of the best seats available for free upgrades. Other big airlines, including United and American, cite similar shifts.

The caveat is that there is massive variance depending on the airline and route. American airlines are/were famous for giving away upgrades like candy, while eg Singapore Airlines is infamously stingy and reserves their top of line Suites product for paid passengers only, you cannot even redeem miles for it.

  • Note that the article refers to US domestic first class, which is not comparable to international first or business class. It's more similar, in price and quality, to premium economy.
    – ugoren
    Commented Jan 13 at 14:50
  • @ugoren Historically yes, but the latest generation of US first (United Polaris, JetBlue Mint etc) are quite comparable with int'l biz. As said, it all depends on the airline and route. Commented Jan 13 at 19:48
  • Polaris and Mint are marketed as business class, not first class. The article you quote is about domestic first. Also the price quoted - 900$ - is nothing near the cost OP talks about.
    – ugoren
    Commented Jan 13 at 21:28

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