When First Class and Business Class Are the Same: Explaining Google Flights

If you’ve spent some time shopping for first class or business class flights on Google Flights you may have been confused by the use of first class or business class.

It seems that sometimes first class actually means business class and other times there is a meaningful distinction.

On top of that, some airlines attach some branding to their premium products which can add to the confusion.

So let’s try to clear up some of this confusion by comparing what airlines use to describe their premium products with what you would find on Google Flights.

When is first class and business class the same?

Each airline has its own way of distinguishing between first class and business class and Google Flights does not always use the same language used by the airlines on their websites.

For that reason, it’s difficult to state a universal rule as to when these are the same but here are some of the trends you may find.

Google Flights may:

  • label a flight as first class if it is a shorter international business class flight with a domestic first class connecting flight.
  • label a flight as business class if it is a long flight domestic route made up of connecting first class flights.
  • classify a flight as business class if an airline is using a special branded term for its premium cabin, even if it sounds like first class such as “Delta One”
  • sometimes use business class and first class interchangeably

If you want to know the difference between a first class and business class experience check out this article. That article will highlight all of the different aspects such as check-in, boarding, dining, etc.

But this article is focused on when business class and first class might be used interchangeably to describe the flight.

For each of the airlines below, you’ll see a breakdown of how they use the terminology and how it compares with Google Flights.

On each chart, the left column shows how the flight is represented on the airline’s website. Then, in the adjacent columns, you will see how Google Flights classifies the flight along with the type of product and route the term is used on.

These data points don’t represent every single type of flight offered by the airline but will give you an idea of what to expect.

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American Airlines

American Airlines has both a flagship first class and flagship business class and these are in line with what you will find in Google Flights. (It’s worth noting that American Airlines plans to do away with its true first class cabin.)

The situation where it gets a little bit confusing is whenever you are flying on a short-haul international flight and you have a connection within the US.

The international portion of your flight will be considered business class but if you have a premium cabin connecting flight then that will force Google Flights to label the entire flight as First Class.

This is not unique to American as it also applies to some other airlines.

Another thing that Google Flights will do is they will classify a long domestic route as business class if it is made up of first class connections.

But it seems like they respect the distinction when dealing with nonstop flights.

AmericanGoogle FlightsActual productRoutes
FirstFirst ClassLie-flat First Class (phasing out)Long haul (intl)
BusinessBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (intl)
BusinessBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatShort haul (intl)
BusinessFirst ClassStandard recliner seatShort haul (intl) [connecting]
FirstFirst ClassStandard recliner seatShort/med haul (domestic)
Flagship BusinessBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (domestic)
Flagship FirstFirst ClassLie-flat First Class (phasing out)Long haul (domestic)
First ClassBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatLong haul (domestic)[connecting]

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is one of the easier airlines to understand although there are still discrepancies.

For example, if you are flying Delta first on a short haul international flight Google Flights will label that as a business class flight.

But once again, if you find a premium domestic connecting flight then Google Flights will classify the entire flight as First Class.

That’s not the case with long-haul business class international flights with premium domestic connections as those will only show up in Google Flights when you search for business class.

Delta One sounds like it is a first class product but it is actually business class.

DeltaGoogle FlightsActual productRoutes
Delta OneBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (intl)
FirstBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatShort haul (intl)
FirstFirst ClassStandard recliner seatShort/med haul (domestic)
FirstFirst ClassLie-flat business classMainland/Island (domestic)
Delta OneBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (domestic)

United Airlines

Now let’s take a look at United.

United does not have a first class for international flights and instead the top class offered by United is Polaris.

United makes it pretty easy by labeling these flights Business Polaris and Google Flights aligns with that language.

For shorter international flights you’ll be looking for business class flights and for short to medium haul domestic flights, it will be first class. That’s the case even though these products could be the exact same that you’re flying on.

As for long domestic flights, if there is a connection you will likely be flying on a standard recliner seat and Google Flights would classify that as first class.

Meanwhile, if it’s a nonstop long domestic flight, Google will consider that business class which is funny because the business class product in that instance would actually be a lot better than the first class product because of the lie-flat seat.

UnitedGoogle FlightsActual productRoutes
Business PolarisBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (intl)
BusinessBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatShort haul (intl)
FirstFirst ClassStandard recliner seatShort/med haul (domestic)
Business/FirstBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (domestic)
Business/FirstFirst ClassStandard recliner seatLong haul (domestic)

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines will consider its lie-flat product first class when flying between the mainland and Hawaii but when you fly this between Hawaii and an international destination it’s considered business class.

Interestingly, Google Flights labels premium cabin tickets between the mainland and the islands as both first class and business class.

However, Google Flights does not use business class and first class interchangeably when searching for international flights with Hawaiian Airlines.

And finally, when flying between islands in Hawaii you’ll be flying first class (in standard recliner fashion), although Google Flights will also lump these business class and first class flights together.

HawaiianGoogle FlightsActual productRoutes
Business ClassBusiness ClassLie-flat business classLong haul (intl)
First ClassBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatInter-sland
First ClassFirst ClassStandard recliner seatInter-sland
First ClassBusiness ClassLie-flat business classMainland/Island (domestic)
First ClassFirst ClassLie-flat business classMainland/Island (domestic)
First ClassFirst ClassStandard recliner seatMainland/Island (domestic)
First ClassBusiness ClassStandard recliner seatMainland/Island (domestic)

Why should you care to distinguish between these?

Knowing how Google will classify a flight versus the airlines will help you search and find premium cabins more accurately.

It will be easier to tell if you are getting a lie-flat seat or standard recliner seat if you know how Google classifies these.

Like in the case of United, the labels can be deceiving because you wouldn’t typically think first class would offer a less comfortable seat than business class.

Final word

If you’re like me, you find these labels a little bit confusing since there is not consistency across the board.

I’m guessing that Google just works with the airlines and goes along with what they prefer but from a consumer point of view it’s not always clear what the differences between these when searching for flights.

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