I recently had a chat with a potential client who said that occasional travel would be required to interface with the client.

I told them that would be fine, but that all airfare would need to be business class. The client said, to my surprise, that they usually only do economy class to fly around their contractors.

Is this reasonable? It seems like business class travel would be the standard, as it has business right in the title.

If not, why are the better tickets even called business class anyways?

  • 1
    What's reasonable essentially is a matter of negotiation and bargaining power (as you said, it's "business"). But we do all have our limits: what does "occasional" mean, how long is the flight, it a decent airline or an awful budget one flying from distant airports, can you negotiate an economy+ option...?
    – Nathan
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 7:39
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    If you seriously believe business class travel would be the standard because of its name, I certainly don't want you working on my projects where there are much more complex issues you'd need to grasp. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:09
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    if your a contractor why is the employer buying the tickets?
    – Pepone
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


A handful of companies have policies like "business class is ok for flights over 5 hours (or 6, or 8, ...)". A different handful use business class for their top executives, who can actually work while on the flight and in the lounge, and who make 10 times your hourly rate, or perhaps 100 times.

Clients can be very strange about hourly rates and travel expenses. They generally expect you to follow the policies their staff follow. You're welcome to take on only clients who will buy you business class tickets, but you may find that's more of a way to turn down travel than anything else.

Also, not everything needs to be pre-negotiated. When they say there will be occasional travel you say something like:

I have no objections to that, assuming it serves the needs of the project and I don't incur the expenses. I don't normally bill for the time I spend traveling and as a result I have fairly strong opinions about things like connections, which airlines I fly and so on. Do you have policies you'd expect me to follow? I'll keep those in mind while we're deciding about any trips that might need to happen.

Months later, when they want you to fly somewhere, that's when you can start with "I would prefer airline X" or "I never change planes in Chicago" or "of course I need to go business class." At that time they are making a concrete decision for a concrete cost and benefit. While they are still a potential client, your "business class only" policy has unlimited upwards cost for unknown benefit. Once the project is underway, your "direct flight on airline X in business" request will cost $1000 and it's what is needed to have their valued consultant in the room. It's far more likely to be acceptable to them. If it's not acceptable to them, you will know how important it is to you, and can make your own business decision accordingly.

  • I'd say that's a fair answer that gives both sides a hearing Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 19:31

Is this reasonable?

It's completely reasonable. If you're not willing to fly economy you can always turn down the work and find a client who lets their contractors push them around. Be sure to specify "junior suite" as the minimum acceptable hotel accommodation while you're at it. Good luck with that.

If not, why are the better tickets even called business class anyways?

Like any business, airlines strongly prefer to sell product (seats) at higher prices, and they needed a price tier that was more palatable than "first class" on an expense report. The name certainly doesn't mean that businesses only buy business class tickets.

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    The snark is unnecessary: there are plenty of companies who happily pay for business class, and they don't do it out the goodness of their hearts. Whether demanding this as a condition for taking on an engagement makes sense is another story. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 11:06
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    @jpatokal IMO "snark" refers to a biting criticism that has little purpose other than putting someone down. What I wrote above is more like mild sarcasm that makes a point. You're welcome to write your own answer as you see fit.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:18
  • So how would you describe the purpose of "Be sure to specify "junior suite" as the minimum acceptable hotel accommodation while you're at it." then? Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:06
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    @jpatokal As I just did -- mildly sarcastic. The point is that, as you yourself said, making demands of a "potential client" is a high risk move. Mentioning a bowl of green M&M's would've moved the answer into the strongly sarcastic realm, but I didn't do that. (And yes, I know that there's sometimes a semi-legit motive for the M&M's thing, but you have to sit in First Class before it's an issue.)
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 22:59

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