Put simply, first class travel is luxury transportation and/or accommodation. First class airline flights and hotels offer luxurious extras that aren't typically available in more economical travel options. Expensive foods, rich fabrics, pampering and extensive customer service are hallmarks of first class travel. Standard hotel rooms and coach or economy airline flights are much less expensive than first class travel, as they don't have the same frills or extras.
For example, on passenger airplanes, the economy or coach class seats have minimal padding and many airlines offer passengers precooked foods often still in a cardboard or other packaged container. They will usually still serve economy class travelers drinks from a cart pushed down the aisle, but the glasses used may be plastic. In most first class sections of airplanes, though, real dishware and glassware tend to be used. Airline passengers flying first class often get to choose luxurious meals when they purchase their tickets so that these may be cooked fresh to order on the plane.
Airplane seats in the first class section tend to be larger and much more comfortable. They may recline flat or at least have more reclining options than the standard seats in the coach or economy section. Special pampering touches such as soft blankets, pillows and slippers may be handed out to first class passengers. They may also get to use a private washroom that is much nicer than the bathrooms in the economy section of the plane. Airplane first class travel also often means that these passengers get to exit the plane before those flying coach.
First class hotels focus on pampering guests. They tend to have more guest services, such as spa treatments and dog walking, than budget-minded hotels. While most hotels have room service to deliver food to guests' rooms, first class options tend to have more elaborate dishes, both in terms of the dishware used and the type of meals available. Luxury items such as caviar and champagne are typically standard in first class travel hotels, while in budget versions they may not be available.
Typically, first class rooms and flights cost much more than standard or economy options. The difference may be a little or a lot depending on the actual luxuries available. First class travel hotels also charge more if they've used expensive furnishings and materials such as marble in the bathrooms or silk bedding in the rooms.