Now, Fly Premium Economy

While, lie-flat seating in business class is the top airline development of the moment, the one other trend that is slowly permeating almost every airline company is the concept of premium economy.

A host of international carriers are now offering a cabin that is more luxurious than economy, but at a price that is considerably less expensive than business class. Opting for one of these cabins can mean all the difference between a cramped economy journey, and a relative comfort.

In a travel clime where the International Air Transport Association has reported that business-class bookings have come down to almost 18 percent (due to the global scale-back of business travel) on some long-distance routes the bad timing is a boon to travellers looking to fly in comfort. Because, carriers are now offering premium-class seats at bargain prices rather than see them go empty.

The amenities that most these cabins provide are:

– A dedicated check-in line and priority boarding.

– Free checked baggage allowances.

– Larger, more comfortable seats with enhanced legroom and adjustable headrests.

– An amenity kit with earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks and an eye mask.

– Complimentary newspapers and bar service.

– Enhanced meal choices often served on fine china.

– On-demand personal video entertainment featuring television programming, movies, games, audio books and music.

– Power outlets for laptops and mobile devices.

Some of the airlines offering premium economy cabins right now are:

– Air New Zealand

– British Airways

– Virgin Atlantic

– Air France

– Cathay Pacific

– Qantas

– Thai Airways

– Virgin Australia

In 2007, Virgin Atlantic expanded its premium-economy class from 32 to 62 seats per plane, and dolled up the service with wider leather seats, while Air France is adding a premium-economy cabin this fall on almost its entire long-haul fleet. These cabins will feature upgraded entertainment, food and other amenities, as well as a new seat that swivels on its base. Qantas meanwhile is reconfiguring its long-haul aircraft with new premium-economy cabins, which will have a generous 42 inches between seats (versus 31 inches in coach). Japan Airlines has also made room for the new class on planes flying between North America and Asia and, unlike most of the other carriers in this league, gives premium-economy fliers access to its club lounges.

Polish Airline LOT has joined with Air India, Thompson Airways and Norwegian, in unveiling a new livery and a new cabin interior to celebrate the upcoming arrival of the Boeing 787. LOT’s Dreamliners will have 21 seats in premium economy while Thomson Airways has also shown off its new premium economy cabin with recliner style seating. Norwegian has indicated the new aircraft will offer a 32 seat premium economy cabin, with increased leg room for those long haul flights.

Why it is worth it:

Though these seats can be more than twice the price of coach, travellers find that they are able to save money, since flying in premium economy allows them to arrive rested and ready to begin their travels without the day or two of recovery time usually required after a long flight in coach.

When is Premium Economy a good value?

When the extra cost is 10-15percent more than standard Economy, we believe this represents a good value for the comfort conscious flier. Also, keep an eye out for day-of-travel upgrade opportunities. If an airline hasn’t filled their premium seats ahead of time, they may be offering a discounted upgrade at check-in.

If your employer’s travel policy doesn’t allow Business Class travel, Premium Economy can be a great choice. You’ll have upgraded seats and an “Economy” ticket on your expense report.

How much does Premium Economy Cost?

While there are a number of factors that determine airline ticket prices, we priced out a number of trips on each of the airlines offering a Premium Economy service to give you a general idea of cost.

Compared to booking standard Economy for flights over the Atlantic Ocean (i.e. USA – Europe):

If you book in advance, Premium Economy is generally 85percent more expensive than your standard Economy fare.

If you book closer to your departure date, Premium Economy is generally only 35percent more expensive than your standard Economy fare. The extra cost can be as low as just 10percent more, so remember to ask about Premium Economy if you have a last minute Economy booking.

Compared to booking Economy for flights over the Pacific Ocean (i.e. USA – Asia/Australia):

Premium Economy fares across the Pacific Ocean don’t vary quite as much with purchase time; they are generally 95percent more expensive than standard Economy fares (yes, almost double).

How does Premium Economy compare to Business Class?

A Premium Economy fare is generally 65percent less expensive than a Business Class fare. In terms of space and amenities, these two classes are VERY different with Business Class offering up to 50percent more legroom, significantly greater recline, more substantial legrests and headrests, and superior food and wine offerings.

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