Be­tween busi­ness and a harder place

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

PRE­MIUM econ­omy be­gan in 1992 when Vir­gin At­lantic in­tro­duced Mid Class, aimed at cost-con­scious busi­ness trav­ellers seek­ing ex­tra space. Vir­gin At­lantic re­named its ini­tia­tive Pre­mium Econ­omy in 1994; its seats and ameni­ties were re­vamped last year at a cost of $30 mil­lion.

Var­i­ous types of pre­mium econ­omy are of­fered by Air France, Air New Zealand, All Nip­pon Air­ways, bmi, Bri­tish Air­ways, China South­ern, EVA Air, Ja­pan Air­lines (from this month), Qan­tas (from Fe­bru­ary 2008), SAS Scan­di­na­vian Air­lines, Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, Thai Air­ways In­ter­na­tional, United Air­lines, Vir­gin At­lantic, Viet­nam Air­lines and a sprin­kling of other car­ri­ers. Most air­lines of­fer it only on se­lected routes.

On the do­mes­tic front, Vir­gin Blue re­cently in­tro­duced red leather pre­mium econ­omy seats; the air­line plans to of­fer th­ese fleet-wide in 2008.

Stan­dards and prices dif­fer, so check what’s in­cluded: use web­sites such as seat­ to com­pare, or ex­am­ine the air­lines’ web­sites. Seats are of­ten de­scribed in terms of pitch (dis­tance be­tween two rows of seats and the best in­di­ca­tor of leg room) and width (dis­tance be­tween the arm­rests of a sin­gle seat).

Other rel­e­vant fac­tors in­clude con­fig­u­ra­tion, or how the seats are ar­ranged side by side.

On Qan­tas B747 air­craft, for in­stance, con­fig­u­ra­tion in its new pre­mium econ­omy class will be 2-4-2 (with the dash rep­re­sent­ing the aisle). With reg­u­lar econ­omy, it’s 3-4-3, so Qan­tas has taken out two seats a row to ac­com­mo­date the ex­tra width of its pre­mium econ­omy seats.

Price dif­fer­ence varies by de­mand and sea­son. Qan­tas pre­mium econ­omy re­turn fares from Syd­ney will start at $1999 to Hong Kong; $4217 to Jo­han­nes­burg; $2189 to Sin­ga­pore; $4567 to Lon­don; and $2552 to Bangkok. Qan­tas re­cently listed on its web­site econ­omy-class re­turn fares to Lon­don in April from $2474 and busi­ness class re­turn fares from $10,140.

Bri­tish Air­ways’ web­site re­cently listed the fol­low­ing fare lev­els for the same re­turn flight, Syd­ney to Lon­don, in April 2008: econ­omy $2344, pre­mium econ­omy $4038; busi­ness $11,302; first $16,604.

SAS Scan­di­na­vian of­fers the fol­low­ing fare com­par­i­son, valid for travel from Syd­ney, Melbourne, Bris­bane and Perth to more than 50 cities in Europe.

It’s not fixed to any date but it gives an idea of cost: econ­omy, $2039; ‘‘ econ­omy ex­tra com­bi­na­tion’’, $2699; busi­ness, $5885. ‘‘ Econ­omy ex­tra com­bi­na­tion’’ in­volves travel in stan­dard econ­omy class aboard Thai Air­ways or Sin­ga­pore Air­lines to Scan­di­na­vian Air­lines’ Asian gate­way, Bangkok. Pas­sen­gers then switch to SAS pre­mium econ­omy on the longer sec­tion to Europe. Peter Need­ham

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