Premium economy …isit worth it?
IF YOU’VE had it up to here travelling long distances in cattle-class economy but don’t really want to spend a fortune up the pointy end of the plane, then there now is a third option ... premium economy, but is it worth the extra money?
Premium economy prices are generally double the economy ones, but half those of business.
I’ve travelled premium in recent years, having finally decided to spend our sons’ inheritance, after many years of being up the back. I’ve experienced premium on five different aircraft, and on three major airlines – Qantas, Cathay and Virgin Atlantic.
First, what do you get for the extra money:
Extra space, bigger seats (that still don’t recline to form flat beds like business), your own small cabin, sometimes your own toilets, far superior headphones (except on Virgin Atlantic), better meals and service, pillows, blankets, introductory drinks of champers and juice, hot towels and priority boarding.
Not all premium economy is equal but from my experience, it depends more on the type of aircraft, rather than the airline.
I’ve flown premium on the 330, 380, 747, 777 and 787, two Airbuses and three Boeings.
The best for space was the Qantas 380 but only by a small margin.
Most recently, I flew on a Virgin Atlantic 787, which was good except that even on an aisle seat, the armrest sharing is a bit close and personal if you’re next to a big bopper.
Otherwise, it was excellent, particularly if you were as lucky as me to get the front row, with its extra leg room a real bonus. Front-rowers also scored portable, soft leather footrests, a big step up from the less comfortable fixed ones on other airlines.
So, for me, type of aircraft is a major factor. I’d go for a 380 or a 787, the latter also boasting a humidity level that claims to leave you less jet-lagged, and bigger windows. I felt better than usual after a 12-hour London to Hong Kong leg, but that perhaps was because I got some sleep, drank a lot of water and ate very little.
The Virgin 787 also had its own premium toilets, unlike the Cathay 330 in which you had to trek back to economy, unless you were brave enough to bolt forward past the curtain and use a business class one while the attendant wasn’t looking.
That said, there was nothing else to complain about Cathay, but, frankly, if you’re paying double the economy price, you should, at the very least, have your own loos.
Another important consideration, obviously, is price. These days you can get a premium deal on a major airline from about $3000 to Europe, a bit less to the US and less again to South America.
So, for mine, at about $3000, premium is worth the money, but not at any price.
Which airline is the best?
Again, in my experience, there isn’t much between them. Qantas came out tops for friendliness with Virgin Atlantic next. The Virgin 787 also has a brightly lit Wonderwall full of nibbles and drinks so you can self serve.
There was nothing wrong with Cathay, who don’t seem to engage the customer as well as the others.
Qantas cabin managers even come to your seat to welcome you personally and provide tablecloths at meal times… again, not a deal breaker but pleasant all the same.
Given that Australians have perhaps the longest flight hauls
of any country, even to get up to Asia let alone Europe, premium gives you a significantly better experience than at the back of the bus, unless you’re lucky enough to snare a couple of seats (not easy in these codeshare days) or pay extra for a bulkhead or exit row.
Not all the major carriers offer premium, the Middle East’s Etihad and Emirates being obvious examples, but many do. Air New Zealand is well established and Singapore Airlines is a more recent premium arrival, so there is plenty of choice.
So, where’s best to sit?
The seating is two on each side and either three or four the middle, with either three or four rows all up. The front rows have extra leg room, but up front in the Cathay 330 was strangely, a bit claustrophobic, looking at the wall not far in front. The 787 had more space in the front.
Back rows are worth considering because they still recline fully and you never have any drama with the person behind you complaining about you putting the seat back too far.
Generally in premium, this isn’t a drama because, even when the seat is fully reclined, the person behind has some room.
TAKE YOUR SEAT: The perks of flying premium economy depends on the aircraft type, rather than the airline.