Book premium economy with this airline – this is the closest you can get to business class

Emirates is the best in its class when it comes to premium economy

We’ve all ordered the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu, but what about the second cheapest cabin on the plane: premium economy? Is it worth the 50 to 100 percent increase on economy fares?

The world’s largest airlines would like us to think so. They are installing bigger, better cabins, faster than you can say “upgrade”. The number of premium economy seats across all airlines is expected to triple year-on-year from 4,000 in 2021 to 11,145 next year, aviation analysts Counterpoint say.

But at first glance, the argument for an upgrade isn’t that compelling. Look at the cabin. You certainly won’t get 50-100 percent more space. The seats are only a few inches larger – although legroom is 6-6 inches more and the seats come with calf or foot rests or both, and dual armrests.

However, the cost per square inch calculation changes if there are two of you traveling. Grab the pair of window and aisle seats and you and your companion will have your own row. Nearly all Economy window and aisle seats on long-haul jets come in sets of three, while Premium is 2-4-2 or 2-3-2.

If you sit in the front row, no one can lean their seat towards you and you can get up to stretch your legs or go to the toilet without disturbing your companion. Add to that the fact that some premium cabins have only twenty seats, compared to more than 200 in economy class, and the price increase suddenly seems much more affordable.

It gets better when you consider the other benefits. Most airlines allow premium economy passengers to check in through a dedicated line and board just after business class passengers. The baggage allowance is also more generous.

Now that you’re comfortable, what next? The clue is in the name. Economy. Airlines don’t want to offer business class style in flight, otherwise too many high-paying business class passengers would choose to downgrade. Business class cabins may take up only a third of the space on a long-haul aircraft, but generate 70 percent of the profits.

That said, the service is improving. Singapore Airlines and Japan’s ANA now offer champagne and the wines on Emirates are as good as business class on some other airlines. All airlines offer better food and drinks, usually served in china dishes and glassware, not plastic. In addition, you will be served faster than in economy because the cabin is smaller.

The facilities are generally simple. You get earplugs, a toothbrush, thin eye shadow, a slightly less cheap-feeling blanket and pillow than in economy class, and headphones that dampen sound – a little. You’re better off bringing your own kit. For night flights, I recommend molded foam eyeshadow that makes it easy to blink, Hearos earplugs, and nose drops with eucalyptus oil to prevent colds. Melatonin tablets help you fall asleep and Elemis instant refreshing gel wakes you up in the morning. And, not sexy, I know, but compression stockings do help prevent blood clots.

Premium economy amenity packages are usually quite basicPremium economy amenity packages are usually quite basic

Premium economy amenity packages are usually quite basic – British Airways

Getting in and out is faster and easier because the Premium Economy cabin is located in front of the Economy cabin. Emirates leads here because the premium economy cabin is located at the front of the lower deck of the Airbus A380, so you can use the front left door. All other passengers on the lower deck use the middle door.

The similarities between carriers generally outweigh the differences, but there are differences that can help you make a choice. Emirates has the hippest cabin, with cream leather and wood veneer, and is staffed by a team of cabin crew dedicated to premium economy passengers. On the A380 it offers the best toilet to passenger ratio: three spacious bathrooms for 56 passengers. The Dubai-based airline currently operates 27 premium economy cabin A380s serving routes between Dubai and London Heathrow, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Christchurch, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, Houston, San Francisco, Mumbai, Bengaluru , São Paulo and Tokyo Narita.

Virgin Atlantic calls premium economy Premium, which is much better than British Airways’ word salad about World Traveler Plus. Virgin’s leather seats, softer lighting and more attentive service make the Premium feel more, well, premium than BA’s. On Virgin’s new A330Neo jet, the seats can be charged wirelessly and there is a self-serve snack bar called Wonderwall.

Premium economy on a BA jetPremium economy on a BA jet

Premium economy on a BA jet – British Airways

BA points out that Executive Club loyalty program members earn generous tier points in World Traveler Plus, so it’s a good cabin to book if you want to move from bronze status to silver or gold. On a round-trip flight from London to New York JFK, the lowest premium economy ticket will get you 140 more tier points than the lowest economy ticket.

Qantas is raising the bar for its new Airbus A350 jets, which will soon fly 20 hours non-stop from London and New York to Sydney and Melbourne. The 40-inch pitch (the benchmark for legroom) is five centimeters more than Qantas’ current premium economy and the same offered by Emirates, currently the class leader. There is also more privacy. “We’ve redesigned the headrest to create a more pronounced recliner chair that offers more visual seclusion, which is great when traveling alone,” says Qantas designer David Caon. Caon is also refining “a new special cushion that integrates with the headrest and becomes part of the seat.”

The new chair will promote sleep. “You get a better reclining position, less because the backrest reclines more, and more because the bottom of the chair moves forward and rises, giving you more of a ‘hanging’ position. Combined with the footrest, it looks more like the old bassinet seats that airlines used to have in business class,” says Caon.

ANA, meanwhile, is the only airline to offer premium economy passengers lounge access and drinks from the business class menu on board.

Singapore Airlines passengers can use the popular ‘Book the Cook’ service to pre-order meals, but be careful: if you pre-order a meal, it’s difficult to switch seats if you see a better one that’s free, as your meal will be assigned to your seat. On its Airbus A350 jets from Lion City to New York, it also offers six coveted single-window seats at the rear of the plane. There is a new Out of the Woods amenity kit on flights longer than seven hours. (It is not clear why it has this name).

Lufthansa’s premium economy seats are in the same cabin as the economy cabin, which reveals a complete misunderstanding of the class system at 39,000 feet. All cabins on the major US airlines have leather seats, but somehow look cheap.

What’s the bottom line? Premium Economy is not as beneficial as Business Class because, pound for pound, you get more space and more business benefits than Premium Economy than Premium Economy over Economy. But choose the right carrier for your needs and get the best seats and it can be money well spent indeed.

Premium benefits

Virgin Atlantic: the best for hungry flyers

Generous service supplemented with the best pantry full of snacks and drinks that you can enjoy at any time. You can also take advantage of the expedited security when leaving JFK in New York.

British Airways: best for night flights

Thanks to the generous 20 cm backrest, BA is a good choice for night flights. Book the A380 and you’ll sit upstairs, essentially looking down on economy passengers. (It’s the little things…)

Emirates: closest to business class

Business class is the closest with a luxurious cabin, three bathrooms, premium food and wine. I recommend the Thai pepper beef with jasmine rice, with a glass or two of Château d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon 2012, St Emilion.

The offer for Emirates passengersThe offer for Emirates passengers

The offer for Emirates passengers

ANA: Best for lounge access

The Japanese airline is the only one to offer lounge access and drinks from the business class menu.

Singapore Airlines: the best for comfort

The best seats on any carrier, provided you take part in the mammoth 19-hour trek from Singapore to New York. There are six solo window seats at the rear of the Airbus A350-900ULR it uses for this longest flight in the world, with their own storage compartments between each seat and the window.

Singapore Airlines is a good bet for comfortSingapore Airlines is a good bet for comfort

Singapore Airlines is a good bet for comfort

Qantas: the best for Down Under

The best value and comfort to Australia is premium economy on Qantas’ Boeing 787 direct flight from London to Perth – and soon on direct flights from London and New York to Sydney and Melbourne. After all, who wants to spend up to 20 hours in the economy?

Finn Air Premium EconomyFinn Air Premium Economy

The premium economy cabin on Finnair – Finn Air

Finnair: best value for Asia

With an elegant cabin of just 21 seats on long-haul Airbus A330s and 24 on Airbus A350s, the Finnish flag carrier offers a smaller cabin than most airlines and is often cheaper than BA on routes to Asia, but you’ll have to changing planes in Helsinki.

This article was first published in February 2023 and has been revised and updated.

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