Europe blog and travel tips

Premium Economy: Is it a good alternative to Business Class?

November 23, 2015 (Last Updated: August 25, 2020)
by Carolyn
Premium Economy flights

I think we’re all agreed that, given the choice, we’d all prefer to fly Business class over Economy, but the price difference usually puts paid to that. So what about Premium Economy – is it a good compromise if you can’t afford a Business class ticket but desperately want more legroom and a seat that reclines a little further?

Recently I shared six ways to pay less for Business class flights but in most of these cases you are still going to be shelling out serious dollars so if you definitely want to get yourself out of Economy class without re-mortgaging the house, next time you are flying long haul Premium Economy might be the answer.

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So, what’s the difference between an Economy class seat and a Premium Economy class seat?

The one thing most of us so desire when we fly long haul – a seat that lays flat like a bed – doesn’t come with a Premium Economy fare.  To guarantee that, you’ll have to fork out for a Business class fare. 

If you do purchase a Premium Economy fare, your seat will be wider and recline slightly more than an Economy class seat and you’ll have a little more legroom. 

In most cases (depending on the airline you are flying with), you’ll also benefit from a separate cabin just for Premium Economy passengers – usually less than 50 – and larger entertainment screens.

This Premium Economy comparison chart by SeatGuru shows the seat width, seat pitch* and other inclusions on each Carrier that offers a Premium Economy service.

*According to Wikipedia, “seat pitch refers to the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. For many carriers, the pitch in Economy class is 30 to 32 inches (76 to 81 cm). More seat pitch can mean more legroom, but legroom is also affected by the thickness of the seat back.

To give you an idea of the differences between Business, Premium Economy and Economy class, below is a look at the variations between classes on a Qantas B747-400. These images are screen shots from the Qantas website.

  qantas business class
  qantas premium economy
qantas economy class

In the images above, you can see that there is a difference of almost five centimetres in the seat width on Economy and Premium Economy seats with Qantas, as well as a difference of almost 18 centimetres in seat pitch. The Premium Economy seat reclines 7.6 centimetres more than an Economy seat.

Airlines offering Premium Economy between Australia and Europe

For we Aussies wishing to travel to Europe in Premium Economy class there are only a small number of airlines that offer this option, and in some cases it is only possible to fly Premium Economy on the Asia to Europe legs of the journey.

Having not flown in this class myself, I can’t personally recommend the best Premium Economy airline to Europe, but the following airlines currently offer this class of travel:

  • Air France+
  • British Airways+
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Japan Airlines
  • Lufthansa+
  • Qantas
  • SAS+
  • Singapore Airlines+

(those marked with a + only offer this service between Asia and Europe)

Further reading: 7 cities to consider for your stopover en route to Europe

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) have recently introduced a Premium Economy class option from Australia to Europe which is known as SAS PLUS.  Europe-bound passengers fly with Cathay Pacific from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney or Perth to Hong Kong and then connect to SAS for their onward flight to Stockholm and on to 50+ European destinations.

This route offers the fastest journey time to Stockholm – just under 22 hours – so your final European destination can be reached in around 27 hours.

Flights depart Australia in the evening and arrive in Stockholm mid-afternoon, allowing plenty of time to reach your final European destination by early evening, should you be continuing on.

As you can see from the following image, with SAS PLUS the all-important legroom (seat pitch) is 6 to 7 inches more in Premium Economy than it is in Economy class. Premium Economy passengers also benefit from an extra inch of seat recline and a personal screen that is three inches wider. 

Scandinavian Airlines’ Premium Economy cabin consists of a 2-3-2 seat configuration and includes free WiFi.

SAS seat comparison

What does a Premium Economy fare from Australia to Europe cost?

To give you an idea of what fare you would need to pay to travel Premium Economy, here are a couple of examples:

1) A Qantas/British Airways fare from Melbourne to London via Singapore for May 2018 shows as $3,241* for Premium Economy.

2) A Cathay Pacific/Air France fare from Sydney to Paris via Hong Kong for May 2018 shows as $2,859* for Premium Economy.

*Fares found on Expedia (22 March, 2018) and include taxes and charges.

As a general guide, the price difference between economy and premium economy is around 85%.

Economy class fares from Australia to Europe and return are around $1500 to $2000 so you would pay just under double that to fly Premium Economy class.  This is still significantly lower than a Business class flight which costs around $7,000 to $8,000 return per adult.

With a Premium Economy seat you’re not going to have the luxury of a lay flat bed but you will have a wider seat and more legroom than if you were in Economy class. 

You’ll also likely be in a separate cabin area just for Premium Economy passengers which could make your flight quieter – less passengers means less noise and distractions when you’re trying to sleep – and more enjoyable. 

Definitely some pros worth considering before you book your next flight.

If your budget definitely can’t stretch to Premium Economy or Business class, these tips on how to survive long flights in Economy class will come in handy.

Premium Economy SAS PLUS
Scandinavian Airlines’ Premium Economy is called SAS PLUS. Image courtesy SAS.

Knowing that a Premium Economy fare includes more leg room and seats that recline a little more than those in Economy class, would you be prepared to pay the extra cost?

All prices quoted are in Australian dollars and are to be used a guide only. Please check with your travel agent, airline or online booking site to confirm prices. All information correct at the time of publication.

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Top Image © Romolo Tavani / Dollar Photo Club