Remember that 22-hour hop to London with a smelly guy on one side and the snorer on the other? The flight when you just wished you’d found a way to blag an upgrade or use some of those frequent flyer points that are still sitting in your account? The flight where your tray was left on your table for a good hour on a 747 with no seatback TVs?
Maybe that was the kind of flight during which a genius engineer from Taiwan’s Eva Airways came up with the idea in the early 1990s of creating an in-between cabin for passengers on a budget who want a little more than economy. That cabin has morphed into what is known as Premium Economy, with airlines now offering Business Class wines and larger meals, as well as pillows, blankets, kids’ amenities, noise-cancelling headphones, and oversized personal TVs alongside extra legroom in a wider seat with a greater recline.
Airlines are also throwing in premium check-in and boarding, as well as more checked bags and in some instances, lounge access. Bonus frequent flyer points and status credits are also on offer for a cabin that’s become effectively a cheaper version of Business Class without the lie-flat seats.
From a pricing perspective, a general rule of thumb is that premium is twice as expensive as economy and half the cost of Business Class. However, when Premium is on sale, it’s about 30 per cent cheaper than a full-fare economy ticket with many more perks. Right now, for example, Virgin Australia is offering LA on sale for around $3,000 return in Premium, while fully-flexible ticket in economy is about $4,500.
Time Out’s picks for long-haul flights are: Qantas (particularly the new product on A380s and reconfigured B747-400ERs, which is better than domestic business class); Cathay Pacific (newly introduced in September 2012 and a seat that’s on par with Qantas); Air New Zealand (futuristic shell seats and a phenomenal wine list); Japan Airlines (fantastic Japanese food and service); Virgin Australia (best value in the sky on flights to Los Angeles); Virgin Atlantic (you’re guaranteed a good sleep all the way to London); and British Airways (a brand new Premium is being launched to Sydney in March).