5 Airlines with Premium Economy Cabins Worth Splurging On

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It’s not always easy to tell the difference between economy, economy plus, and premium economy. But premium economy, if done well, offers more than just a few extra inches of leg room. Think of the ideal premium economy as a kind of “business class lite” option, with better meals, fancier cocktails, roomier seats, and upgraded amenities such as dedicated check-in and access to more storage space. 

The list of these amenities—and airlines that offer them—is only set to grow, according to predictions from airline analysts. Emirates, for example, just unveiled its long-awaited premium economy class in January. The trend could even be accelerated by COVID-19, as passengers seek out more space on planes. 

A few good rules of thumb to keep in mind when deciding whether to spring for that premium economy fare: Usually international carriers and long-haul routes have premium economy cabins that offer the most perks, with newer planes like the Airbus A350-1000 and classic wide-bodies like the Airbus A380, Boeing 777, and Boeing 787 Dreamliners typically sporting the majority of the best cabins.

Here are some of the best premium economy seats that are actually worth upgrading for. 

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Australian carrier Qantas’s premium economy cabin—available on the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners and on retrofitted Airbus A380s—is completely separate from regular economy with seats in a two-three-two layout. Seats are wider and have more legroom than coach, but they also feature wider armrests with storage compartments, two USB outlets, an ergonomic headrest, and a foot rest. 

The “pièce de résistance,” according to Qantas, is the seat’s recline function. “As the passenger pushes back in the seat, several sections of the seat shift, not just the back,” says a description on the airline’s site. Instead of simply reclining backward, the seat moves forward and up, so your legs and back are slightly elevated in a more comfortable position.

Premium passengers are greeted with a complimentary sparkling wine, cocktail, or juice upon boarding. Meals are served on custom-designed tableware. Other in-flight amenities include noise-canceling headphones, large pillow, 100 percent wool blanket, and a Napoleon Perdis–branded amenity kit. Passengers in the cabin also have access to a dedicated check-in counter and priority boarding.

Book now: qantas.com

Virgin Atlantic

Onboard Virgin Atlantic’s sleekly designed plane interiors, there’s a lot to celebrate—like the revamped Upper Class cabin on the airline’s Airbus A350 planes with The Loft lounge. Not least among them is Virgin’s premium economy cabin, simply called Premium, which is available on the carrier’s A330-220 and A330-300 planes, its A350-1000s, and Boeing 797-9 Dreamliners. Seats in Premium are roomy: They’re up to 21 inches wide (four inches wider than economy), have seven to eight inches of recline, and up to 38 inches of pitch. Each one also has a footrest.

Premium fliers get a dedicated check-in and bag drop line, plus priority boarding. Once aboard, passengers are handed a complimentary welcome glass of bubbly. Dinner includes a starter and main course served on china and paired with white or red wine. Post-meal, passengers are offered dessert and an after-dinner liqueur served with coffee. Select flights also include Virgin’s signature afternoon tea service, featuring sandwiches, tea cakes, and warm scones with jam and clotted cream.

Book now: virginatlantic.com

Singapore Airlines

Singapore, known for its over-the-top first-class suites, also has a solid premium economy product available on its A350, A380, and Boeing 777 planes.

Seats are spacious with up to 19.5 inches of width, an eight-inch recline, as well as a calf and foot rest. Each spot also has two USB ports and a 13.3-inch screen that comes with noise canceling headphones. There are also individual stowage areas specially designed for a water bottle, laptop, and headphones. While most of the seats are in a two-four-two layout, the airline’s A350-900ULR planes have six single seats available, which would give the experience more of a business class feel.

Premium economy passengers have access to additional meal and beverage choices, including Singapore’s famous “book the cook” service, which is available in premium economy flights out of 26 cities. This service allows customers to choose from in-flight meals created by the airline’s International Culinary Panel and reserve them up to 24 hours in advance. (Note: This is temporarily suspended in premium economy due to COVID-19.) Customers also receive priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling.

Book now: singaporeair.com

Scandinavian Airlines 

Swedish carrier Scandinavian Airlines also has a premium economy product worth cashing in for. Dubbed SAS Plus, the cabin class is available on the airline’s A330, A340, A350 planes.

Seats are laid out in two-three-two or two-four-two formations, depending on the aircraft. On flights to the U.S. and Asia the seats are larger than regular coach, to the tune of 18.8 inches wide and 38 inches of pitch, according to Seat Guru, and they come with a full leg rests and a 12-inch entertainment screen. SAS Plus fliers also have access to free Wi-Fi onboard and order from an enhanced three-course menu. 

In addition to priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling, SAS Plus passengers receive numerous airport perks, including access to a “Fast Track” airport security line (where available) and admittance to SAS lounges, which are in every major Nordic hub, as well as Paris-Charles de Gaulle, New Jersey’s Newark airport, and Chicago O’Hare.

Book now: flysas.com

Cathay Pacific

While Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific’s business class consistently ranks among our favorites, its premium economy on its Boeing 777 and A350 planes is also worthy of attention. 

Set in a separate cabin in a two-four-two layout, seats have ample space with up to 20 inches of width and up to a whopping 40 inches of pitch, according to Seat Guru. There are also full-length calf rests and leather-padded footrests on the A350s and Boeing 777-300ERs, and a larger tray table. Additionally, there’s a separate mini cocktail table, which can hold passengers’ complimentary welcome drink received upon boarding.

Premium economy fliers order from an upgraded menu, are given priority boarding, and have access to dedicated check-in counters at select airports.

Book now: cathaypacific.com

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