What Does Premium Economy Mean?Back to Forum
Anonymous18 Feb 2010
People-watching in a British Airways World Traveller Plus cabin (LHR-LAX) recently, I couldn’t help wonder why those passengers were there and not elsewhere – on the same aircraft or even on a different carrier. Had they used miles, had they upgraded after booking, had they hoped that upgrades to Club would open up, were they regulars, were they treating themselves, had they simply assumed that all PE cabins are the same and gone for the cheapest at time of booking, since BA tends to undercut VS and NZ on the route?
Is the fact that bmi have pulled out of longhaul (and midhaul with longhaul aircraft) proof that their ‘business-minus’ service doesn’t pay? Or is OpenSkies final stabilisation and expansion proof that it can? Was the BA cabin to LAX full because travellers paying with their own dollar aren’t bothered about the business class catering and separate check-in that they’d have had on Air New Zealand, when it might have cost them an additional £300 per person, say? Or was it full of operational or paid-for upgrades? Lots of the web-chatter about Air New Zealand’s fantastic-looking new Pacific Premium product seemed to suggest that NZ PE is currently booked by at least some in the hope of never having to sit in it, and instead using Airpoints to move into Business Premier.
Is it true to say that ‘premium economy’ products are so varied in their offerings that it’s extremely difficult for the average traveller to compare them objectively? Are any of them really engaging products in their own right, or are they simply a sales and marketing tool for the airlines, appealing more to the hopes rather than the expectations of some customers? Is United’s Economy Plus in any way comparable to Air France Premium Voyageur? How does the average customer immediately spot the difference between KLM Economy Comfort and Virgin Premium Economy?
So, I guess that I’m interested to know what other BT readers think. Do you actually fly (as opposed to book) premium economy? What kind of premium economy product do you fly and why? Who pays? Are you forced into it because your employer has banned business, even though there’s little sensitivity to fare actually paid? Do you book it in the hope that you’ll never actually have to fly it? What’s the ‘killer’ differentiator that makes you put your hand in your own pocket and fork out over economy? What’s the longest (or shortest) sector length that you (would) fly PE? And how good would it have to be for you to risk downgrading from business?
Personally, I think I fall into the category that says I only travel PE when I’m compelled to. If I’m paying and I want cheap, I’ll go economy. If I want to treat myself and/or it’s a very long way, I’ll go flat bed. And if that means switching carriers to do so, then I probably will within reason.18 Feb 2010
Personally I would pay the small amount extra to travel PE with VS if I was wanting a cheap trip, might not be as cheap as Y but the VS PE has a very nice seat, ok food on china and that feeling that you’re not in a cattle truck and are being looked after a bit better.
BA WT+ I probably wouldn’t pay for as it just doesn’t seem worth the extra, like you Continentalclub, I would just opt for a cheapo WT seat or pay the extra for NCW. On a last minute trip last July to New York, WT was going to be around £600, WT+ around £850 but NCW only £1099, needless to say I was sat upstairs sipping my champagne glad I’d paid the few extra hundred for NCW as we pushed back from T5.
On slight side note, from my observations of my fellow travellers in VS PE, passengers need to be realistic about the service they will get in PE, some less regular travellers than us seem to be under the misapprehension that PE is the same as J and demand that level of attention from cabin crew, people need to remember that if you really want to be a diva and have every whim pandered to then BA FIRST is for you, but don’t expect PE to be like that or even close – Pam Ann would set them straight that’s for sure!18 Feb 2010
Philosophical piece, this – I like it.
Perhaps the bottom of the pile in PE options is that recently introduced by KLM. Its described as follows by the airline:
“Get comfortable on intercontinental flights! In our Economy Comfort zone you have extra legroom (up to 86-89 cm/34-35 inch) and more recline (15-18 cm/6-7 inch). What’s more, the zone is located in the front of the aircraft, so upon arrival you’ll be among the first to be on your way. The service in the Economy Comfort-zone is of the same excellent quality as in Economy Class”.
As a Platinum Card holder, I can access this for nothing over my basic economy ticket and, at that, its certainly worth the extra comfort of the seat. The rest of the world has to pay between €80 and €150 for access to these seats, certainly not the premium charged by BA, VS and the like for PE. If you are tall or travel badly in Economy, this is probably money well invested. My one experience of this seating was at the time it was first introduced and came as unbooked surprise for us, three family members travelling together. Leg room was good and the cabin is located in the narrow bit by the galley in the 747 so reasonably quiet.18 Feb 2010
When I fly for work I can fly in business. When I fly for fun or with wife I buy premier economy if it is available. For example, last trip to US was to Washington. I bought a virgin economy ticket and then ‘upgraded.’ to PE. The cost of upgrading for 2 people return was around GBP600. Virgin premier is much nicer than BA, although the food is terrible.18 Feb 2010
Over in Australia at the mo, and here VAustralia are about to start flights to JNB, & already serving LAX, & Phuket in thiland.
they are offering a nice premium economy with a stand up bar, different to VS, & their business class is also mighty good. New 777-300ER’s.
Clearly, First class is fading, Qantas are about to reduce services for it. Perhaps the whole PE issue is driven now by finances, the disposable income of personal travellers, & business travel has i believe changed for ever.
Video conferencing is thriving, Airlines i see all over the world cant raise the revenue or you see premium cabins mostly personal travellers now.PE is the Airlines idea of still making money, but responding to the world market. MH are planning it, Eva Air has a very luxurious version has for years, Air Asia have a version of it, & VirginBlue domestic travel in Oz have it also.
In Asia / Oz, its seen as more luxurious for that little bit extra, & if you were travelling n paying yourself, say a trip Oz to South Africa, you would pay more for the extra set, space, ability to walk up n have a drink at the stand up bar, better food, service. Certainly here, the market is taking it.
Also a loyal KLM gold card holder, but their version is not very practical, as these enhanced areas cant be reserved prior to check in, & knowing one steward for KLM, he says the food is no different, service etc, AF have made a bit more of an effort, with theirs, a different business model, be interesting which model the other airlines adopt, such as MH coming up. they have plenty examples to see how it fits & sells.
Then course there is the FF miles you earn. On my VS Gold card, you get almost as many in PE as you do Business, 125% /150%. The VS Amex card i recently got, offers 2 PE upgrade vouchers a year.
I wouldn’t say no to these, especially as the fares are generally 2-3 x the economy fare. JNB or HKG, or DXB would be a compromise to paying much personally for a business seat. They can be worth over £1,000 each!
I am happier to fly down to Sydney in 3 sectors PE & pay much less, than 2 sectors in Business, or economy, that is very hard going.
These days, an interesting combination of PE Airlines, can create great stopovers, Middle East Asia, different gateways out & back so more flexibility, & as a FF you stand a better chance of upgrading for a nominal amount if you ask when you check in.
Needless to say, perhaps the PE cabin will be the only source for some to keep the Gold cards going, as 25% of economy miles wont get you anywhere these days.
However, only a few years back, fares down to Oz in Business were almost the same as PE are now.
Its an area for growth, aimed at the more lucrative market of Personal self paying travellers, & this side of the world, its working very well, different to Europe.
It is a reality check to some on BT who never pay their own fares, & supercilious about their travel experiences, at the same time deploring crews that make or break their travel experience. Travel in your own time, paid for, has a very different value & pleasure.18 Feb 2010
I once flew premium economy on business because it was a last minute flight, it was medium haul (LHR-CAI) and C class was full (and the alternatives too expensive).
However privately I fly premium economy primarily as a staging post to upgrade, because I can tolerate premium economy but not economy.
I simply don’t fly long haul in economy class anymore, I can’t stand it. It’s an absolute nightmare. I want the legroom, the recline and the smaller cabin. Admittedly, most of my PE flying has been on NZ because I have NZ status, so have almost always upgraded to C class (but I wont necessarily on long daylight segments like HKG-LHR or LHR-LAX). However, I go business if the price differential is low, which is often is nowadays.
In essence for me, I will tolerate economy for 4-5 hours top, premium economy will take me for one long haul hop (up to 13 hours), beyond that I do business whether by upgrade or paying.
Of course those with long memories will see what’s happening being a replication of 25-30 years ago, when business class looked a lot like what premium economy is now looking like. Business class is now superior (in hard product) to the first class of the past.18 Feb 2010
I agree gmartin, the VS PE food is terrible, well I think my biggest complaint is that the portions are tiny, smaller than Y it seems, I left a recent flight to New York famished and had to stop at Starbucks in arrivals to get a snack before I could face the ride into the city. That said VS Upper is probably the worst J food I’ve had too, I tend to stuff myself at the Clubhouse (where the food is great) and then just snack on board.18 Feb 2010
Interesting thread. PE is the new business business class i.e. an intermediate class, offering service and price somewhere between a hideously expensive class and a just plain hideous class. NZ, JAL and so on are really upping the game when it comes to PE and turning it into business class without the flat beds. It will be interesting to see what Cathay comes out with.
BA is now suffering from being first to market i.e is being leapfrogged. BA’s WT+ is definitely a slightly enhanced economy class (in fact as far as I can see, its most popular use is as a way of doing an MFU into Club Word)18 Feb 2010
ScottWilson: your CAI example illustrates a scenario that I suppose I hadn’t thought about – namely that when the C cabin gets full or prohibitively expensive close to departure, the airline still has a product to offer that’s not bare-bones economy.
So, on that basis, PE could indeed be designed to steal some business from J, but if you’re loyal to a particular carrier (or its schedules etc) then it might be stealing from a competitor’s J rather than its own. Interesting!
Thinking about it though, would you have booked World Traveller Plus if it had been akin to KLM Economy Comfort/United Economy Plus? Or would that have been too much of a drop and you’d have looked again at other carriers then?19 Feb 2010
Thankfully when flying work I get to go Business Class so I don’t have to worry about PE and on short flights (less than 4 hours) its not really needed.
When traveling for leisure I will either use points for business class or pay for PE with the aim of either up grading (for less points) or at least securing extra leg room should an up grade not be available
The additional touches some airlines provide in PE are useful but as I’m tall, flying in economy on any flight over 4/5 hours is just not practical and with most airlines trying to book the exit or bulk head seat is practically impossible!
Hence for me its all about leg room19 Feb 2010
I used to fly regularly with EVA to Bangkok in PE ever since it was first introduced in around 1990. As I was flying for leisure it was my money and I felt the extra for a 11 hour flight was well worth it. For a little extra over economy it was a great product with good food and 38 inch leg room. i would recommend it to anyone over economy.
I have now traded up to business since the introduction of beds in Business.19 Feb 2010
Good thread CC.
I have only ever flown PE once with BA about 4 years ago from AUH-LHR (red-eye) which ranks as probably one of my worst flying experiences ever. I was flying last minute for leisure and the cost of CW was astronomical so I thought I would be sensible by avoiding cattle and saving some money. Admittedly, notwithstanding the cost implications, I did try to upgrade at check-in although the flight was full.
I left the flight thinking ‘never again’.
In my experience, it was the worst of all worlds and the best of none. The food, service, seat etc were not conducive to an enjoyable flying experience and therefore IMHO not worth the additional over the WT price.
Admittedly my experiences were based on a Westbound red-eye, but this experience alone has put me off PE. That said, when looking back from the bar on VS (A340-600) into PE, it looks more than adequate for a day sector, although I cannot comment on the service / food etc. But then I always think that anyone that ‘flys for the food’ needs their head checking (I rarely if ever eat on flights) and whilst all airline food is bad, the poster who says that VS food in J class is amongst the worst is bang on the money!19 Feb 2010
Continentalclub: For LHR-CAI then a basic Y+ would have been ok, as it isn’t long enough for me to care. However, had it been LHR-HKG or LAX, then it would be a different story. The other C options at the time doubled the trip time (being indirect), which I preferred to avoid, except for MS which at the time was best avoided in every class.19 Feb 2010
Just to add to this debate, we published a look at the future of premium economy in our February issue (written by our consumer editor Alex McWhirter), which can be seen at:
In addition Alex has written a focus piece looking at the implications of the advances in premium economy on other classes of travel, in particular denser seating in economy. This feature can be read in our forthcoming March edition, which can be subscribed to here:19 Feb 2010