We've all been there. You need to go on a long haul night flight and are dreading the thought of every single one of those 10 hours plus. Tiny seat, where your legs are crushed into the seat in front, inedible food and there's always the chance you're going to be next to that screaming baby, the man who falls asleep and starts invading your seat or the dreaded snorer.
Business class is too expensive (can you really justify paying four times more for a flight?), so you start considering this new class that's appeared to tempt those of us who dread long-haul flights. Do you gamble with premium economy? What is premium economy?
We decided to write this blog because when we were looking for advice on whether it was worth it, it was hard to find any blogs that weren't written by guests of the airline. We had a 10 hour overnight flight to make and then just one day before we had to be back at work. We took the plunge and used our frequent flyer points to buy an upgrade on Qantas. Here's our honest review of the experience.
One of the benefits of premium economy is that you get a dedicated check-in line, so that meant we were checked in within around 10 minutes of arriving at the airport. This was handy in avoiding the long queue for economy check in. It may make less of a difference if you check in online and just needed to do a bag drop as that line was shorter (although we've seen our fair share of long lines for both). You don't get the fast track security passes or lounge access that you get if you fly business class.
Another bonus of premium economy is that you receive priority boarding along with business class passengers, so if you're one of those people that like to get on the plane early and get settled this is a bonus. Personally I prefer getting on at the last minute and avoiding excess time on board but judging by the long queues for boarding on every single plane journey I take I know I am in the minority here!
The service was excellent on this flight. First things first, you're greeted with a glass of champagne, orange juice or water on arrival which is a great way to start the flight. Premium economy has fewer seats in the cabin and it's own dedicated cabin crew, so you won't have to stare in despair as the food makes its way down the other side of the plane leaving the only slightly edible meal out of stock by the time it gets to you. It also means small things such as getting a drink is a lot easier.
The flight attendants were really friendly and helpful and seemed to be around constantly if you needed anything, this is a marked difference from long haul economy flights we have taken.
There were 38 seats in the dedicated premium economy cabin we flew on. The smaller number of people made the cabin feel much quieter which was a definite bonus. It also means that you don't need to wake up 2-3 people in your row if you need to go to the bathroom or stretch your legs. The configuration on our plane was 2-4-2.
So this is the really important bit. The seat was definitely significantly wider than an economy seat and you do notice the difference immediately. It feels spacious and comfortable and you don't feel crammed in. Those extra few centimetres make a big difference. There is also much more leg room, you can pretty much stretch your feet all the way out, this really surprised me, it was much better than I expected.
Unfortunately there were a couple of negatives that I only noticed when I tried to sleep. This may have been specific to this particular Qantas plane, but the leg rest does not come out very far at all so you are in an upright position. For me this made it really difficult to sleep. The seat reclines further than in economy, but still not very much, which was another reason I found it hard to sleep. It's unlikely that you'll get any further benefit if you can't sleep sitting upright by choosing premium economy. My conclusion on the seat would be for a day time flight it is absolutely spot on, large and comfortable but for sleeping the lack of leg rest in particular causes issues.
The food was really good. I am not sure if it is exactly the same as business class or not but the menu is designed by the famous Australian chef Neil Perry and it was delicious. You have the choice of three mains, which come with a salad with oil and vinegar, bread roll, dessert and cheese and crackers. The quality across the board was amazing. There was also a great selection of alcohol, the quality wines included one of my favourites from the Hunter Valley, Brokenwood. Yum! Due to my lack of sleep I was also awake in the evening when they brought around a tray of apples, I'm pretty sure you could have requested any number of snacks throughout the flight too.
Breakfast was again a choice of three dishes, I chose the granola which I wish had come with yogurt rather than milk, but hey that's being picky! The other two choices were fresh fruit and yogurt and scrambled egg on sourdough. Filled pastries came around later.
It's hard to judge on this flight as we were on one of Qantas' few Boeing 747s, something they're phasing out of service to be replaced by Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A380s. The screens are the kind that you pull up from the side of your seat like you would a tray table. This does mean that if the person in front of you reclines you aren't affected but I don't find it as comfortable as having a screen on the back of the seat. The screen was also pretty small and didn't have a huge range of entertainment.
I'm pretty sure that this is not the case on many other planes though as I have had great entertainment options flying economy with Qantas before. The standard for most airlines is that premium economy and business get a better screen, but nothing more in terms of entertainment. It didn't bother me anyway I had a whole series of Serial to listen to!
This is a huge step up from economy, there's no doubt about that. It really is premium. However, the key question is about value. Would I pay to do this again? It would depend on how much it cost. It's a pretty straightforward decision with rewards points as the upgrade from economy was pretty good value (we used 30,000 frequent flyer points each).
However, I'm not sure if I'd pay double or more for the benefits of better food, more wiggle room and priority boarding. If there was a sale, then I'd be tempted. But with long-haul night flights it's all about whether you can sleep or not and if you can't sleep in economy, then you're unlikely to see much benefit in premium, you'll just be more comfortable with your insomnia!
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Have you ever flown premium economy? What was your experience like? If you have any questions or want to share your experience please drop us a line in the comments.