Earlier this month, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen looked at the best options for flying premium economy within the US. This post came on the heels of Delta announcing a “rebranding” of their onboard offerings. However, many international carriers have been enhancing their premium economy products for the last few years, and today I’ll go through the best options for traveling in relative comfort if you can’t lay out the dough (or miles!) for business or first class.
For starters, it’s important to note that not all products and services are available on every flight and every plane, so be sure to check your specific aircraft’s configuration and listed amenities at booking to avoid unwanted surprises. Winding up on an older plane in a seat with limited recline isn’t the end of the world, but it’s pretty disappointing if you’re expecting a nice meal and upgraded seat.
In addition, international premium economy is generally marketed as an entirely separate class of service, and is often a fully separate cabin. This tends to differ from the domestic offerings discussed in Eric’s post linked above. As a result, trying to quantify the true extra cost of purchasing these seats is exceedingly difficult, since there are so many variables at play (time of year, route, distance, etc.). However, in comparing the various products, I’ve tried to give at least an estimate of the cost in comparison to standard economy tickets for trips from key airports.
Finally, because these products are truly separate classes, they’re typically only available to paying customers. This is in sharp contrast to most domestic offerings, which are available at no charge to many elite flyers (either ahead of time or within 24 hours of departure). In other words, be prepared to pay up! As you’ll see, the additional amenities are often worth the extra cost.
Air France actually has one of the more standardized premium economy offerings, with essentially the same seats on all long-haul aircraft aside from its Boeing 747 planes. TPG Creative Director Adam Daniel Weiss flew this service from Paris to JFK earlier in the year; here’s an overview of what you can expect:
Air New Zealand
If your travels take you to the land of the Kiwis, Air New Zealand can fly you there in comfort with the premium economy product offered on its Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft. Each one is slightly different, so check online for additional details.
While not necessarily known as a luxury airline, Alitalia nonetheless offers a nice premium economy product (called Classica Plus) on its A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft for long-haul international flights.
As the leading Star Alliance carrier out of Japan, ANA has a solid premium economy offering. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the airline’s 777-300ER aircraft, plus its three-class 777-200 and 787-8 planes.
British Airways is another carrier that offers a “standard” premium economy experience: the World Traveller Plus cabin is available on all long-haul aircraft. In fact, as one of the first airlines with this offering, British Airways is currently refreshing the product on its older 777-200 and 767 planes to match the updated versions aboard its new A380, 787, and 777-300ER aircraft.
While Cathay Pacific has one of the best first class products out there (see TPG’s review), they also have a top-notch premium economy product on the vast majority of their long-haul aircraft. Here’s what to expect:
Japan Airlines is another carrier with international premium economy, but sadly, you’ll only find this product on 777-300ER and select 777-200ER aircraft.
Australia’s flagship carrier provides a premium economy service on its 747 and A380 aircraft, giving you some nice options for getting down under in comfort. Here are the details:
Sir Richard Branson’s airline, known for its quirky style, provides a premium economy classacross its entire long-haul fleet.
There are several other airlines that offer premium economy service, but I didn’t include them in this comparison mainly due to the limited routes and/or aircraft on which the product is available. However, if you typically fly any of the following carriers, be sure to check out their premium economy offerings:
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