Premium Economy – Six of the best

June 7, 2018

They’re all the rage these days, and might feel new-fangled and shiny, but Premium Economy cabins on aircraft have been around for longer than you might think.

In fact, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways invented the entire category back in 1992 when the airline launched a new class in a dedicated cabin with larger, more comfortable seats and enhanced service. Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy was launched to fill an ever increasing service gap between the airline’s Economy and ‘Upper Class’ (business class) cabin.

(Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy. Image credit: Virgin Atlantic)

Since then, and particularly in recent years, airlines everywhere have entered the Premium Economy playground which is great for travellers looking for more space, and enhanced comfort and service without the expense of the so-called pointy end. For airlines it’s a delicate, Goldilocks balancing act: It has to be affordable enough for regular Economy Class fliers to buy-up to the enhanced experience, while not being so comfortable and luxe that it competes with the airline’s own Business Class.

Andrew Buerckner – Director of ATAS accredited Platinum Travel Corporation in Melbourne – says, ‘As a corporate travel management company, we find Premium Economy cabins regularly full. It can be really hard to find a seat at times. ‘Premium Economy sits in a bit of a sweet spot for small businesses who can’t afford (or justify) business class, and also for larger businesses tightening their long-haul travel budgets’, Andrew points out.

His personal favourite? ‘I regularly fly Air New Zealand to Auckland in Premium Economy. At the right price, it is a very affordable alternative to Economy and, for the short flight across the Tasman that doesn’t exactly justify a lie flat bed, it’s the perfect option to fly in comfort with enough space to work or relax’, says Andrew.

 (Air New Zealand Premium Economy. Image credit: Air New Zealand)

Carissa Johnson, Manager of ATAS accredited Spencer Travel Southside in Sydney says that Premium Economy ‘has given travellers a fantastic alternative for more space, comfort and service than Economy, at a more affordable price point than Business.

 (Qantas Premium Economy. Image credit: Qantas)

‘Aside from the obvious, I love the priority check-in at the airport (forget those economy class queues!), the smaller cabin size with bathrooms just for Premium Economy passengers, increased luggage allowance and additional frequent flyer points/status.

‘Whilst Premium will not offer you a flat bed, if you are looking to make a long journey a little more comfortable, it is well worth considering’, concludes Carissa.
For many Australians, their first introduction to the concept of Premium Economy may well have British Airway’s World Traveller Plus product. Long before Virgin Atlantic commenced daily services to Australia (for a decade from 2004), British Airways aircraft were fitted out with a World Traveller Plus cabin, raising awareness of the category.

But being an ‘in-between’ class, there was plenty of confusion about it. Agents at the time will well remember puzzled clients firing a barrage of questions:
Is it closer to Economy than Business? What do you get for the premium over Economy? Is it worth the money? Is it a different seat and cabin, or just more legroom? Are the meals the same as Economy or Business? Or different again? Is there a dedicated check-in? What about lounge access?

Frankly, these are all valid questions, particularly when there’s no uniform standard in the Premium Economy category. Even more so when you note that there’s a big difference between Premium Economy and the ‘Economy Plus’ offerings available on North American airlines – generally a regular Economy seat with a bit more legroom. That said, American Airlines is now marketing a genuine Premium Economy service on its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners on selected international routes.

(American Airlines Premium Economy. Image credit: American Airlines)

You can see why there’s still confusion, can’t you?

Having seen the Premium Economy category develop and swell over the years, it’s generally accepted these days that average Premium Economy seat is roughly 18 inches (45cm) wide, with 37-38 inches (93-97cm) of ‘pitch’.

A word of warning, however: Keep in mind that ‘pitch’ is not the same as ‘legroom’. Pitch refers to the distance between any point on one seat, and the same point on the seat in front (or behind) it. For example: The distance between the head-rest on your seat, and the head-rest in front of you when both seats are upright or in equal recline.

Across the category, we think the best offerings include these essential frills:

  • Priority check-in, boarding and disembarkation
  • A dedicated cabin and bathrooms
  • A larger, wider seat with greater legroom than Economy Class
  • An enhanced meal service (and perhaps even a ‘welcome drink’ before take-off
  • Amenity kit
  • Bonus frequent flyer miles/points

Whilst travellers these days have a better grasp of the Premium Economy concept, we know many of those same questions are still asked of agents today.

(Cathay Pacific Premium Economy. Image credit: Cathay Pacific)

If you’re considering a Premium Economy airfare, take a look at the snapshots below of some of the best Premium Economy offerings in Australian sky these days. If you need more information, as always, consult ATAS accredited travel agents like Andrew and Carissa for everything you need to ensure your Premium Economy experience is just right.

Please note that the following descriptions refer to international long-haul Premium Economy services as described by the airlines at the time of publication. It’s important to note that services may vary between aircraft types, and that products and services evolve over time. This is a guide only.


  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Private cabin
  • 38-inch seat pitch

Additional perks: Noise cancelling headphones, USB and power outlets, Rockpool inspired International Premium Economy menu by Neil Perry, multi-way adjustable headrest, integrated leg rest with fold-out foot rest, amenity kit and additional luggage allowance.

(Qantas international Premium Economy. Image credit: Qantas)


  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Private cabin
  • 41-inch seat pitch

Additional perks: 10.6 inch seatback in-flight entertainment screen and noise cancelling headset, in-seat electrical power and USB connectivity, amenity kit, welcome drink, a-la-carte dining, and self-serve Premium Pantry.

(Virgin Australia international Premium Economy. Image credit: Virgin Ausralia)


  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Private cabin
  • 41-inch seat pitch

 Additional perks: Enhanced Premium Economy menu, amenity kit, personal touch screen, generous armrests, leg rest and extendable foot support, USB and iPod connections, additional luggage allowance.

(Air New Zealand Premium Economy. Image credit: Air New Zealand)


  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Private cabin
  • 38-inch seat pitch

Additional perks: Premium Economy Book the Cook meal pre-order service, calf and foot rest, two USB ports, a universal power outlet, and adjustable reading lamp, Wi-Fi access, a 33cm (13 inch) high-def entertainment monitor, noise-cancelling headphones, additional luggage allowance.

(Singapore Airlines Premium Economy. Image credit: Singapore Airlines)


  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Private cabin
  • 38-inch seat pitch

Additional perks: Welcome drink and upgraded dining menu, amenity kit, fully integrated leg-rest, retractable armrest, large tray table and a smaller cocktail table, 30cm (12in) monitor, USB ports, power outlets, (paid) WiFi access and additional luggage allowance.

(Cathay Pacific Premium Economy. Image credit: Cathay Pacific)

BRITISH AIRWAYS (World Traveller Plus)

  • Priority check-in
  • Private cabin
  • 38-inch seat pitch

Additional perks: Enhanced dining service on china and linen, additional baggage allowance, 10.6 inch personal touch screen with noise-cancelling headphones, personal in-seat power sockets, fleece blanket, amenity kit and hot towel service.

 (British Airways World Traveller Plus cabin. Image credit: British Airways)

Whichever way you travel, there are many reasons to choose an ATAS accredited travel agent for advice and assistance. Find your nearest ATAS travel advisor here and get the best advice and deals for your next trip.

Need help with packing for carry-on luggage or how to breeze through the airport? Read our blog article 6 Tips for Airport Check-in. And if you’re facing a long spotover, don’t miss Long Airport Layovers: A Survival Guide!


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