Have you ever been frustrated by the lack of First or Business Class award availability (especially to the US) or the fact that you just don’t have enough points in your account for one of those redemptions?
Premium Economy awards are becoming more popular and are a great option for those wishing to redeem their Qantas Points for more space and improved service.
What may surprise you is that only four of Qantas’ 20 partners offer a Premium Economy product, so in this guide we compare the offerings from Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, American Airlines and British Airways to help you make your next overseas trip a little more comfortable.
To understand why we focus on premium cabin redemptions rather than Economy Class ones, check out our guide to maximising value from points.
How is Premium Economy different from Economy and Business Class?
Basically, Premium Economy should allow you to get through a flight without despairing about how long you have left to fly.
Seats should be spacious enough for you to recline and stretch out without your feet and knees being significantly impeded, or having someone recline into you.
Service should be attentive (if not particularly personal), and food should be improved on that offered in Economy and usually served on trays.
Actually, today’s Premium Economy resembles yesterday’s Business Class, with recliner seats and improved dining options, whilst Business Class has transitioned to fully-flat beds and First Class to exclusive private suites.
Note that Premium Economy, with recliner seats and 38-42 inches of pitch (the distance between you and the person in front of you), is different to Economy Plus (sometimes called names like XL or Space+), which usually offers the same recline as in Economy but about 34-36 inches of pitch.
Qantas: try the new product
Australia’s flag carrier currently operates Premium Economy on three types of aircraft on select routes longer than nine hours:
- Boeing 787 Dreamliner (new product)
- Airbus A380 (old product)
- Boeing 747 (old product)
At first glance, the new Premium Economy seats look plush but also cramped if the passenger in front of you is in recline mode.
Each seat will have a mesh hammock for your feet as well as a pillow that attaches to your headrest.
You can clip a tablet on in front of your inflight entertainment screen, and you’ll have two USB ports to yourself and one AC power outlet to share with the person next to you.
Qantas will be trialling its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on select domestic routes from October before its inaugural Melbourne – Los Angeles flight on 15 December.
This cabin is in a 2-3-2 configuration on the 787 and A380 and sometimes a tighter 2-4-2 on the 747.
If you’re travelling with a companion, always try to snag the two seats closest to the window (picture of old product)
- Sydney to Hong Kong: 45,000 Qantas Points
- Melbourne to Los Angeles: 72,000
- Perth to London: 84,000
All redemptions in this guide are quoted for one-way travel.
- Qantas 747 Premium Economy Sydney to Los Angeles
- Qantas A380 Premium Economy Singapore to Sydney
- Qantas 747 Premium Economy Sydney to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific: widely available on Australian flights
The Hong Kong-based oneworld partner offers Premium Economy on all of its flights to and from Australia (which includes Cairns, Adelaide and Perth).
Beyond Australia, it can be found mostly on medium- and long-haul routes in a 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 configuration.
Try to get on one of the Airbus A350 flights from Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth, as you’ll get an extra two inches of legroom compared to the 38-inch pitch on the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 and A340 flights serving other destinations.
You’ll get a welcome drink:
and a basic amenities kit:
- Cairns to Hong Kong: 42,000
- Adelaide to Shanghai via Hong Kong: 63,000
- Perth to New York via Hong Kong: 112,500
Japan Airlines: probably the best product
The Tokyo-based carrier has its Premium Economy product on its daily Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Sydney and upcoming Melbourne service (from 3 September).
It offers the most generous legroom of the bunch (42 inches) and is unique in that when the person in front of you reclines, the shell of the seat means it will not encroach on your space.
Just try to avoid the last row of the Premium Economy cabin as that is where the biggest concentration of lavatories on the aircraft is located.
Get more information in our guide on how to use your points on Japan Airlines flights from Australia.
- Sydney/Melbourne to Tokyo: 63,000
- Tokyo to Los Angeles/San Francisco: 63,000
American Airlines: a good alternative for flights to the US
AA is aggressively retrofitting its medium- and long-haul aircraft with its Premium Economy product, which offers the same dimensions as its Qantas counterpart.
For now, it is only on Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which we are lucky to enjoy on AA’s only Australian route, from Sydney to Los Angeles.
This is similar to the business class seats on their 777-200 aircraft.
Note that the 2-3-2 configuration is ideal, plus you’ll save big on taxes and fees by using your Qantas Points for an AA flight compared to a Qantas flight.
- Sydney to Los Angeles: 72,000
British Airways: a backup option
The London-based carrier calls its Premium Economy product ‘World Traveller Plus’ and is available on its Sydney – Singapore – London flight on the Boeing 777.
It is also available on most of its long-haul aircraft, including the newer A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner (with a 2-3-2 configuration) and Boeing 747, 767 and 777 (tighter at 2-4-2).
Do note that fuel surcharges on British Airways flights tend to be quite high, so if there is another partner you can fly with, definitely explore that option.
- London to New York: 42,000
- Sydney to Singapore: 52,500
- Sydney to London via Singapore: 112,500
British Airways sister airline Iberia is also rolling out a Premium Economy cabin across its A330-300, A340-600 and A350 fleet in 2017.
Qantas partners that do not offer Premium Economy
- Aer Lingus
- Air Vanuatu
- Alaska Airlines
- China Eastern
- Fiji Airways
- Jetstar (although Jetstar Business Class could equivalent to Premium Economy)
- Jet Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
How to price an award and make a booking
- Step 1: Where to find award charts for key frequent flyer programs
- Step 2: How to search for frequent flyer award space
- Step 3: How to use Qantas Points for flights with Qantas’ partners
A Premium Economy redemption deserves consideration if it represents good value for money compared to cash fares and the award pricing and availability in other cabins.
For a price that is in between a Business and Economy redemption, you’ll get more comfort and better service than in cattle class, but less space than in if you were at the front of the plane.
You can expect that airlines will continue to invest in and promote their Premium Economy products in the years ahead as a compromise between high-cost lie-flat seats and an increasingly cramped Economy cabin.
Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.