Airfare 101 premium-economy-class-blog

Published on August 14th, 2018 | by Daniel Nikulin


Economy vs Premium Economy Class

Who remembers life before Premium Economy Class?

It wasn’t long ago when airlines offered Economy, Business and First Class seating only, on all major international routes, building a socioeconomic hierarchy in the sky in the process.

An Economy Class ticket came with 2 free checked bags, a hot meal and a movie, with seats being about as big as they are today. Business Class was a serious upgrade from Economy, in comfort, service, and especially, cost. First Class, much like today, was literally for the 1% in its general unaffordability.

The fare difference between each class was so extreme, it was often insurmountable, and those used to travelling in Coach could only dream of one day sitting any closer to the front of the plane.

Then came Premium Economy Class, and everything changed.


Goodbye First Class

The first domino to fall was the First Class cabin. Nearly abandoned by the airline industry, it was kept on certain high-yield, long-haul routes only, and mostly by the world’s leading carriers. First Class lie-flat seats became full-on beds, and space was no longer measured by ‘pitch’ or ‘legroom’, becoming basically a room to yourself instead.

Today, Etihad Airways refers to their First Class offering as ‘First Apartments’, and now offer even a higher category, too, aptly named ‘The Residence’, for its three proper rooms. (The one-way fare between London and Abu Dhabi in Etihad’s Residence, by the way, is $20K.)


Business Class is the new First Class

Business Class then became what First Class used to be, offering spacious seats that magically turn into beds, a first-class food and drink menu and superior onboard service, entirely replacing the First Class cabin on most routes. Price-wise, it remained out of reach for most Economy Class travellers.


Enter Premium Economy Class; in terms of comfort, amenities and service, it’s what Business Class used to be, or in today’s world, a kinda-sorta Business Class Light.

While not quite offering lie-flat beds, Premium Economy seats are a lot more comfortable than those at the back of the plane, reclining noticeably further, with a headrest, and maybe a place for your feet, too (each airline has their own seat style). Meal and beverage service is enhanced in both choice and quality, and service is much more attentive. Tickets are more flexible and sometimes even offer more frequent flyer points, too.

But is it worth it? In short, yes, very much so.


Affordable Premium Economy Class

Finally, affordable comfort has arrived!

Economy Class travellers are now finally able to spring for an upgrade much more often than they did in the past.


Small and medium business owners and employees travelling for business have been the most receptive, especially if their travel is overnight or longer than 4 hours. While Business Class upgrades may not be part of a small company’s travel policy, upgrades to Premium Economy can be.

Premium Economy seats also tend to include some precious extras, like in-flight wireless connectivity, USB charging and in-seat power ports, and complimentary amenities like noise-cancelling headphones, eye-shades and blankets.

Leisure travellers, too, have been trying the new class of service, especially if travelling for a special occasion, like a honeymoon, and sometimes, they’re not going back.

Economy Class vs Premium Economy Class

So, exactly how different is Economy Class from Premium Economy? Let’s see.


With Air Canada’s latest fleet of Boeing 787-900 Dreamliners, for example, there are 247 standard Economy Class seats onboard, 21 reclining Premium Economy seats and 30 flat-beds in Business Class.

While the Economy Class seats offer a 31-inch seat pitch (the distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you) and a 5-inch recline, Premium Economy Class seats give you a 38-inch pitch, reclining 7 inches.


Economy seats are 17.3 inches wide, where Premium Economy’s are more than 2 inches wider, at 19.5. For anyone on the larger end of the spectrum, or if flying for longer than a few hours, every inch is noticeable and every inch counts.

On most planes, the Premium Economy cabin is a separate, self-contained area, often much quieter than Economy Class, too.


How does priority check-in, baggage handling and boarding sound? And first access to overhead storage bins?

Along with the above perks, Premium Economy passengers also receive two free checked bags, a choice of free meals and drinks on board (alcoholic and non), as well as lower change and cancel fees, a big plus for business travellers especially.


Currently, Air Canada offers a one-way fare from Toronto to London Heathrow in Economy Class for $357. A Business Class lie-flat seat on the same plane will run you $3524, one-way, where Premium Economy Class fits in between them nicely, pricing at $1042, per direction.

At a difference of less than $700, a Premium Economy upgrade is a luxury many more Economy Class travellers are able to afford and be willing to pay for, far more palatable than the $3100 difference to upgrade to Business Class anyway.

Yes, affordable comfort has in fact arrived, and it’s called Premium Economy Class. Give it a try!



Book online, by calling, or by visiting one of our Expert Travellers at a Flight Centre store near you.  


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About the Author

Daniel Nikulin

Daniel Nikulin turned his love of travel into a living and has worked for Flight Centre in various capacities since the late 90’s. Currently an in-house copywriter, Daniel uses his industry experience to bridge the gap between travel professional and professional traveller. When he’s not abroad with a pen in hand, he spends his time with his band and cat, Leroy.

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