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Travel Tuesday Top 10: International Premium Economy Seats And How You Can Use Miles To Fly Them

July 17, 2012
11 min read
Travel Tuesday Top 10: International Premium Economy Seats And How You Can Use Miles To Fly Them
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Premium Economy has come a long way since it was invented by Virgin Atlantic back in 1992. On many airlines today, it comes close to business class, with upgraded service, meals and entertainment options. The one drawback is that you often can't redeem miles from US programs on their alliance partners for this class of service. However, if you have particular awards in mind, you can always transfer miles from popular programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest to your program of choice for the premium economy award you want on your airline of choice.

1. Air New Zealand: Along with the "SkyCouches" it installed in its new 777-300ER's, Air New Zealand also completely reconceived its premium economy offerings with white-leather pod-like seats stretching across the cabin in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. These sleek seats resemble race car cockpits and are 22 inches wide, with plenty of pitch and hard shells, so when your neighbors recline, they don't intrude upon your space. Seats in this class also have personal 10.6-inch entertainment screens, reading lights, individual power outlets and are treated to a special menu a step up from coach. The seats on either side are great for privacy, while the column down the middle of the plane where the seats angle towards one another are ideal for pairs traveling together. Check out their award chart to see how many Airpoints Dollars you will need to redeem for Premium Economy. A one-way flight from North America to New Zealand is 1,490 Airpoints compared to Economy which is 1,000 Airpoints, so about a 50% increase over Economy. Passengers can also upgrade from paid coach tickets through their OneUp Upgrade Program where you can bid with your Airpoints Dollars what you're willing to pay to upgrade and then find out if it was accepted. Air New Zealand is a 65:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest.

2. Virgin Atlantic: As the pioneer in premium economy, Virgin Atlantic continues to set the bar high. It's cushy seats have a full 38 inches in pitch and are 21 inches wide, with personal entertainment screens and in-seat power plugs in almost all its planes. Virgin Atlantic’s mileage program, Flying Club, uses a distance-based formula to calculate how many miles you need to fly between the UK and certain cities in the US that you can find here. A Premium Economy ticket from New York to the UK would cost 55,000 miles, while one from Chicago would cost 60,000 miles, and one from the west coast including Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost 70,000 miles, and in addition to all of these there would be a charge of about $770 in taxes and fees. You can only upgrade from economy to premium economy on paid tickets in the W, S, Y, B, R and L fare classes, again based on which city you’re flying from. From New York, Boston, Chicago or DC, you’d pay 10,000 miles; from Miami or Orlando and the west coast, it would be 12,500. On all of these, there will be an additional charge of $242.70 in taxes and fees. These upgrades can also be done at the airport by asking an agent to check the availability of reward seats in the cabin you want to move up to. Virgin Atlantic is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

3. Turkish Airlines: Available only on the airline's 777-300ER's in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration, Turkish Airlines' premium economy product is nonetheless trendsetting, with a spacious 46 inches in pitch and just under 20 inches wide. Seats also have personal entertainment screens and AC power ports.
Having a seat in this section can definitely make that 10-hour flight go by faster. Award travel from the North America to Turkey starts at 60,000 miles roundtrip for Comfort Class (the name of Turkish Airlines’ premium economy) compared to 50,000 for economy—so only a 10,000 mile upcharge—based on the Miles & Smiles (the airline’s mileage program) award chart. The mileage cost to upgrade a ticket is based on both distance and whether you paid discounted fare versus a full fare. To upgrade a discounted economy ticket in E, Q, T and L fare classes from the US to Turkey would cost 22,500-30,000 miles depending on low versus high season, which you can also find on the award page, and to upgrade a full-fare economy ticket in Y B, M, K, H or S classes would cost either 17,500 or 22,500 miles depending on the season.

4. Cathay Pacific: There's nothing to complain about with Cathay's spacious new premium economy seats (even the green color is kind of attractive). These seats not only feature 38 inches of pitch and 19.5 inches of width, but also have extra cushioning, leg rests, personalized 9-inch entertainment screens (well, those are kind of small) and personal power ports. The airline's new premium economy class is being progressively introduced on their Boeing 777-300ER, 747-400, and selected Airbus A330-300 and A340-300 aircraft. A round trip ticket from LAX-Hong Kong is normally 60,000 miles for economy, but premium economy would cost 72,000 miles, so only 6,000 miles more each way. You can use the airline’s award calculator to determine how many miles are needed for both upgrading from a paid economy ticket as well as just to redeem for a Premium Economy ticket. Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

5. British Airways: Though smaller than some others on this list, at just 18.5 inches wide and 38 inches of pitch, these seats are still quite cushy compared to economy, with leg rests, a three-course meal service (same food as business class), an amenity kit that includes cushion, blanket and amenity kit including earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, flight socks, and eye mask; and more. Since Avios awards are all distance-based, there is no set mileage requirement for Premium Economy (called World Traveller Plus on BA). However it is usually 1.5 times more miles than an economy award on the same route. So for instance JFK-London is 30,000 Avios each way for Premium Economy compared to economy, which is 20,000. From LAX-London it is 37,500 each way compared to 25,000 for economy. To upgrade from a purchased economy fare to World Traveller Plus, you only .5 times the Avios you would for an award ticket in economy. So to upgrade on that JFK-London route would require 10,000 Avios each way. When you pay for a booking with cash, you can upgrade using Avios through Manage My Booking. However, you cannot upgrade an existing reward flight booking. British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

6. KLM: Though KLM's "economy comfort" premium economy product is basically just economy with a little more room (4 more inches of pitch), it's on this list because Delta Platinum and Diamond elite members get free upgrades on both discounted and full-fare economy tickets. Seats are in a 3 x 2 configuration, and meals are the same as in coach, but at least there are personal television sets and the airline takes a special pride in its service, making for a comfortable and streamlined experience. You can read my full positive review here. The great thing about KLM's premium economy is that Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members can get upgraded for free, and Gold and Silver Medallions get discounted upgrades. Paid upgrades start at €80 and go up to €150 each-way. Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

7. Qantas: Though Qantas is retrofitting its 747's, try to get on the A380 to experience the airline's most current premium economy product and all 42 inches of pitch plus 19.5 inches of width. These purply-pink seats also include personal 8.4-inch in-seat TV monitors for personal entertainment, noise-canceling headsets, and in-seat AC power, plus premium meal service and little amenities kits. To book a premium economy award ticket on Qantas, the price would be 72,000 miles from LAX-Sydney compared to 48,000 miles for coach. Here is the award chart, which shows Premium Economy prices based on distance. Qantas offers upgrade awards from paid Economy to Premium Economy that are distance based. To see how many miles you’d need, take a look at this upgrade chart For example, it would cost 45,000 miles to upgrade a discounted economy fare from Los Angeles to Sydney to premium economy, but only 18,000 miles on the same route if you buy a full-fare economy ticket.

8. Air France: Air France's exclusive Premium Voyageur product is available aboard its A330, A340 and Boeing 777 planes, but where it really stands out is aboard the A380, where seats have a stretchy 39.8 inches of pitch, are 19 inches wide, recline to 123 degrees, and have 10.4-inch entertainment screens, personal power ports, extra-large tables that double as work desks, as well as small amenities kits. Premium Voyageur flights from North America to Europe cost 75,000 Flying Blue miles and approximately $600 in taxes and fees. Air France routinely discounts Premium Economy fares, so it often makes more sense to buy Premium Economy (and get the 50% bonus on miles and MQMs on Delta) and then use SkyMiles to upgrade to business class. Flying Blue also runs 50% off promo awards that make Premium Voyageur awards a lot more attractive- especially since there is a lot of award availability. Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

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9. JAL: These futuristic hard-shell seats might be just a meager 18 inches wide, but they have a full 38 inches in pitch, and a sleek design that means each passenger has their own personal space. Seats also feature noise-canceling headsets, personal TV monitors and in-seat power ports, plus premium meal service and snacks. Upgrades are allowed from Economy Class to Executive Class for E,W,Y,B,H, and K fare classes. You can view the upgrade chart to see how many miles are need to upgrade from a paid coach ticket to Executive Class. From North America to Japan it would require 50,000 miles round-trip to upgrade. The award chart shows how many miles are required for Executive Class tickets. A discounted Executive Class award from North America to Japan would cost 55,000 miles each-way compared to a discounted Economy award which is only 40,000 miles. JAL is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest.

10. ANA: We head back to Japan for our final premium economy top 10 pick because this Star Alliance airline not only flies to destinations all over Asia and beyond, but its stylish premium economy seats are also 38 inches apart and are nearly 19 inches wide in a 2 x 4 x 2 cabin configuration available aboard routes from Narita to Munich, Chicago and Washington, DC, and Los Angeles to Haneda. Seats also have personal televisions, power ports, reading lights, foot rests, and come with small amenities kits. Since the flights that have Premium Economy are so limited, it seems that ANA doesn't show how many miles are needed to upgrade nor how many miles to redeem for premium economy, but they do list that elite members are eligible for Premium Economy upgrades on the day of departure. ANA is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
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