Priced Out Of Business Class? Try A Lie-Flat Economy Bed
While flat beds in business class have become the norm, a small number of airlines (two, currently) have experimented with products that allow passengers travelling in the economy cabin to sleep and lounge in a completely horizontal position.
Economy beds, marketed under the brand names Skycouch and Family Couch, convert rows of three economy seats aircraft into a flat sleeping surface about five feet long, which may be enough for an adult couple to curl up and catch a few hours of shuteye.
While these economy bed configurations don't offer the same space or premium service as business class cabins, they can be significantly cheaper and still give passengers the coveted chance to lie down flat on a long-haul flight.
Where to find beds in economy
Air New Zealand was first to deploy an economy bed concept in the form of the Skycouch, unveiled in 2012 with the introduction of the airline's new 777-300ER aircraft. The Skycouch is available on all routes served by the jet, including daily service between the airline's Auckland (AKL) hub and Los Angeles (LAX), with continuing service to London Heathrow (LHR). It's also available on the carrier's Boeing 787s.
Taiwanese flag carrier China Airlines became the first airline to adopt NZ's Skycouch concept, which it calls Family Couch. The Taiwanese airline offers the seats on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which operate between Taipei (TPE) and Los Angeles (LAX), Frankruft (FRA), New York (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO), as well as on Airbus A350 currently operating between Taipei and Vancouver (YVR).
How to book economy beds
Air New Zealand allows passengers, whether solo, couples or families of up to three, to book available SkyCouch seats online. For the sake of comparability with lie-flat business class fares, all examples here are for individual passengers.
Air New Zealand provides a discount for single passengers to acquire the second and third seat needed for an economy bed, as well as for couples to acquire the third seat. Typically these seats are made available at roughly half the cost, though the discount is deeper for couples than for individual fliers.
China Airlines does not make it so easy. Any discount, if available, is not advertised and passengers can only make Family Couch arrangements by calling the airline. After spending a half-hour on the phone with China Airlines representatives, I was unable to discern if any such discount is available. Let's assume that the cost of acquiring a family couch, then, is three times the available economy fare plus the additional charge to reserve the bed.
What to expect onboard
There are limited reviews of Air New Zealand's Skycouch, and fewer of China Airlines' family couch variant (though they should be roughly identical in terms of physical specifications).
The couch itself is 5 feet, 1 inch long. Unlike business class seats, this requires most adults to curl their legs in order to avoid hanging off into the aisle. This didn't seem to stop Jetsetting Ben, who reviewed the SkyCouch in March last year, from enjoying his flight.
If you can't afford to experience the lie-flat seats in Business Premier; then the Skycouch is a fantastic option at an affordable price.
So in all, would I recommend the Economy Skycouch to a single, business-traveller, couple or small family looking to fly between London, Los Angeles and Auckland? Without a doubt.
Food and beverage service is not differentiated from the rest of the economy passengers, though both airlines allow couch passengers to board ahead of time. According to Boarding Area, flight attendants offer couch passengers personalized greetings during which they provide instruction on how to use the couch.
Are economy beds a cheaper business class alternative?
If you don't mind curling up, Skycouch and Family Couch may be a decent way to get some rest at a significantly lower price than business class on the same transpacific routes.
Air New Zealand's business class on a round-trip flight between Auckland (AKL) and Los Angeles (LAX) was available for $7,217 in January.
A Skycouch on the same flight can be had for just over $3,302, a savings of over 50% off the round-trip business class fare.
Given the lack of any sort of clear discount for purchasing the entire Family Couch row, the value proposition on China Airlines' product is not as clear. In addition to securing the tickets for the row, passengers must purchase the family couch itself, which costs $1,000 on flights to and from the US (there is a discounted price of $800 listed, but it's not clear when and for whom said price applies.)
Given the airline's very low economy fares, however, choosing a family couch over premium business class seats is still economical on many flights this February. For instance, a family couch would cost a single passenger $3,010 round-trip between San Francisco (SFO) and Taipei (TPE) this November. A business class seat on the same flight prices out near $4,020.
While an economy couch won't leave fliers pampered in the same way a top business class product might, the ability to lie flat on long-haul flights is invaluable. Unfortunately, it's not yet possible to use any mileage or points currency to secure one of these couches, according to representatives at both airlines, not that such a proposition would make sense from a value standpoint. In just about any case, three saver-level economy seats would cost the same or more that the saver-level or level 1 price for a business class seat, and that's not considering the added fees to acquire the couch amenities.
Ultimately the value of this option is dependent upon the relative fare difference between business class and economy, but in cases when business class fares are sky-high, an economy couch may be a thrifty alternative for weary fliers seeking shuteye.