Product Review: Qantas Premium Economy

What Is It: Qantas' Premium Economy service, a class that's better than economy, but nowhere near as luxurious (or high-priced) as business or first.

Price and Where to Buy: The price varies according to the route, travel season, and demand. Right now, Qantas has a fare sale from Los Angeles to Melbourne, with premium economy tickets starting at $2,587. Qantas' current economy flight special starts at $1,510 for the same route, so you can typically expect to pay about $1,000 more than an economy ticket. However, a first-class ticket would run you a whopping $16,974 and a business-class ticket would be around $7,927.

Pros: 

  • Special premium economy menu and premium wines available, all served on real linen and and crockery (instead of plastic)
  • You'll get priority boarding, and can get on the plane before economy passengers
  • Dedicated check-in lanes means a short line (if any) compared to economy
  • Larger, more comfortable seats (a 19.5" wide seat with 9" of recline, which is 50 percent more recline than in international economy on Qantas)
  • Fold out leg/foot rests on the seats
  • Private, smaller cabin (between 32 and 40 seats), usually located on the upper level of the plane behind business class—can be much quieter than larger cabins
  • Higher ratio of flight attendants to passengers than in economy (the premium economy cabin has its own crew)
  • Private bathrooms in the premium economy cabin means less lines at busy times
  • Free pre-takeoff drink (including sparkling wine) offered

  • Noise canceling headphones provided (on loan)
  • 10.6-inch entertainment screen is stowed in your armrest, and folds out for comfortable viewing
  • Cabin configuration is 2-3-2, so if you book early, you could get a row without middle seats
  • Plush blankets with a sheet backing provided
  • Power outlets available on newer aircraft

Cons:

  • Armrests don't lift up between seats—if you find yourself in an empty row, you can't stretch out and create your own bed
  • Service can be hit or miss depending on how full the cabin is. On one flight, the premium economy cabin was nearly empty, and it was blissfully quiet with relaxed, attentive flight attendants. On a second flight, the cabin was completely full, and much nosier, plus the flight attendants seemed to be stretched thin
  • If your flight includes a domestic leg, you'll only get premium economy on the international portion. For example, we flew Perth to Sydney to Dallas to Boston, and were in regular economy for all but the Sydney to Dallas leg.

How it Rates:

  • Comfort: 9/10. These seats are a million times better than regular economy. There's plenty of room between seats, so even if the person in front of you reclines all the way, you'll have lots of room. The dedicated cabin also makes a huge difference in the noise level on the plane. However, you obviously won't be as comfortable as you'd be in a lie-flat business or first-class bed.
  • Convenience: 10/10. The early boarding and separate check-in lane really makes it more convenient, especially since the long-haul flights carry so many people.
  • Value: 6/10. An extra $1,000 is really hard for most economy-class fliers to swallow. At least it's significantly cheaper than business or first-class tickets?
  • Extra Perks: 8/10. Better food, better service, better seats... premium economy feels like business or first-class service.
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. You'll definitely feel cool boarding first and getting your own special cabin!

Final Verdict: If spending a long-haul flight trapped in an economy seat is your personal idea of hell, it may be worth it to spring for the premium economy seat. The comfort and perks are worth it, if you have the cash to spare.

Editor's Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and "cool factor." Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

(Photos: Qantas, Caroline Morse)

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