Airlines & Airports

The Best Airlines for International Premium Economy Travel

By
Mandy Sinclair
|
Freelance Writer
June 15, 2021
|
5 min read

A relatively new flight class, premium economy is now offered by a long list of airlines. Not all premium economy experiences are equal though. On some airlines it’s really just economy with a bit of extra legroom, while on others it’s an excellent compromise between the lavish comfort and special attention of business and the crowded feeling of coach—at a significantly lower price than business class. 

On these airlines, you not only get a cushier seat, but extra perks like a dedicated check-in counter, welcome drink, more refined food and drink options, and extra comforts such as amenity kits and blankets much better than those offered in the back of the plane. 

Here are some premium economy options worth the upgrade: 

Air Canada: Best for premium economy flights to Paris, London, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Sydney

If it’s comfort you seek on a long-haul flight, Canada’s national carrier is a top pick. The upgraded experience starts with check in where premium economy ticket holders have priority access and greater luggage allowance. 

As most flights to Europe depart from Canadian airports in the early to late evening, arriving in Europe early morning, the larger reclining seats make for a comfortable sleep, helping travelers arrive well rested. But for travelers too excited to sleep, the upgraded meal options and complimentary in-flight beer, wine, and spirits combined with seat-back entertainment offering blockbusters, indie and classic movie options make flying a treat. The airline has recently added podcasts and audiobooks to its in-flight entertainment selection. But the shows streaming on Crave and HBO may keep travelers awake throughout the flight. 

Air Canada flights depart from many US cities with brief stops in Canada enroute to their international destination. 

Emirates: Best for premium class flights to London, with a stop in Dubai

Emirates only recently launched its premium economy service and it’s currently only available between Dubai and London (although Emirates is planning to expand this to a greater number of flights) so for now you’ll only get to experience it if you want to take the long way around with a stop in Dubai. 

The refined design emulates Emirates’ business class cabin with beige-and-white leather seats and harder surfaces finished in wood panelling, with a 2-4-2 seat plan compared to a more spacious 1-2-1 in business class. 

Leather seats with an eight-inch recline and a calf rest and additional legroom make for a comfortable sleeping situation on board. Meanwhile, electric window shades provide greater darkness blocking out any light that may stream through. While this new flight class has only recently launched, the service on its cabins continuously wins awards. In fact, in the Business Traveller Middle East Awards 2021, the airline was once again named the Best Airline Worldwide. 

Virgin Atlantic: Best for premium economy flights to London, Tel Aviv, and Johannesburg

Skytrax named Virgin Atlantic the World’s best premium cabin, and the pampering starts before you even take flight. Skip the queues with priority boarding and settle in for your flight—seats on the 787-900 are 21 inches wide with a pitch of 38 inches—with a complimentary welcome drink. Need to stay connected while in the air? Complimentary Wi-Fi is available on selected flight routes and charging stations are available at each seat. 

Travelers taking a red-eye flight are provided with an amenity kit of flight essentials that may include a bamboo toothbrush rather than plastic, destination-inspired socks for keeping feet warm at high altitudes, and an eye mask tucked into a smart pouch you’ll want to reuse throughout your travels. Retro snacks and artisanal treats are available throughout the flight while the dining options are created to emulate a restaurant experience, complete with wine pairings. 

Singapore Airlines: Best for premium economy flights to Singapore, Tokyo, Bali, Manchester, Frankfurt, and Bangkok

With Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook service, reserving your meal up to 24 hours in advance means avoiding disappointment when the meal cart rolls around, although three options are provided for travelers who missed out on the plan-ahead option. 

The spacious seats (19-19.5 inches wide and a pitch of 38 inches with recline up to eight inches compared to 18.5 inches wide with six inches of recline in nearby economy class) are complete with both a calf and a footrest. Each seat has two dedicated USB ports, a personal reading light, and a power supply for charging devices. The in-flight entertainment is provided via a 13.3-inch video touchscreen with 1,800 options spanning film, television programming, music, games, and apps at travelers’ fingertips. Tune in with the provided noise-cancelling headphones. Priority check in and boarding make for a pleasant on-board experience. 

For an even more exclusive flight experience, Singapore operates planes from New York that only have business class and premium economy seats, with no coach at all.

Qantas: Best for premium economy flights to Sydney 

Travelers in Qantas’ premium economy section on either the A380 or the Dreamliner are seated in their own private cabin with only 32 to 40 other travelers. A dedicated cabin crew provides attentive service, not to mention the Sommeliers in the Sky who are on board to help with your wine selection when mealtime rolls around. Speaking of mealtime, meals are served on stylish tableware and in between, passengers can fuel up at a self-serve snack bar. Select aircraft are equipped with power access and USB ports. 

As for comfort on board, no polyester blankets here for staying warm. Snuggle up under a wool blanket and a large cotton pillow. Amenity kits are also provided free of charge to premium economy passengers. The wider seats (ranging between 19 inches and 20.5 inches wide and a pitch between 38 to 42 inches) and spacious cabin means reclining back without worrying about the passenger behind you. 

Cathay Pacific: Best for premium economy flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City 

Flying premium economy on Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is a personalized experience. A cabin crew greets passengers upon arrival and provides a welcome drink. Craft beer fans will be delighted to sample the airline’s Betsy beer, pale ale that’s brewed for elevation. The menu highlighting fresh fruits and vegetables is a welcome alternative to standard plane fare and the oversized meal table prevents any awkwardness while dining in the sky. 

In-flight essentials (socks, eyeshade and toothbrush) are provided in a kit bag you’ll actually want to keep for future use. Full-length calf rests and leather-padded foot rests make for an overall comfortable flight. 

Delta Airlines: Best for premium economy flights to Tokyo, Rome and Dublin

Wider arm rests, a slightly larger seat than economy and more legroom make the upgrade to Premium Select a more comfortable option than flying coach on a long-haul flight. On board, passengers are invited to put their feet up, literally, with each seat outfitted with a foldout leg and foot rest. 

Every seat has a power outlet and USB port and the airplane is outfitted with Wi-Fi. The amenity bags are filled with toiletries by Malin+Goetz and include eye shades, socks, and hand wipes.  The food on board is chef-inspired and wine, beer and spirits are available throughout the flight. Starbucks coffee is served on board so passengers can get their caffeine fix from a preferred coffeehouse. 

Air France: Best for premium economy flights to Paris and French Polynesia

With Air France’s shrinking seat sizes in economy class in recent years, it’s worth the upgrade to premium economy where passengers enjoy up to 40% more space than coach. The wider seat and armrest, and the hard shell seats mean it’s possible to recline (up to 130 degrees) without squishing the passenger behind (or being squished by the person in front), making for a comfortable flight across the Atlantic. 

Available only on intercontinental flights, premium economy allows travelers to check two bags carrying up to 50 pounds each and carry on two bags as well. Cabin crew are always friendly and say their farewells with a little sweet treat. 

Lufthansa: Best for premium economy flights to Frankfurt, Nigeria, and the UAE  

Germany’s national carrier offers premium economy options on its long-haul flights. While there are no additional baggage allowances for premium economy passengers (passengers have the same restrictions as main economy), the 50% increase in personal space, an 18-inch-wide seat with an 8 inch (or 130 degree) recline makes booking premium economy over coach more attractive. 

Meals are served on fine china, a bottle of water is tucked into your seat back upon arrival. Attendants await passengers with a welcome drink that can be placed on the cocktail table that reduces any awkwardness of pulling out the tray table as other passengers board. And, 12-inch monitors stream in-flight entertainment.  

Air New Zealand: Best for premium economy flights to Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, and Fiji 

New Zealand’s national carrier offers premium economy flyers the opportunity to sample Kiwi wines prior to arrival in the small island nation. Two checked bags and two carry-on bags are permitted. 

On board, expect more personal space with seats 19 inch wide and 5 inch wide armrests separating the seats. The airline claims on its website to have the “largest seat pitch in its class” at 41 inches. The upgrade provides more legroom and 50% more seat recline (nine inches) than those in economy class. The cabin follows a 2-3-2 layout. Plus, there’s a  limited dine-on-demand system in premium economy where you can order food and drinks through your in-flight entertainment screen.

Scott's Cheap Flights now offers deal alerts in business, first, and premium economy class to our Elite members. Here are some of the best international deals we've found so far in premium economy class: 

Last Updated 
June 15, 2021
The Best Airlines for International Premium Economy Travel
Mandy Sinclair
Freelance Writer

Mandy Sinclair is a travel and lifestyle writer based between Ontario, Canada and Marrakech, Morocco. She blends her love of food and travel together with her Tasting Huron County and Tasting Marrakech food and cultural tours. She also hosts Morocco’s first travel podcast, Why Morocco.

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