July 15, 2009

If you’re reluctant to buy a business-class ticket but don’twant to squeeze into economy for a long-haul flight, try premium economy.Dozens of airlines, including Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and America, and BritishAirways, have introduced this new cabin class, offering some of the comforts ofbusiness—priority check-in, an average of five to seven inches ofadditional legroom and seat width, bigger personal TV’s, and betterin-flight services (more meal options; amenity kits)—at a reduced price.We found a round-trip premium economy ticket on British Airways from NewYork’s JFK to Heathrow in September for $1,356—nearly $1,400 lessthan the business-class fare. (Coach, it should be noted, was a wallet-friendly$577.) On Qantas, round-trip premium-economy tickets from Los Angeles to Sydneyin September were $3,129, almost a whopping $12,000 less than those in thebusiness/first cabin. And this October, Air France is launching its PremiumVoyageur class, with 20 percent more legroom than in economy and wider seatswith adjustable head- and footrests. The starting cost? $1,457 round-trip fromJFK to Paris. But buyer beware: The benefits of premium economy varysignificantly between carriers. Virgin Atlantic’s premium seats, forexample, are 21 inches wide with a pitch of 38 inches (the larger the pitch,the greater the legroom), while some Air New Zealand seats are only 17.5 incheswide with a 35-inch pitch. So do your research before booking, either bychecking seatguru.com, which offers detailedcomparisons of airlines’ cabins, or by calling your carrier directly.

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