Premium economy is on the rise…

Earlier I wrote about the introduction of new, extremely luxurious and first class resembling Business Class cabins on plenty of airlines. I foresaw the end of First Class and the introduction of economy+ like cabins that would take over the role of the Business Class cabins. After visiting the WTM it became obvious that the premium economy cabin is here to stay.

The World Travel Market in Londen is one of the biggest travel conferences worldwide and hosted annually in November with stands from many brand and organisations active in the travel industry. As an aviation nerdguru, my attention is always drawn by the various airlines and the presentation of their products.

This year I noticed the absence of many of the premium cabins that are offered but an increased introduction of premium economy products such as the new Premium Economy products of Air Transat, United, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

Funny fact; in 2013, also during the WTM, the trend of “low-cost business class” was shared as a future development. Now, 5 years later; premium economy products are almost a standard feature on many airlines,

History

The concept of premium economy cabins isn’t new. Already in 1994, Taiwan based Eva Air introduced their¬†“Evergreen Class”, a product between economy and business class. Eva Air was the first to fly a 4-cabin plane on long haul; at the time also including a very nice first class product. In the following years, some airlines followed suit such as Virgin Atlantic with their “Mid Class”.

The new United Premium Economy seat

What’s the difference between Premium Economy and regular economy?

It’s important to treat the premium economy as a separate cabin class. Some airlines offer enhanced and roomier products such as KLM with their “economy comfort” seats (few inches extra legroom) for a surcharge to boost the revenue per seat.

hard product

There is a clear difference between the regular economy and premium economy hard products. The seat is often a fully different one and resembles a bit of the first generation business class seats from the past (but then more slimline and slick). Usually, this means seats can recline a lot further, have plenty of legroom, bigger IFE screens, leg rests and other functions that usually aren’t present in economy classes.

Some rumours go round that in the near future some premium economy seats with full flat ability may be introduced. Seats that go full flat were, up to a few years ago, only found in First Class cabins but are increasingly becoming the standard in business class.

Soft product

On the soft product side often airlines offer their premium economy passengers better headphones, amenity kits, dedicated crew members and better/more meal and drink choices.

Some airlines don’t offer an enhanced soft product in their premium economy cabins, focussing fully on the aspect of extra space and a better seat.

Rule of thumb with premium economy product is that every premium economy cabin features a hard product improvement over the regular economy. It is very airline dependant though what matter of difference can be expected.

The Emirates premium Economy seat

Pricing

After the crisis, many employers have been restricting their employees to fly Business Class and airlines have been trying to find a way to keep offering these travellers a suitable product without the heavy price tag to lure those business travellers in.

Premium economy seats are always priced in separate booking classes which also makes it hard to find them in the different OTA and META tools because the systems are not able to see the difference between regular economy and premium cabin yet. If you book an expensive economy fare on Skyscanner you might end up in a premium seat.

Because these premium fares are part of the regular yield system and therefore prices may vary highly based on the destination and the expected yield to make by the airline. One thing is sure; the airline will do whatever it can to fill up their premium cabin to maximise the revenue our of their premium products so don’t be surprised to get upgrade offers on check in!

The future

My expectation is that airlines will keep removing their first class and that business cabins will shrink while premium economy cabins will grow. Its now only a matter of time before these cabins are rebranded again and until employers restrict access to the “first class” again. Let us see in 10 years!

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