Business Class Out of Reach? Try Premium Economy

The advent of lie-flat seating in business class is probably the top airline development of recent years, but another trend is quickly rising in popularity — premium economy.

Jason Hetherington | Stone | Getty Images

Many international carriers now offer a dedicated cabin more luxurious than economy and at a price significantly more affordable than business class. It's a great option to consider when traveling overseas, as the relative comfort the cabins provide can mean the difference between arriving jetlagged and sour to passing through immigration and customs refreshed and ready to start your day.

Each airline offering a premium economy cabin provides similar amenities, including:

  • A dedicated check-in line and priority boarding.
  • Free checked baggage allowances.
  • Larger, more comfortable seats with enhanced legroom and adjustable headrests.
  • An amenity kit with earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks and an eye mask.
  • Complimentary newspapers and bar service.
  • Enhanced meal choices often served on fine china.
  • On-demand personal video entertainment featuring television programming, movies, games, audio books and music.
  • Power outlets for laptops and mobile devices.

Among the airlines offering a separate premium economy cabin internationally are:

  • Air New Zealand
  • British Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Air France
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Qantas
  • Thai Airways
  • Virgin Australia

Here's what you can expect to pay for premium economy on a sampling of carriers for a weeklong trip in May 2012 (fares are roundtrip, include all taxes, and were current as of the date researched):

Premium Economy Fairs vs. Economy and Business Class

Air New Zealand
Virgin Atlantic
Route Los Angeles to Auckland Los Angeles to Sydney New York(JFK to London Heathrow
Economy $1,274 $1,281 $810
Premium Economy $2,718 $3,433 $1,213
Business Class $6,026 $9,918 $3,641