Seat choices on a plane can be very confusing, especially when they all sound the same. Over the years, while I’ve observed people to be able to distinguish between Economy, Business and First Class, there is yet a lot of grey area in between, with Economy Plus and Premium Economy coming into the picture.
Just recently, I had a debate with someone who wondered why Vistara, for instance, gave out menus and hot towels in their Premium Economy, which is just Economy, he said. I thought it would be good to clear out how the both were same but different, and how the word Economy in Premium Economy is a misnomer.
In reality, Premium Economy is the class of service just one below Business Class. It is the fourth class of service on various airlines, which was introduced way back in 1989. Costing more than Economy Class, Premium Economy is positioned for those who want the benefits of Business Class but are alright with the hard product of an Economy class seat. Premium Economy then, is designed as the ‘in-between class’, a step above Economy and one below from Business Class seats.
Premium Economy can be equated with the older Business Class seats on long-haul flights, where you would get some sort of a recliner or an angled flat seat. On the domestic segments, the seat would be better and more comfortable than Economy class, with better seat padding for instance. Premium Economy seats are set in their dedicated cabin on a plane and offer more leg room than Economy Class. You should also expect meals which are plated, and even amenity kits on longer flights. It is usually targeted towards those who are willing to pay a premium for comfortable travel (as compared to Economy class), but can’t pay five times the price or find business class too excessive.
Vistara, in India, offers the only true Premium Economy product, then, which includes choice between three meal options, towel service, beverages and includes a better seat than economy in a special section of its own on the plane. While India is still getting used to the concept of Premium Economy, in the recent strategy presentation from Lufthansa for the entire Lufthansa Group (including Brussels Airlines, Swiss and Austrian), Lufthansa reported that the Premium Economy Class was getting them 6 percent more revenue per space unit on the plane as compared to even the Business Class cabin. Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa are some of the international carriers offering Premium Economy in India. Emirates will be launching a Premium Economy as well, at the turn of this decade.
Economy Plus, on the other hand, is a different product altogether. It promises you a little more than Economy. That means a little more leg room, and perhaps, a little more service. Airlines generally select their better leg room seats and sell these as Economy Plus. Passengers in this class of service may get a better choice of meals but only so slightly. Economy Plus is usually sold as an add-on to economy and not as an upgrade from Economy. For instance, the front row seats and emergency exit row seats which are sold as SpiceMax, clubbed with a hot meal along, are Economy Plus products. Similarly on IndiGo, you can buy the 6E Prime package, which offers you any seat on the plane if open, including the front row IndiGo XL seats, and also offers you a meal and priority handling of your bags. Many airlines, such as erstwhile Jet Airways, and now Vistara, offer these seats to their elite members for free.
The difference between Economy Plus and Premium Economy, then, is not as big as night and day, but many progressive changes that bring a difference between the both cabins make the premium payable on the Premium Economy higher than that for the Economy and Economy Plus sections of the aircraft. So, the next time you are buying Economy Plus, don’t think you are buying Premium Economy, and vice versa.
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Ajay Awtaney is a business travel and aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge ( www.livefromalounge.com .) Ajay flies over 200,000 miles every year, and tweets about The Business of Travel at @LiveFromALounge .