In recent years, airlines have realized they can squeeze extra dollars out of coach travelers by gussying up a few rows of seats, offering early boarding and a minimal amount of extra space, and calling it Premium Economy.
Voila: Suddenly you’re paying a thousand extra dollars for the “privilege” of an additional checked bag, while your compatriots in business class are experiencing actual luxury.
But here's a little secret: That's so not the case on Air New Zealand.
The airline, crowned best in the world for four consecutive years, has for the past six years offered a Premium Economy seat so superior that it trounces everybody else in the skies. (And we’ve flown ‘em all!) Even better, Premium Economy is offered on Air New Zealand’s under-the-radar route from Los Angeles to London — a 10.5 hour flight — making it the best value in luxury international travel to Europe.
The icing on the cake is the cost, which provides most of the privileges of Business Class at a price that rivals Economy.
The perks of Premium are evident from the time you arrive at the gate, when PE customers are extended early boarding privileges alongside Business Class.
Each seat receives an amenities kit complete with socks, eye mask, earplugs, pen, toothbrush, toothpaste, and lip gloss. Soon after takeoff, meanwhile, smiling flight attendants — Air New Zealand is known for having friendly staff — arrive with steamed hot towels and trays proffering bubbly or orange juice.
There’s a dedicated menu just for Premium Economy customers, including a starter, bakery selection, three mains to choose from, and dessert, and — like in Business Class — meals are served with real cutlery on white tablecloths. On a recent flight, Jet Set selected an appetizer of smoked salmon with pastrami crust, roasted beetroot, pea salsa, and horseradish chive potato salad, with main selections including red wine braised beef short rib with garlic mashed potatoes, coconut panko-crusted hapuka with coconut jasmine rice, and Chicken breast with green lentils, bacon lardons, roasted broccolini, pumpkin, and crispy shallots.
New Zealand is known for mouthwatering pinot noir and crisp sauvignon blanc, and the wine selection doesn’t disappoint, either. Onboard offerings include Villa Maria, Te Awa, Felton Road, Te Mata, Craggy Range, and Cloudy Bay. Wine and champagne come in real glasses, too — none of this plastic cup or mini screw-top-bottle nonsense.
Hilariously, even the Premium Economy bathrooms have received the luxury treatment, with trompe-l’oeil wallpaper featuring a chandelier and a bookshelf full of tomes on New Zealand and flying, as well as a fake window with an aviator peeking through!
This is not Coach Plus. No matter how you slice it, this is Business Class Lite.
Previously, those who flew Premium Economy on Air New Zealand were lucky enough to enjoy the futuristic Spaceseat cabins: sleek, white leather seats, an abundance of space and legroom, individual half-pods, and atmospheric purple mood-lighting.
Unfortunately, it’s been reported that Air New Zealand is beginning to discontinue the Spaceseat in Premium Economy, with the product gone for good by November 2017.
In its place? An expanded cabin with black leather seats, an extended footrest, and a seat featuring a 41-inch pitch, nine-inch recline and 19.3-inch width with a five-inch-wide armrest — more similar to a domestic Business Class seat, and widely agreed to be more comfortable and easier to sleep in than the gorgeous-but-impractical Spaceseat.
Jet Set flew the new Air New Zealand Premium Economy recently (on a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles), and while the product is phenomenal — still better than any other Premium Economy — it lacks the magic of the shockingly beautiful Spaceseat cabin.
Once you get over that visual loss, however, the perks and comfort more than make up for it — and make it the single best way to get to Europe in style, without emptying your bank account.
Flights to Europe are dirt-cheap right now, but a 10-hour coach flight is something to endure, not look forward to: For those hoping to experience the last gasps of the awesome Spaceseat, Air New Zealand is offering deals this summer and fall from $1,448 round-trip from Los Angeles to London.
Once the innovative seat flies off into the night, however, we’re still choosing Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy. No airline offers more luxury at a better value, period.
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