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The Definitive Guide to Cathay Pacific's New Premium Economy Class

Where: Hong Kong
May 15, 2012 at 11:37 AM | by | ()

Premium Economy is hot, there's no doubt about that. It feels like almost every international airline is widening the seats, adding extra garnishes to the in-flight meals and cooing about deeper reclines for passengers willing to pay more than economy, but not so much as business class.

The latest airline to join the Premium party, Cathay Pacific, is also the one where ponying up the extra cash for extra cushion may make the most sense; the flight from New York to Hong Kong is a whopping 16 hours, after all.

Well we've flown it many times, mostly in Economy but also in Business and, now, in Premium Economy. Want to try it out yourself? ENTER HERE, into our contest to win a roundtrip (valued at $4,000) from the US or Canada to Hong Kong, in Cathay's new Premium Economy class.

Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty:

What You Get in Premium Economy (over Economy)

· Priority check-in at the airport counters.
· A wider seat. 19.5" versus the 18.1-18.5 of economy.
· More recline. 8" versus the 6" of economy.
· More seat pitch (aka legroom). 38" versus 32" in economy.
· Larger TV screen. 10.6" versus 9" in economy.
· Quality, noise-cancelling headphones.
· A smaller, quieter cabin. There's only 26-34 seats, separated between Business and Economy cabins, with its own bathroom.
· Extra space. Seats have larger armrests, a small shelf underneath the seatback TV, a flip-out cocktail table and a larger meal table. The meal table comes out from the armrest, so it's not effected by the seat's recline in front of you.
· Power ports. Each seat has a regular outlet by your feet, plus a USB and multi-port connecter on the seatback.
· Footrests. As small as they seem, they really do make a huge difference.
· A hot towel to refresh after boarding.
· A welcome cocktail. Champagne, orange juice or mix them for a mimosa.
· An eco-friendly amenity kit. A pouch contains socks, an eyemask, earplugs, mints, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
· A separate menu with better meal choices. The flatware is real metal, portions are larger and mid-flight snacks are actively offered.
· Full-size bottles of water (Evian on our flight), when the lights dim for sleep.
· Larger blankets and business class-size pillows.
· Service which is faster and more personalized.
· More luggage allowance. 25kg versus 20kg in economy.
· 110% earning on AsiaMiles, or 200% earning through June 30, 2012 if registered.
· More details on the official Cathay Premium Economy page here.

Charging our iPhone while over Taiwan

What We Loved:

· It's a great seat. Having much past experience in Cathay's economy, we could immediately tell Premium has a squishier seat. Comfort is paramount on these extra-lengthy flights, and the fact that our butt didn't go numb once is a huge departure from economy. In fact, we could have flown for even longer without getting antsy.
· Privacy. Premium Economy is still so new that while the economy cabin was full, we noticed that almost every passenger in Premium enjoyed an empty neighboring seat. This will change, but the price difference still may help keep it uncrowded. The smaller size of the cabin—only 26-34 seats—also meant peace, quiet and fewer passengers walking by our seat.
· Time flew by. Don't believe us? Fine. But in comfort and with some good TV shows to pass the time, all anxiety dropped away. We watched an entire season of Downton Abbey (helped by the noise-cancelling headphones), kicked back and snoozed for several hours as if passed out, ate the two meals and the snack, and still wished for more time to do some work.
· Personal service is actually present. Okay sure, the flight attendants knew our name because we had been upgraded at the request of the airline, but we noted that all Premium Economy passengers were individually greeted by name while two flyers in front of us, both with Marco Polo club status, were made very comfortable. The length of the flight combined with the small cabin also ensured our every little request was quickly answered, from a simple third cup of tea to a complete last-minute altering of our brunch order.

What You'll Need to Know:

· It does cost more. On average, Premium Economy costs 50-60% more than the price of a regular Economy ticket. When searching flights on CathayPacific.com, check out the Premium Economy class in the drop-down options and have "flexible with travel dates" selected to see the lowest prices.
· Availability is limited. It's currently only available on select Cathay flights between Hong Kong and New York (CX830/831/840/841), Sydney (CX 101/100), Toronto (CX 826,825,828,829), Vancouver (CX 888,889) and London (CX 252,255). Chances are, if you're offered Premium Economy as a booking option, you'll be on a flight with the new seats across the board. We flew it on CX 840.
· Later in 2012, you can expect Adelaide, Los Angeles, Melbourne, San Francisco, Frankfurt, Brisbane and Mumbai routes to join the Premium party.
· Forget camping out. The armrests between seats are fixed, so there'll be no putting the armrests up to stretch out across several empty seats.
· No lounge access. This is the biggest issue for us, because we love love love the Cathay lounges at HKG. On the bright side, you can trade AsiaMiles for lounge entry.

Henry, the Premium Economy ambassador on our flight, shows off the seatback booklets explaining the Premium seat features

So, is Premium Economy worth it?

All other details aside, there's one very important fact you can't ignore when it comes to flying on a route like New York to Hong Kong: it's 16 frickin' hours. Does it sound like a long time? That's because it is a long time, especially to sit in one small seat, with limited elbow space and a screen feet from your face. The first time you fly such a long-haul trip, you'll be tempted to stick it out in economy. Having done that now several times, we personally understand the huge need for this Premium Economy class and the extra inches and service it brings.

Without a doubt we'd look into flying Premium Economy or upgrading from economy on a trip and, so long as the roundtrip price sticks around 50% more than economy, we'd go for it. Also, it's a complete no-brainer for business travelers whose companies have a no-business-class policy.

Disclosure: We paid for the ticket ourselves, but Cathay upgraded us to Premium Economy as the class didn't even exist back when we booked our ticket.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for Jaunted]

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