The comparison test: business vs premium economy

Airline: Qantas

Flight: QF1

Aircraft: Airbus Industrie A380-800

Route: Sydney to Singapore

Seating: Business Class

Fare: From A$6,842 return

Flight time: 8 hours 5 minutes




Airline: Qantas

Flight: QF6

Aircraft: Boeing 747-400

Route: Singapore to Sydney

Seating: Premium Economy

Fare: From A$2,717 return

Flight time: 7 hours 30 minutes


If you’re used to Qantas’ business class then you’d be used to the convenience of priority check-in. You’re also familiar with the luxury of an extra big baggage allowance – three pieces at 32 kilograms per piece, and then there’s that fabulous fast track through immigration and customs.

If you’re flying in premium economy, Qantas still recommends you check in for seats at least two hours before the flight (as with economy), and while your premium economy ticket gets you checked in faster via a dedicated counter (and boarded faster with priority boarding) you’ll have to queue up with everyone else to get through customs. But you do get to check in a second piece of luggage (both a maximum of 23 kilograms).


In both cabins, the crew was always immaculate and attentive and passed my call-bell test (that being how quickly my bell was attended to mid-flight). Premium economy, like business, has its own dedicated flight attendants.


Celebrity chef Neil Perry is behind the Qantas menus and his premium economy menu was a cut above the usual economy fare. Menus feature meal options, plus a range of premium alcoholic beverages. I chose the chicken curry for dinner and, while it was presented on stylish tableware designed by Marc Newson, the dish still resembled an economy meal in the way the different elements were plated up. In contrast, the business class meals are served as they would be in a fine dining restaurant. The menu is more extensive – I had a zucchini, basil and parmesan soup, and of the four main course options I chose the roasted Barossa Valley chicken with port wine jus, both delicious and well presented. There was also a great range of wine, spirits, beers and liqueurs.


Qantas’ in-flight entertainment system has a great selection of recent blockbuster films, plus quality older films, kids films and television episodes, plus 20 radio channels, hundreds of albums and games. In business class, a 30.7-centimetre touch screen kept me entertained during the flight, coming out from the side of the seat rather than the back of the seat in front. There was also a power source for me to keep my laptop charged while working. As you would expect, the premium economy screens are smaller at 27 centimetres but they’re also touch screens and come from the side console of the seats. In both classes, I got a pair of comfortable noise-cancelling headphones.


In business class, the amenities pouch featured a striking retro black and white Florence Broadhurst design. (Since I travelled the kits have been updated and now include Kate Spade and Jack Spade pouches.) Along with the usual socks, toothbrush and paste, and eye mask were Malin+Goetz skincare products. In premium economy, the much plainer kit came with an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste.


The seats in the business cabin were set up in a two-two-two configuration. The seats are Qantas’ second-generation Skybeds set in a grey cocoon shell designed by Marc Newson and once you lie back the shell acts like a privacy screen. The seats extend into two-metre long fully flat beds, and they’re approximately 54 centimetres wide with around two metres of pitch.

In the private premium economy cabin, the seats (also designed by Marc Newson) are roomy with a 96-centimetre seat pitch and they’re nearly 50 centimetres wide.


The Qantas International Business Lounge at Sydney Airport is set out with contemporary furnishings and features wine bars with a good selection of wines and there’s a barista to make coffee to your liking. The food was designed by Rockpool, and I treated myself to a scoop of gelato while I was there. There are showers to freshen up, complimentary Wi-Fi and workstations. In Singapore, business travellers can use the joint Qantas and British Airways business lounge. Unfortunately for premium economy travellers, there is no lounge access.


When my business class seat was set to fully flat it felt like there was a slight rise in the middle of the seat underneath my back, and it wasn’t so comfortable so I had to fiddle with the controls to find a comfortable sleeping angle. In premium economy, I couldn’t get the screen at an angle that was comfortable so my neck would get tired from watching for too long.


For the Sydney to Singapore flight, a handful of late passengers meant a late departure and we were delayed for 15 minutes in Singapore before landing. The return flight ran to schedule.


Qantas’ premium economy certainly offers a fair amount of luxe for less. While it lacks the space and full range of luxuries afforded to passengers in the business class cabin, I still found premium economy a very comfortable way to fly. If I were watching my budget or was in a hurry (with no time to kill at the lounge) and flying into Singapore before midnight (thus not planning on sleeping), there’s no reason I wouldn’t choose premium economy. If you’re going to experiment with the different classes choose premium economy for Sydney to Singapore as it’s a daytime flight arriving in the evening. But, as business class still beats premium economy on nearly every point except for cost, I would choose a business for any overnight flight for the extra comfort, luxuries and of course the flatbed.

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