Should you fly Singapore Airlines' premium economy class?
First world problems
Premium economy class travel is a hot trend right now. It's touted as a glorified economy class, designed for people who are seeking a tad more comfort when they travel, but can't afford the extravagance of business class.
Like me, a self-proclaimed nervous flier. I belong to a paranoid species that looks up to the seatbelt sign with trepidation every time something 'dings' mid-flight, prays fervently for an older pilot, and thinks turbulence equates death.
My current profile: I'm an Elite Gold member on Singapore Airlines; I jump on a flight once or twice a month on average; I fly business class occasionally for work, but economy class for everything else. Being upfront on a plane puts me more at ease (having a fully flat bed and copious amounts of alcohol might have something to do with it), so I'm constantly looking out for offers or upgrade opportunities.
Needless to say, when Singapore Airlines launched its premium economy product in August 2015, I leapt at the first chance I got to fly it. I had high hopes of a more comfortable flying experience, at prices I could actually afford. The airline's move to introduce the in-between cabin was anticipated, but not surprising, as other airlines such as Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, and Lufthansa had already birthed their premium economy child at this point. I'd flown Air New Zealand's premium economy class in May that same year, where their innovative Spaceseats were these beautiful cocoons of personal space. It was almost as good as business class on some airlines, and I was raving for months after.
BEST IN SHOW
Before we delve deeper into Singapore Airlines' premium economy class, it's crucial to remember that the carrier delivers an exceptional business and economy class product. In my mind, it's one of the best, if not the best I've ever flown. On business class, its leather flat beds by Poltrona Frau, personal dividers, and the ability to create a double bed has made it a game changer in its field. Coupled with 'Book the Cook' options and multiple-course meals crafted by renowned chefs worldwide, it's an experience that you can't fault. On the flipside, economy class is perfectly comfortable for what you pay for; each seat fitted with a six-way headrest, 11.1-inch touchscreen monitor featuring a wide range of movies and tv shows, and power outlets.
Given the standards of business and economy class, a brilliant premium economy class product from Singapore Airlines is one that has to supersede the rest. The bar was set high. I expected nothing less than a seat pitch of 42-inches (similar to Air New Zealand), business lounge access (like on ANA), and porcelain tableware (served on Lufthansa).
How did our national airline measure up? It's time to break it down.
FIT FOR EXTRA COMFORT
You'd have noticed these special grey and orange leather seats, in an exclusive 2-4-2 configuration, on Singapore Airlines' B777-300ER, A380-800, and A350-900. Located just in front of the economy class cabin, each seat ranges from 18.5-inches to 19.5-inches depending on the aircraft. For the record, Singapore Airlines' economy seats are 18-inches wide, so the difference around your bum is marginal. However, the 38-inch seat pitch offers six inches more than economy class, which leaves lots of wiggle room for your legs (but still falls short of Air New Zealand's 42-inches). The recline is also a tad better, at eight inches as opposed to six inches in economy, but it's a far cry from the ridiculous bed situation on business.
My personal pet peeve? The armrests, which can't be raised. This means if you're lucky enough to score an empty seat next to you, you can't even make use of it (unlike in economy, where there's always a chance of stretching out).
As an Elite Gold member, I get my own set of privileges, including priority check-in, baggage, and boarding. All this is also available to premium economy travellers, with an additional 5kg more than the usual 30kg in baggage allowance. All's well, because unless you're moving countries or hauling your wardrobe to fashion week, nobody travels with more than 35kg anyway. However, premium economy travellers don't get lounge access, which I find bizarre — complimentary Wi-Fi, showers, and food and drink are crucial to relaxing before a flight.
Movie buffs, this could be a deal maker for you. With a bigger screen at 13.3-inches and noise-cancelling headphones, catching up on The Handmaid's Tale or the latest instalment of Star Wars is a veritably pleasant experience — unlike on cattle class, where a baby's screams still pierce through your ill-fitted earbuds.
TIME TO FEAST
Now, if you're flying premium economy, please 'Book the Cook' for a more palatable meal. Many people don't know you can make use of this service, typically only offered to business class travellers. There are about nine options — from pastas to nasi lemak to chicken rice — as compared to a staggering 50 options on business class, but we're not complaining. If you forget to do this, you're subject to the same food as those on economy class, with the addition of a table cloth, some champagne and an extra meal option. And what's the point of that?
This is really what it all comes down to. Premium economy class is said to be 30 to 50 percent more expensive than economy class, but the margin is greater when you're able to secure cheap economy tickets (i.e. Economy Super Saver or Economy Saver tickets). A random round-trip search from Singapore to Los Angeles in April listed Economy Super Saver tickets at $1,308 and Premium Economy tickets at $2,958, the latter costing about 120 percent more.
However, a random round-trip search from Singapore to Los Angeles in June (read: school holidays) reflected round-trip economy tickets at $2,008 (Economy Flexi Saver), while premium economy class remained the same at $2,958. There weren't any more Economy Super Saver or Economy Saver tickets available on those dates.
THE FINAL SAY
Given the benefits, I personally wouldn't pay more than 30 percent of an economy ticket for premium economy class — which means I'll probably only fly premium when economy class prices are soaring. Let's be honest, that difference of $1,650 (as with my first Singapore to Los Angeles example) can easily get you another round-trip ticket or a Gucci handbag — and not just a small difference in seat recline, a slightly bigger screen, and a few glasses of bubbly.
Save your points and money for business class, which I feel is a far superior product — no matter how long it takes you to get there.
In the meantime, I'll be on economy class with my own set of travel hacks. It starts with bringing your own noise-cancelling headphones, TWG tea bags, and booking a window and aisle seat if you're flying as a couple.