Premium Voyageur Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Premium Value

The prospect of a 10-hour flight in coach wasn’t particularly appealing.  Three business class tickets would’ve cost about $20,000, and blowing almost a million miles, especially for a connecting flight through DTW, didn’t seem like a good idea.  With a non-stop from Seattle to Paris, I was intrigued by the prospect of Air France’s revamped premium economy class (“Premium Voyageur”).  The fare was about 185% of the price of an economy class ticket, and about 25% of the price of a business class ticket.  It promised premium comfort without the premium price.

For a fare that’s almost double that of a coach ticket, premium economy typically offers a few extra inches of legroom, a slightly larger seat with greater recline, and perhaps a few amenities like expedited check-in, waived bag fees, and maybe even an upgraded meal.  It’s a product strategy targeted at the economy class traveler who is willing to spend a little extra (2X), but not willing to pay for business class (8X) or unable to upgrade.  With the alternative being what would surely be an unpleasant 10-hour ride in coach, I ponied up for the pseudo upgrade.

The configuration on Air France’s Airbus A340 was 2-3-2 versus the 2-4-2 configuration of economy class.  One less seat per row allows for seats about one inch wider, a double-width armrest, and wider aisles.  In addition, the configuration offers an additional 6” of legroom.  Premium Voyageur passengers also get the business class travel kit, a feather pillow and wool blanket, and a small bottle of water.  The video screen is larger and comes with upgraded headphones, the tray table is also significantly larger, and there is a footrest.

Despite these improvements, Premium Voyageur should not be confused with business class or even business class “lite.”  While business class passengers are dining on foie gras and hand-carved Beef Wellington served on fine bone china, Premium Voyageur passengers are served the economy class meal option with plastic utensils.  The beverage options include red and white wine served in plastic cups from plastic bottle splits, and a couple of after-dinner drinks.

An upgraded meal would be nice, but who really cares about the quality of the dining experience?  Surely, few passengers pay $7,000 for a glass of champagne and a meal. The real value of business class is comfort and the possibility of a good night’s sleep.  The Premium Economy chaise is something that resembles a medieval torture device.  It doesn’t actually recline in the traditional sense, widening the angle by moving the backrest.  Rather, it “slouches” forward within a fixed shell.  Essentially, the bottom slides forward and the attached backrest slides down creating the sense of recline.  One could actually achieve much the same effect by simply scooting forward.

As perhaps the clearest display of how Air France views premium economy, premium economy passengers are not allowed to enter the business class cabin.  Passengers venturing beyond the velvet curtains separating the two cabins will find a smorgasbord snack bar and gaggle of flight attendants waiting to shoo them back to economy lest they steal they steal a drop of designer hand soap from the lavatory.

All in all, premium economy is as described:  economy class with some premium touches.  For the business traveler who needs to work during a 6-hour jaunt across the Atlantic, it might be worth it.  For anything longer, or a trip where a decent rest is a necessity, business class offers better value albeit at a premium price.

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