Business-class seats at premium economy prices?

By David Flynn, November 5 2010
Business-class seats at premium economy prices?

Qantas passengers with a high-enough status and a dollop of luck can score a business class seat but pay for only a premium economy ticket.

That's just the seat, mind you – the meals, snacks and service are at premium economy-grade, even though you're in a business class seat, and in what to all intents is the business class cabin.

This "Clayton's upgrade" is a result of a rejig which removed first class service and ticketing from certain routes even though some of the 747-400 Longreach series aircraft in the fleet retain their four-class configuration of first, business, premium economy and economy.

Qantas calls this a 'cosmetic configuration', and it means that some passengers in business class are allocated seats in rows 1 through 4 of the first-class cabin while others booked in premium economy end up with a seat in what were formerly the back two rows of business (29 and 30).

This is something which I encountered first-hand on a recent flight from Sydney to San Francisco, with a welcome bump from the front row of premium economy (row 34) to row 29.

And row 29 is the pick of the pair, due to the extra legroom before the bulkhead, as rows 29 and 30 are nestled in their own little section of the plane behind the galley and toilets – however, with bassinet locations at 29AB and 29JK you also run the risk of having to cope with an in-flight infant.

So how do you score this upgrade-that's-not-an-upgrade? For starters, it can happen only on flights which are earmarked to run a four-class aircraft on a three-class route, and that's the luck of the draw based on the plane's operational roster plus last-minute changes. A flight on one day may have a four-class aircraft available, but two days after that it might be a standard three-class plane.

It's also available only to passengers with high status levels in Qantas' Frequent Flyer scheme. I'm at Platinum and ran a mock booking through Qantas for the same QF73 flight from Sydney to San Francisco, departing December 1st – and while I could book a seat in row 29 or 30 on a premium economy fare, the same booking made at a standard Frequent Flyer membership level saw those rows blocked out.

So highly freqeunt flyers, take note: check the seat map and class configuration with Qantas when you book and if fortune is smiling, you might be able to enjoy a Skybed without paying a sky-high price.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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