The best premium economy seats from Australia to the USA

By John Walton, July 30 2012

What's the best premium economy seat between Australia and the USA, you ask?

After our rankings of the best trans-Pacific business class seat, we turned our spotlight on premium economy, which offers a significant upgrade from the economy experience without the high price of a business class fare.

With 38 inches of legroom against a tight 32 inches in economy, and a typical 8 inch recline, premium economy seat provides enough space to stretch your legs almost straight out.

Five airlines will sell you a "better than economy" seat across the Pacific:

  • Air New Zealand
  • Delta
  • Qantas
  • United
  • Virgin Australia

But those seats are definitely not all created equal -- so join us to find out which one will gain you that all-important working and sleeping space on the long 12+ hour trans-Pacific leg.

Air New Zealand Spaceseats

For the long trek, Air New Zealand's spacious Spaceseats (on their Boeing 777-300 plane only) are fantastic. Spacious and futuristic, they're designed with both single business travellers and pairs in mind in a 2-2-2 layout.

The side pairs are handy for keeping to yourself, while the centre pairs are great if you're travelling with a colleague or the plus-one.

(Yes, we know these seats only fly from Australia to Auckland on some routes, but for business travellers who value comfort on the longer haul over hours-in-transit, they're seriously popular. Seek them out if that sounds like you.)

Read more: pick the best seats of Air New Zealand's Premium Economy Spaceseats on the 777-300


Qantas' Premium Economy is still among the best around.

Qantas' premium economy seat and service are firmly above the competition.

With comfortable seats, the usual amount of premium economy space, decent food and the chance to sit in the quiet upper deck of an Airbus A380 in a decent 2-3-2 layout on some routes, it's one to pick.

Read more: if you're on Qantas' A380, you might be on the refurbished upstairs layout while all the Red Roo's superjumbos are refitted. Check out our detailed, seatmap-laden article on the changes and how to figure out which plane's on your flight. 

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia's seat is very similar to Qantas', although the footrest is fold-down rather than fold-up if that's important to you, but it does have a USB outlet for powering your gadgets and watching movies if you want more than just the usual power point.

It's laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration on Virgin's 777s, which is fairly average for premium economy, and with one extra seat in the middle compared with Qantas.

Read more: the best seats in premium economy on Virgin Australia's Boeing 777-300ER

Air New Zealand (747 and 777-200)

Air NZ uses an older, more traditional premium economy recliner on its older planes. This is great (and very private) on their 747 planes, but is in a relatively cramped nine-across 3-3-3 layout on the 777-200s -- the same as economy, but with slightly wider seats and more recline.

Air NZ's old premium economy is fine when there's just two-across on the 747, but three-across isn't great.

We'd pick the upper deck premium economy seats on the jumbo in a heartbeat, but the 777-200 cabin layout is a bit of a pain.

United & Delta

These US airlines don't actually have a premium economy seat. They use the extra-legroom economy class that's the same seat in the same layout as it is down the back, just with a few extra inches of legroom.

So don't be persuaded by your travel bookers that this is premium economy if that's what your corporate policy allows. Instead, fly Air NZ if you're a United/Star Alliance loyalist or Virgin Australia if you're a Delta frequent flyer to earn miles and get a more comfortable ride out of it.

Your thoughts

What's your personal ranking? Is Air NZ's Auckland connection a dealbreaker for you, or is it no worse than transiting elsewhere? Share your experiences in a comment below.

John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.



10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

I flew on the ANZ Spaceseat not so long ago and had an middle aisle. I'm 6'2" tall and because of the angle of the seat, my feet stuck out into the aisle people kept tripping over them when they walked past.

Yes... they are an interesting design but I think the Qantas product is much better.



Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 724

In these sorts of articles - could you please add the seat widths? 



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 147

Downstairs on the Air NZ 747s in PE is also good, the small cabins of 4 rows of pairs of seats either side of cavity under the stairwell are very quiet, plenty of room, window side storage bins.  No through traffic to bathrooms, although there is a small risk of screaming babies from bassinets at the front of economy (although there is a bulkhead behind the seats, the curtain is at the same point at the front of economy.

Agree on the rest, United Economy Plus without IFE is particularly dire on the 747s, and NZ's 777-200s are simply not worth it in PE, unless you're planning on making a generous OneUp bid to upgrade to Business Premier as a cheap alternative to paying for BP.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Aug 2012

Total posts 4

I flew Premium Economy with Virgin Atlantic to London out of Sydney via Hong Kong and I really wouldn't recomend it.  The price was double economy and half Upper Class, but it was really far more akin to economy.  Seat pitch was so tight that when I dropped my book the very nice man next to me had to pick it up a ... I managed to kick  it towards him and he was able to reach across for it.  And when the seat in front was reclined the seat-back screen became unwatchable as the lower half of the screen  became dark.  This happened on all four legs.  And if the food was better than in economy then the folk in economy must have starved. The food in Premium Economy was very ordinary and I didn't eat much of it.  I flew to the UK four times in the past eight months and this was by far the worst of all four.



Air New Zealand - Airpoints

01 Jul 2012

Total posts 8

I have flown Air NZ's Prem Economy 3 times to LA and Qantas 2. I have to give Air NZ the thumbs up here. The seat is really comfortable, I'm 6'3" and the unique layout of the cabin makes it feel more business class than prem econ. The seat is a winner for me but overall the whole experience is unbeatable.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jan 2013

Total posts 1

I have travelled in both PE on Qantas and Virgin Extensively. although cabin service is excellent in both, Qantas leave Virgin for dead with seating and food.  The last time I flew with virgin from the states I could not eat the food it was so sub standard (economy class food with plastic cutlery, (curry with fat floating on top) plastic everything.   conversely, Qantas food and presentation was excellent.   definitely worth paying the extra for Qantas in terms of seating and food particularly on long haul flights.  



09 Sep 2012

Total posts 139

Surely not a serious suggestion that one travel from Australia to the US via a third country.

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