Seniors on the Go: Latest premium-class airline news

London Landmarks At Night

Cars travel past West End theatres at night in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images / March 29, 2012)

As noted a few weeks ago, ordinary economy class is a really bad product, with its seats designed to the dimensions of jockeys and minimal cabin service. And an overnight red-eye in a crowded economy cabin qualifies, in my book, as "cruel and unusual punishment." But it's cheap, and the many of you who value cheap over all else will wind up toughing it out in the cattle car. If you want to avoid the worst of that experience, however, you have a fair number of options.

Heading to London this spring, you can fly in business class for not much more than the cheapest economy nonstop and a few dollars less than economy on most major lines. As of last week, the all-business-class French airline La Compagnie was selling some seats on its new Newark to London nonstops for $1,007 round trip, all-up, including the outrageous British Air Passenger Duty, for flights starting late April. That compares with economy fares ranging from $763 on Norwegian to $1,096 and up for nonstops on the legacy lines. The deal is available to buy from now through April 24; fly through June 30.

La Compagnie flies 757s with 74 business-class, angle-flat seats at 62-inch pitch. At those prices, it's a no-brainer for anyone in the New York City area, and worth considering even when you have to buy a separate ticket to New York.

La Compagnie will serve London through Luton Airport, which is probably unfamiliar to most travelers from the United States or Canada. For many years, Luton has been the primary London airport for cheap charter air/hotel package flights, and it is the original London base for EasyJet. Luton is 33 miles from central London, about the same distance as Gatwick or Stansted. To get to London, take a short shuttle bus trip to Luton Airport station, where you catch a train to St. Pancras, City Thameslink or Blackfriars.

La Compagnie's current Paris promotion is a round-trip fare of $1,498 from Newark to Paris/De Gaulle. Book through March 15, travel through March 31. That's not as good a deal as the London promotion, but it's still a great price for business class; it's less than -- and a lot better than -- premium economy on legacy lines.

In other premium developments, Singapore Airlines will again offer a true premium economy option, starting with its 777-300ERs, then A380s and upcoming A350s. Singapore's version of premium economy will be on a par with regional transpacific competitors ANA, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA, JAL, and Qantas, with eight-across seats in 777s at 37- to 38-inch pitch and upgraded cabin service. Planes used for North American flights probably won't be equipped until late this year, and no information is available yet on fares. In other good news, however, Singapore says it will stick with its nine-across 777 economy seating, in contrast to the many airlines that are switching to ultra-narrow 10-across seating.

Sadly, United is apparently switching from comfortable nine-across to tight 10-across seats in its 777s, both new and reconfigured older models. As with American, United's strategy for semi-premium economy, which it calls "Economy Plus," is the same as American's: Instead of making the extra-legroom option a little better, it's making regular economy worse.

Pricing for real and semi-premium economy remains inconsistent. Current fares posted for next summer show premium economy posted from around 30 percent above regular economy from New York to London on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to 66 percent from San Francisco to Tokyo on JAL to 82 percent from Chicago to Copenhagen on SAS. These days, however, several airlines are asking travelers with regular economy tickets if they want to pay for or bid on upgrades to either premium economy or business class. Some lines offer upgrades at the check-in desk; others have you submit bids before departure. This process can often be the least expensive way to move up to a better cabin, provided, of course, that you don't mind "losing" and being stuck in the cattle car.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at) Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through or


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