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Jenny and Charlie's International Travel Tips

Aircraft Class of Service

Coach or Economy class or Main Cabin airfare for our international trips is typically about $1,000 round trip. The seats have limited leg room, and limited recline. American Airlines has some “Main Cabin Extra” seats in coach that have more leg room, and as high status flyers with American, we can reserve those seats at no extra cost, if you are tall, you might want to look into that small upgrade when you select your seats.

Basic Economy (or various other names) is a super discounted domestic airfare offered by some major airlines to compete with the discount carriers. You may not be allowed to select your seat, and will likely be assigned center seats. You may be charged for all bags, including carry on, but since you will board last, there will be limited space available. By the time you add the possible extra charges, you may be close to the cost of a regular Main Cabin fare.

Premium Economy (with other names on different airlines, such as BA “World Traveler Plus”) is a service that many airlines are starting to add on long haul (international) flights. The seats have much more legroom, more width (2, 3, 2 abreast rather than 2,4,2 on our recent 787 flights, and more recline. Our reaction is that the seats are more like the traditional first class seats on Domestic flights. Cost on our typical international trip is about $2,000 round trip, but occasionally less.

Our recent Premium Economy trip Los Angeles to Tokyo on American Airlines, the food was better, but still not Business Class food. The American seats were very comfortable.

Our recent Premium Economy trip Tokyo to Dallas on JAL, the food was closer to Coach than Business Class food, and the seats were larger but not as comfortable as on American.

A couple recent Premium Economy trips on British Airways (World Traveler Plus), the food was better but still not Business Class, and the seats were comfortable. These were daytime flights from London to Austin, so sleep was not tested.

Business Class has often advanced to full Lie Flat seats (we were able to sleep much of the flight) and distinctly better food. The funny seat arrangement to allow the flat bed sometimes makes it hard to communicate with a traveling partner. On one trip we found that rear facing seats put people next to each other, while people in the forward facing seats were quite isolated. In another (on BA) we picked seats that appeared to be close enough to talk, but they were not. The cost on our typical international round trip is $3,000 (watch for the special sales) to $6,000.

Beware of British Airways... and perhaps other airlines. We recently took a business class flight on BA in a plane configured with a total of 8 business class seats across the plane. The seats were so cramped that there wasn't a place to store glasses or other things while you were reclined, and the length of the "bed" was about 72 inches... too short for Charlie, and too narrow for him to roll to his side. We will now watch for that aircraft configuration and avoid those flights - or will certainly not pay for a business class seat on those airplanes.

First Class had been defined as Lie Flat for the last several years, but as that has moved to Business Class, many planes no longer have a first class section, or have a small First Class section where the seats swivel into conversation groups. In the extreme case there are even flights with showers for the first class passengers, and the seats are called suites. Cost on a typical international round trip is $7,500 to $12,000 or more.

Is it worth the cost? Only you can answer. But we were so impressed with Premium Economy that we will be considering it on future trips. Or on some trips, we may fly business class for the overnight portion (typical flight to Europe) and Premium Economy on the daytime portion (typical return from Europe).

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