Airline Cabin Classes Compared — Economy vs Premium Economy vs Business vs First Class

How to read fare classes? When it's worth upgrading to a higher cabin class? Which airlines offer the best cabins, seats, and services? Read on to learn about the complex world of air travel classes and seat pricing strategies used by the largest airlines.

13 May 2021
Samantha Kaylee

Are you planning to travel from Asia or to Asia and in search of an adequate airline that offers comfortable travel? The region has many airline services working internationally, and these airlines are considered the leading ones in the aviation sector.

It is considered complex for travelers to compare fare classes between the airlines, especially if there are many formulas and complicated tricks. But leave that on us as we’ll compare Asia’s top 10 airlines to elaborate on all the pros and cons related to each airline and each ticket class on offer. By the end of the article, you’ll be able to decide which airline to choose and which of its classes suits you best.

But let’s start with the basics first.

What is a service class?

A service class (also: travel class, cabin class, or seat class) is a quality of service provided by an airline. It defines a set of services the airline offers you before, during, and after the flight. Higher seat classes are designed to be more comfortable and are typically more expensive.

Each seat on an airplane is put in a service class, which each come with their own set of rules, cabin configuration, and price. Airlines traditionally have three travel classes: economy, business, and first class. In recent years, a premium economy class has been added by some carriers as an intermediate class between economy and business classes.

Each cabin class is further divided into invisible fare classes, which also differ in conditions and benefits.

What is a fare class?

A fare class is a method of dividing every seat on a plane into different categories, each with its own price and set of rules. Fare classes (also called booking classes or fare buckets) are identified by one-letter fare codes. Some booking classes and codes are standard across all airlines, while some may be quite different. Basic fare classes are just the same as service classes and are typically shared across all airlines:

Y: Economy
W: Premium Economy
J: Business
F: First

Most airlines have a different fare class for all 26 characters in the alphabet (!). For instance, Qantas uses 14 letters just to denotes different subsets of its basic Economy Class:

Classic Flight Reward Economy: X
Economy Sale: E, N, O, Q
Economy Saver: G, K, L, M, S, V
Economy Flex: B, H, Y

Airlines use complex algorithms to determine how many seats get assigned to each booking class for a particular flight. Tickets within the same fare class are usually similarly priced, so this one letter is often the difference between you paying hundreds of dollars more or less for your ticket than the person sitting next to you.

The fare class letter defines the ticket rules: how much it costs, how many frequent flyer miles will be accrued for the flight, and how flexible the reservation will be. Fare classes are used by airline reservation systems and travel agents to keep track of seats that are still available for sale. If you are curious how many seats remain in a particular class on the flight you intend to book, the Expert Flyer website will have the answer.

Economy class: the budget fare

The economy class (commonly called travel or coach class) is the center part of the airplane with the most number of seats and only basic set of services. The majority of air travelers’ perception regarding the economic class is of a clumsy and overloaded section. The consumer believes that the economy section is a place with no facilities and portrays a local bus scene, which is real but not in all cases. But the fact is that the majority of airlines have lesser space and a greater number of seats in this section.

The economy class of Japan Airlines is considered to be the best across the globe. Japan Airlines has 34-inches of space between every economy class seat, enabling passengers to lean down the seat and relax. The additional footrest is another step in relaxation accompanied by complimentary beverages and amenities. All of these luxuries will cost you a round trip from Tokyo to London for only ¥110 000.

Singapore Airlines have newer giant airplanes like Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300. The seats have 32-inches of space with six sides cushion, and the passengers can enjoy their 10-11 inches entertainment screen with noise cancelation headphones. The most interesting one is the USB portal and charging facility as for the majority of youngsters, smart devices and gadgets are the most valuable things. The flight from Singapore to London will cost you only SGD 1,329.70.

Premium economy class: your comfort upgraded

The premium economy class was launched for the first time by British Airways almost 20 years ago. The idea was to introduce a cabin that would offer an additional comfort level between the economy and business class. Premium economy seats usually offer a slight improvement over the basic economy – there is more distance between the rows of seats, seats are a little bit wider, and the flight is a bit more comfortable.

Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines are the biggest competitors when it comes to premium economy seats. Japan Airlines is considered to be the leader in this category offering access to the private lounge at the airport for the premium economy class passengers, and 42-inches seats with a closed shell for those passengers who prefer a bit more privacy on a plane.

Premium Economy extra legroom on Cathay Pacific
Spacious seats with extra legroom in Premium Economy cabin (Cathay Pacific)

The Singapore Airline tops the list because of its food range, as it provides fifteen different items on the menu; plus the passengers can avail the facility of 67 excellent lie flatbeds. Similar to Cathay Pacific‘s recent up-gradations, these seats have a large storage area at the side, increased legroom, and side handles for resting hands. The airline offers a welcoming drink for premium passengers, and priority check-in facilities are an additional benefit.

Business class: high standards for high flyers

The business class has a significantly enhanced level of services compared to the premium economy and can be generally found on long-haul international routes. A comfortable seat or an adequate sleeping position is the most desirable feature on the list of a business traveler – followed by maintenance of privacy, availability of air nozzles, aesthetics, and higher hospitality level. All those extras come with a higher price tag, obviously, but if you need to arrive well-rested and ready to go, then the business class may be worth it.

The rivalry is getting more intense in this one as the gigantic airlines were given tough competition.

Qatar Airways is the leader here. Its business class has a full flat lie bed with seats that are 21.5-inches wide and 79-inches long. The seats are placed in a spacious cabin with a sliding door to create a private space for four if passengers travel in a group.

The Japan Airlines seats are 2-2-2 in configuration, and they are one of the largest seats available in this class. Plus the boutique and a wide range of world cuisines on the menu.

If you want to enjoy a range of drinks on a flight, book Emirates business class to get a private mini-bar in every cabin.

Singapore Airlines provides a double bed option for the passengers, and there is a lower foot space when passengers use it as a seat. If you fly from Los Angeles to Singapore, its business class comfort will cost you 4,574 USD.

First class: the luxury flying

The competition is fierce among airlines when it comes to the luxury class, as they attract the highest paying customers.

Without any doubt, the Emirates is at the top of the list since they upgraded their first class services in 2018. The airline will provide you with outclassing privacy in their well-sized cabins separated from other parts of the plane – accompanied by the bed, shower, bar, and a larger entertainment screen.

Garuda Indonesia is the best one that any passenger can witness with the most polite staff. Their seating facilities may be a bit below the average, though it will only cost $2,842 to fly from Jakarta to London.

Singapore Airlines tops the list in terms of comfort and the best combination of champagne and food with the best seat and a bed in their first class.

Etihad Airways has larger suits with roaming space, and it also provides dine on-demand service. However, their beds are a little uncomfortable, and people still prefer them because of their residence service that provides another comfort level.

Airasia cabin fare class flatbed
AirAsia X’s Premium Flatbed seat can be a real bargain on long-haul flights

AirAsia

There are four cabin classes to check-in AirAsia. The first one is the fare-only class which is equal to the economy class of other airlines. They are the only ones to charge an additional fee for food in this class, with a seat pitch of 29 inches and a width of 18 inches.

The airline’s premium flatbed class is arranged in 1-2-1 configurations, increasing the legroom for every passenger, especially the front ones. These seats can lean to a specific angle controlled by the panel on the seat’s side. They also provide a complimentary meal, soft duvet, priority baggage, and travel insurance to all premium class passengers.

[Review] Affordable Premium Flatbed class on AirAsia X Airbus A330-300 from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei

The corporate lite cabin class symbolizes luxury, with a complimentary meal, priority check-in facilities, flight cancellation, and re-scheduling only 2 hours before the flight. To increase the facility, the airline provides a 25 kg baggage allowance. The Corporate Full Flex cabin class is provided with travel insurance which also covers luggage. These passengers are also provided an option to pre-select their seats.

It will cost only $200 for the premium class on AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi.

First Class cabin Cathay Pcific
First Class experience in a luxury cabin on Cathay Pcific flight

Cathay Pacific

The economy class seating configuration is 3-3-3 with 17 inches wide space, which is comfortable enough. The most distinct feature is the blended cuisine options provided to the economy class passengers.

The premium economy class seats have a generous angle to lean down the seat with additional legroom space and full calf rest. The larger headrest and meal table support working and comfortable dining. Cathay Pacific also provides premium economy travelers with Wi-Fi and additional storage space.

The business class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration which can be converted into a fully lie flatbed. The semi portioned seats provide privacy along with larger storage spaces around the seat. Like first class, they have entertainment screens equipped with a wide range of TV shows, drama, movies, and other entertainment sources.

The first class has six cabins arranged in 1-1-1 configuration with 81 inches pitch and 36 inches wide seat. The first-class provides a comfortable mattress, entertainment screen, and international cuisines. The first-class passengers can also enjoy priority check-ins and access to a luxurious waiting lounge along with Wi-Fi.

The airline also provides the regional ticketing class, a type of premium economy class, but it is present only for Singapore’s regional flights.

Mini bar in business class china airlines
A well-equipped mini-bar awaits Business Class passengers in China Airlines lounges

China Airlines

The airline’s economy class was upgraded recently and since then the carrier is officially rated as a 4-star airline. The airline is one of the few to provide a pillow, blanket, toothbrush, and sleep masks in economy class. The airline has created an ambiance of traditional China with comfortable cushioned seats that will accompany you, and a screen for every passenger for their entertainment sustained by the greatest number of channels available.

The premium economy class has a 2-4-2 configuration with wider seats equipped with an entertainment screen and a place to hold cellphones. They also serve complimentary snacks in between two meals. There is a printed menu card for selecting the gourmet meals, which are enough to make a person full for the rest of the flight.

The business class seats are semi-portioned with additional legroom space, and these seats can be converted into complete lie flatbed. Along with this, a personal table lamp, 18-inch entertainment screen, storage space, reading light, and wooden furniture are also provided in this class. Passengers can also enjoy liquor, coffee, tea, refreshment, and a gourmet meal.

Business class cabin Emirates
Seats in 2-2-2 configuration in Emirates Business Class cabin (widebody Boeing-777 300ER)

Emirates

Emirateseconomy class has 3-4-3 seating configurations and standard size seats. The airline provides passengers with a large range of regional and international foods, along with individual entertainment screens. There are also USB ports and larger entertainment options in different languages, but the majority of them get inspired by the stigma of luxury attached to the Gulf countries.

The newly launched premium economy class, which is only available in few airplanes, has a 2-4-2 seating configuration with 49 inches of pitch and 19.5 inches wide. The headrest is six-way adjustable with extra storage space.

[Review] Emirates A380 Business Class from London to Dubai

The advantages of the business class start right from your home. Emirates provides a chauffeur to pick business class passengers from home and drop them near the terminal with priority security and boarding facilities. The seats are comfortable and spacious, which can recline up to a gentle angle. They also offer free massage and bar facilities to the passengers. These passengers have direct aisle access, seat power supply, personal entertainment screen, and privacy divider.

Emirates is well known for its complete suits dedicated to first-class passengers. The suit has a comfortable seat with extra space to walk. Private entertainment screens and gourmet meals are also included in the additional facilities. First-class passengers have direct access to the aisle, lounge, massage spa, and amenity with comfortable nightwear.

Business Class Etihad

Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways provides one of the most comfortable seats to economy class passengers. There are free eye masks, blankets, extra pillows, and world-class food served on most flights. The passengers can also enjoy 11 inches HD touch screen equipped with 60 interactive games and 100 movies. The most distinct feature is the on-flight nanny to take care of infants and assure parents’ comfort, regardless of the ticket class.

The journey of business class begins from the chauffeur service airline provide from home to the airport. They also have a walked-in lounge/bar on the flight, amenity kits, and inflight entertainment. Business-class seats are arranged in 1-2-1 configuration providing direct aisle access to every consumer.

The resident class, also known as the first-class, provides a whole separate cabin with a shower and every other service expected in a luxury hotel. The first-class passengers have on-demand dining and wine pairing with a complete lie flat bed assuring comfortable sleep.

Business class Garuda Indonesia
Spacious cabin and ambient interior in Garuda's Business Class, with seats in 1-2-1 configuration

Garuda Indonesia

The airline’s economy class provides 33 inches pitch seat with a 2-2-2 configuration, accompanied by USB sockets and noise cancelation headphones. Garuda Indonesia serves traditional food on their planes, which ranges depending on the destination. The economy class also has an additional baggage allowance of 40 kg, free Wi-Fi, free meals, and amenity kits.

In business class, the seats are 43 inches pitch with 21 inches width and direct aisle access. They also provide personal storage, extra pillows, and a personal entertainment screen. The amenity kit also came in the allergic versions, and all food served is prepared by 5-star chefs.

The first-class section has only 26 seats with a 1-2-1 configuration, and these seats are semi-portioned with extra storage and entertainment screen. The seats can be transformed into a complete lie flatbed around 73 inches in pitch and 21 inches wide with a large movable tray, headphones, and USB sockets. The passengers are also provided with 15 inches wide entertainment screen with more than 73 movies, amenities kit, blanket, and slippers to assure comfort. The discrete feature is the starry ceiling which came to life as soon as the lights were shut off.

Business Class specification

  • 38 spacious and ergonomic seats on Boeing 777-300ER plane
  • 43″ pitch, 21.2″ wide seats that can be reclined to a fully flat 180-degree position
  • direct aisle access for each seat
  • 30kg of checked baggage
  • inflight dining with snacks, light meals and main menus
  • inflight entertainment with 15″ LCD touchscreen
  • USB and power outlet
  • personal storage space
  • hypoallergenic pillow in a cotton cover, comforting furtex-plush duvet, and a L’occitane amenity kit
  • dedicated check-in and priority boarding lane
[Review] Garuda Indonesia Business Class from Jakarta to Amsterdam
First class japan airlines

Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines’ economy class has 19 inches wide seats with additional legroom and storage space under the seats and charging sockets. The economy class seats have a hammock style that supports the head and a personal entertainment screen. The airline also provides alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with special allergic food.

The premium economy class is on the favorite list for many passengers that flew with the airline at least once. Their seats are wider, and the staff is hospitable along with the wide range of delicious food they offer. Moreover, the airline also provides the facility to check-in their airport lounge and enjoy the liquor and noodles served by the mannerly staff with no competition in the world.

The business class seats are semi-leaned and semi-portioned with separate entertainment screens and a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The airline also secures its significant position by providing special allergic meals to every ticket class.

Premium economy seats Qantas airline
Modern Premium Economy cabin with extra-large seats in a 2-3-2 configuration (available on Qantas flights with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner)

Qantas

The Qantaseconomy class provides cushioned seats with additional legroom and lumbar support. Along with world-class dining, the airline is counted among a few to provide amenity kits to economy class passengers. The minimum baggage limit is almost 30 Kg, permissible to economy class passengers, which are one of the highest among all carriers.

The premium economy class is situated in an enclosed cabin with only 40 seats. Seats are spacious with extra legroom space, noise cancellation headphones, and an amenity kit.

The business class passengers can travel through priority check-ins, and they can also work on flight as the airline provides a working station on the flight. To assure the luxury of business class passengers, the airline provides amenities with pajamas and other accessories, rare in other airlines.

The airline entertains its passengers with a large HD entertainment screen. If the passenger is dietary conscious, they can inform the airline about their specifications 24-hours prior and enjoy their customized meal.

Experience Qantas Business Class on Dreamliner
Business class cabin a380 qatar airways
Qatar Business Class cabin with seats in 1-2-1 configuration (Airbus A380)

Qatar Airways

The airline claims to provide the most spacious seats with the reclining facility in the economy class. The economy class passengers can enjoy additional legroom, which is arranged in 3-3-3 configuration. Qatar Airways is among the few to provide amenity kits, pre-booked meals, and seats with a power socket.

The airline’s business class provides semi-portioned seats with private entertainment screens and direct aisle access, as they are arranged in 1-2-1 configuration. These seats are 21.5 inches wide and 79 inches long, providing enough comfort. They are also facilitated with on-demand food with complimentary liquor. The amenity kit came with a travel logo with confidence came with hand sanitizer, face mask, and eye mask. The crew will also provide a mask and face shield for traveling during COVID days.

Simultaneously, the airline’s first-class includes Qsuites, completely separate cabins with a lie-flat bed for two people. These passengers are provided with separate areas to play and work with large working spaces and power supply.

Business class singapore airlines
Business Class cabin on Singapore Airlines plane

Singapore Airlines

Most seats in the economy class on Singapore Airlines flights have 32 inches pitch; the passengers are greeted with a hotel towel to refresh with personal entertainment screens and gourmet meals. According to Dissertation Assistance UK, the airline’s premium economy class seats provide additional legroom with an adjustable headrest, USB port, additional storage, and on-demand food. Passengers can enjoy their entertainment screen and personal dining space, and a specially customized meal, though passengers have to inform the airline 24 hours earlier.

The business class seats are the semi-portioned seats that can be converted into a full lie flatbed and directly access the aisle. The additional storage space, fine dining with pre-booked meals, and various entertainment options are also included in this list. SIA’s business class has wider seats with semi-portioned private space, and the most distinct feature is the mood light which can be adjusted as per the passengers’ requirement.

Singapore Airlines is known for its suite services in the first class – a whole room with a comfortable chair, a fully flat bed, an entertainment screen, and auto-controlling features. The suite provides a sit-up lavatory with an exquisite range of toiletries to ensure the suite’s luxury.

Samantha Kaylee

Samantha Kaylee


Samantha Kaylee is currently working as Assistant Editor at Crowd Writer and Dissertation Assistance UK, where you can ask her to do your essay. She loves to travel to experience things and places that are completely unknown or unique.

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