What Is OpenSkies Premium Economy (Prem Plus) Like?

No, don’t worry, this isn’t another post about La Compagnie. I think I’ve covered just about every aspect of La Compagnie’s operations after my recent flight with them.

But here’s a post that’s hopefully actually helpful.

La Compagnie’s direct competitor in the New York to Paris market is OpenSkies, a British Airways subsidiary which launched just over six years ago. Funny enough, the co-founder of La Compagnie was also the founder of L’Avion, which OpenSkies later bought.

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OpenSkies seat map via SeatGuru

One of the main criticisms of La Compagnie is that they are not offering a lie-flat business class, while every other airline in the market either has fully flat business class seats or plans to install them.

OpenSkies, for example, has fully flat seats with direct aisle access in their “Biz Bed” cabin.

When I spoke with the Deputy CEO and Co-Founder of La Compagnie a few weeks ago, I mentioned some were saying the La Compagnie product was best compared to OpenSkies premium economy, Prem Plus, rather than business class. He was borderline insulted, and called the comparison “ridiculous,” but I’m not so sure.

I haven’t flown OpenSkies since their inaugural weekend in 2008, but I remember the seat as spacious, and the Biz Bed product being quite comfortable.

However, my friend John flies OpenSkies regularly, and offered to share some thoughts on their premium economy product. He’s one of my favorite aviation geeks, and can be followed on Twitter at @thatjohn.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, John!


I fly transatlantically an awful lot.

I was practically raised flying unaccompanied minor in economy by British Airways cabin crew on old 747s (G-AWNO forever!). You for coffee? You for coffee? You for coffee?

tumblr_inline_mzms7ccdeC1rjz808Of course, I’d rather do it in business class. (F is wasted on such a short flight.) But the problem is: I like spending money on Bollinger champagne more than I like spending money on business class (and the business class taxes).

Now, like any good mostly British person, I avoid flying longhaul out of the UK, since the taxes are insane (especially once you get out of economy).

I’ve done a few premium economy redemptions with Flying Club miles and Avios, but I’m convinced that the better use of Virgin miles is partner longhaul roundtrips (where there are practically no fees) and that the better use of Avios is shorthaul business class.

OpenSkies Prem Plus:

Like hiring an inexperienced maid, it’s delightfully cheap.

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Flying on OpenSkies is actually a much better value. And I can usually find a reason to be in France when I’m heading to Europe — I’ll either be connecting somewhere that isn’t London, staying in France for a little bit of la vie gourmand, or happy enough to spend the $70 on a quick economy hop to London on BA.

I’ve flown Prem Plus four times in the last year or so, and I’d fly it again — though it’s not without its flaws. (F-GPEK and your TWO bathrooms for anyone who isn’t in business, I’m looking at you.)

So, I’ve been watching La Compagnie (quelle compagnie? LA COMPAGNIE!) very carefully, and I’ve pretty much decided that it’s a no from me.

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I actually think that OpenSkies Prem Plus is a better deal — despite its issues, the good outweighs the bad. Here’s the rundown.

The good:

The seat.

It’s one of the roomiest premium economy seats in the world.

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52” of pitch (that’s a foot more than most), 20” wide with a big middle armrest, no middle seats, and it’s got a proper legrest that actually supports your legs if you happen to be taller than Tyrion Lannister, unlike most premium economy legrests.

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These are the same seats that American used to use in their 767-200 transcon business class, and they’re really very good. It also helps that they’re all manual controls, which means they break much less frequently.

There’s also a full universal power outlet, and you get an iPad with a reasonable selection of movies that changes monthly. You can also use the iPad arm as a laptop stand for watching movies or just looking like a bit of a knob, as I do.

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The price.

It’s reliably cheaper than economy between the US and London, especially in high season, and particularly since you don’t pay the UK’s rip-off APD tax.

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The champers.

Officially, it’s Heidsieck Monopole, which is what BA serves in Club Europe and is okay if it’s chilled right down, but if you time it right and ask as the crew is heading forwards, they’ll often bring you a glass of the Biz Bed Billecart Salmon.

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The Avios, tier points and oneworld privs.

I have oneworld Sapphire status, which means I’m 4 for 4 getting my preferred seat (6F). And of course I get the miles and status credits. BA’s relatively new lounge at EWR is really very good indeed, though of course it’s no Virgin Clubhouse. (Although the dots on the windows suck.)

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At Orly it’s the increasingly awful Iberia lounge, which is now pointless since they removed the champers and stopped the premium escort through security and passport control.

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And at JFK it’s the rather middling Galleries Club, the Lounge That Power Outlets Forgot. JFK Galleries Club:

Pluots yes…

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…power outlets near the seats, no.

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The bad:

Orly.

It’s awful. No worse than Deep Space Nine CDG T1 though.

The only good thing about it is the Ladurée macaron stand.

The food.

It’s seriously declined in the last year. The mushy-crispy crepes and raw tomato sauce with murdered asparagus last time I flew was inedible.

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I swear to God I didn’t purposefully try to make that look awful. (But I’d eaten in the lounge and so I didn’t starve.)

And I’m pretty sure the weaponised croissant that they hand out for breakfast is illegal to export to several countries we don’t like.

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The staff.

Alas, all the efficiency and charm that you expect from the Parisian tourist industry.

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What would I fly?

I fly between Europe and the US a bunch of times a year. I practically grew up flying British Airways 747-100s and -200s between Heathrow and JFK, down the back in economy. (I grew up a diplobrat.) I am really quite picky about seats.

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My favorite 747 Club World seat

But the bottom line is that I don’t actually think that La Compagnie’s seats are better than OpenSkies Prem Plus.

Yes, La Compagnie’s seats recline further. But for a seven-hour overnight, I don’t find I get a huge amount of better rest in an angled lie-flat than I do in a good cradle sleeper.

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The La Compagnie pitch is slightly better, but if I can grab the exit row or bulkhead rows on OpenSkies (which I can, thanks to BA charging non-status pax for seat selection) then it’s just as good.

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Every OpenSkies plane has a bulkhead at row 6…

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…but only F-HAVI and F-HAVN have an exit row at row 7. F-GPEK (which is one of the original BA OpenSkies 757s, rather than the ones from L’Avion) has just a normal seat there. (Ask at check-in for this row if you’re not on F-GPEK.)

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And in terms of pricing, I’m rarely flying this route in a pair, so the introductory “2 for $2014” La Compagnie pricing isn’t useful for me. Even if it were, I have always been able to get OpenSkies Prem Plus for €999, which is about $1300. SOLD.

(I actually don’t think that Biz Bed is a great value because the Club World 2000 seat isn’t really all that good any more.)

Basically, my thoughts about La Compagnie are:

By the time I take into account the fact that I’d earn over 16,000 Avios (which I personally value at around $400 because I book a lot of BA short-range redemptions — your personal value may be different) I don’t think La Compagnie can touch BA in terms of value.

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Comments

  1. R B says

    I flew on Open Skies earlier this year and enjoyed it.
    Orly Airport is a bit better than Roissy CDG in my opinion, which doesn’t mean much.
    Also it is closer to the center of Paris than CDG.

  2. Lantean says

    wow! that’s a really high valuation of avios! like really ridiculous… about double of what i value them!

  3. Ed says

    @Lantean Most BA short haul redemption in Western Europe are 4500 one way. That makes for $112.50 one way ticket (excluding taxes) as a break-even price. Picking some random flights to Zurich for a couple of days next next week, with avios availability, the fare, excluding tax and fuel surcharges is $114.15. So if that is how you use abios, for relatively short notice european short haul that valuation would make sense. YMMV

  4. brianna hoffner says

    Thanks for the review, John. I’ve not flown Openskies since they reinstalled economy seats a few years ago. Is that third-from-last photo a picture of the seat at full recline? That’s quite a significant difference if so.

    Seems like the food went down several notches from when I flew, and losing access to the Diplomat lane at Orly is just painful…

  5. Billy says

    I don’t recall the last time someone said the 767-200 J seats on the old AA transcons were nice. Notable.

  6. says

    @Lantean — what Ed said. I basically use Avios for stupidly expensive shorthaul European and Asia flights, so they save me a bucket.

    @Mike — to get OpenSkies to price in Euros, you need to start in Paris. When I was based in the US, I flew to Europe frequently enough to always know when my next trip was, which helped. The US pricing is about $50-100 more expensive (oh, you guys, with your economic recovery and all that…).

    @brianna — nope, that’s not full recline. Alas, I don’t have a pic of the full recline! However, there’s one here, and a quick Google Image search shows that there are a few more around. I share your dismay at both the food decline and the lack of Orly fast-track escort. The “no-one” (or “No 1″ as the Parisians call it) line isn’t as good.

    @Billy — heh, it all depends on what you’re comparing them to, doesn’t it?

  7. Andrew B says

    Loved this — especially the Downton theme (my favorite is “What is Economy?”). I’m flying OpenSkies Prem Plus in November for the first time, and glad to get this perspective! For a while I was regretting booking OpenSkies when La Compagnie was offering such competitive pricing, but I’m not sure if I’d book them so far in advance anyway given that it’s a startup with a questionable business model.

  8. eponymous coward says

    So… where are these $1300 round trip Prem Plus trips? I’m looking on ba.com (since openskies.com redirects you there) and seeing them for $2K each way from JFK or EWR to ORY, for random dates in September, November and December.

    $4k for premium economy? kthxno.

  9. eponymous coward says

    Ah, OK, now I’ve found some.

    In January.

    So, 4+ month advance purchase? This is sort of an important detail. ;)

  10. says

    @Al — Cheers! Good to see you too :)

    @eponymous coward — Are you searching from PAR to NYC or NYC to PAR? I’m seeing a whole bunch of fares at €502 one way from the middle of September, and €562 until then. Even originating in NYC, I’m seeing a bunch of fares at $561-666 (the FARE OF SATAN OMG) between now and mid Sep.

  11. flyinghome says

    “I’m seeing a whole bunch of fares at €502 one way from the middle of September, and €562 until then. Even originating in NYC, I’m seeing a bunch of fares at $561-666 (the FARE OF SATAN OMG) between now and mid Sep.”

    @Yes, that John, care to share where you’re finding these fares?

  12. says

    @flyinghome — BA.com. €562 the whole week outbound starting 9 Sep, and returning the week of 16 Sep. (I don’t *think* BA geolocates pricing like Air NZ does, but if they do… I’m currently in the UK, so if you’re not, then YMMV.)

  13. flyinghome says

    @Yes, that John – thanks. Ba.com isn’t geotargeting. I had misread your earlier comment and assumed that a one-way fare could be had for 502 euros. It’s 502 euros each way only if a R/T is booked, otherwise the one-way fare is 1700 euros. Thanks again for the review!

  14. eponymous coward says

    Hmm, I see fares at $851 outbound, $928 inbound, NYC-ORY, mid-September.

    Very interesting… O_o

  15. Mike S. says

    If you get PE on a regular BA flight for that price, its only 10K avios each way to upgrade.

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