Austrian’s New Premium Economy Is Bad News For Business Class Awards

Last September I wrote about how Austrian was planning on gradually introducing premium economy throughout their longhaul fleet of Boeing 767s and 777s.

At the time we learned that Austrian would introduce premium economy between the winter of 2017 and summer of 2018, and planes would feature the following number of premium economy seats:

  • Austrian’s 767s will each feature 18 premium economy seats (2-2-2 configuration)
  • Austrian’s 777s will each feature 24 premium economy seats (2-4-2 configuration)

Well, it looks like Austrian is making good progress when it comes to this, as they’ve just started reconfiguring their first 767 with premium economy, and premium economy tickets are now on sale for travel starting March 6, 2018. The timing of them starting to reconfigure planes makes sense, as it’s the end of the busy summer travel season. Austrian has now also revealed more details about the new product.

As expected, Austrian’s premium economy will be similar to Lufthansa’s premium economy (given that Austrian is part of the Lufthansa Group), and will feature 38″ of pitch.

Here’s how Austrian describes their new premium economy product:

  • New seat with a broader surface and generous spacing
  • Footrest starting in the second row or leg support with integrated footrest in the first row
  • Always a separate central armrest with fold-out table and cocktail table
  • 12-inch screen with remote control for the in-flight entertainment system
  • Own power outlet and USB port on the seat
  • 2 x 50 lbs. free baggage
  • High-quality food selection with menu card
  • Welcome drink
  • Amenity kit with useful travel accessories

In terms of pricing, premium economy seems to be ~$400-500 one-way more expensive for US routes than the cheapest economy fares. I’m not seeing any premium economy fares between the US and Vienna for less than $2,000 roundtrip, which is… steep.

Now to the really bad news — it looks like premium economy is coming at the expense of business class seats. For example, here’s the new 777 seatmap for business class and premium economy:

Austrian’s 777s currently have 10 rows of business class, so Austrian is cutting 10 business class seats in order to add 24 premium economy seats.

Meanwhile here’s the new 767 seatmap for business class and premium economy:

Austrian’s 767s currently have nine rows of business class, so Austrian is cutting 10 business class seats in order to add 18 premium economy seats.

While I can’t blame Austrian, this new premium economy cabin is very bad news for business class award space. I guess that’s not surprising given that Austrian business class awards are wide open, often even between Los Angeles and Vienna (Los Angeles is usually a market in which it’s really tough to snag transatlantic awards).

Comments

  1. I get its annoying when trying to book award tickets but i really believe the future of air travel is in premium economy.

    There’s a big sector of the market who just wants the cheapest fare, period. But there’s also a sizable portion (like myself) who finds it hard to justify business class but will gladly shell out a little more to not be cramped and to have better food. Both of my experiences in long-haul premium economy have been fantastic.

  2. Very interesting timing. I probably will have to call Austrian anyway, but just curious if you might know Lucky – I am scheduled to take a flight from VIE to MIA in March. Unfortunately, only economy saver awards were available for the particular flight I need and according to Austrian, that fare code does not permit using their “bid to upgrade” option. I was likely going to try to see if I could pay for an upgrade closer to the flight, but in the meantime, I did pay extra to reserve an exit row seat 19k. Any idea if the economy rows are changing? If I paid for what was previously considered a “premium” economy seat, now that there is actually a premium economy cabin, do you think I would automatically get bumped up? Not sure how airlines typically handle this in the past, but it does seem as though Austrian is selling P.E. seats on this flight on this date so they are expecting the retrofit to be complete by then.

  3. Flew business iad-vie and was very disappointed with narrow lie flat seats, armrest did not go down and feet area small so couldn’t sleep at all. Food and especially coffee drinks were nice.

  4. totally agree with @Aron. For this price it is easy to score flat bed these days, not just a little more recline and little more legroom

  5. So if I have a flight (Toronto-Vienna) in Business class this December, should I have any concerns I could be down graded?

  6. You mention Austrian business awards are wide-open, but I looked next summer and didn’t see any on united’s search engine. Do they only open up 3 months out? Also, disappointed to hear that IAD-VIE wasn’t an enjoyable flight, that’s what I’m looking for!

  7. That’s really too bad. Austrian’s business class is my favorite way to cross the Atlantic — way better than Lufthansa’s business and more reasonably priced and accessible than LH First — and I was hoping to be able to fly to Vienna again next year and enjoy a Café Maria Theresia on the flight. I guess the world is barreling quickly toward “premium mediocre”.

  8. I won’t pay even a single cent more for premium economy. And I usually don’t eat the food airlines serve anyway. So yes, this is a sad development. Extra legroom should cost $50-100 more for tall people or people with claustrophobia. Charging $500 extra, and for such a bad product, is highway robbery.

  9. I booked Austrian J on united.com a few weeks ago – availability was wide open in July. Now, nothing. My seat map has already been updated with a smaller cabin.

  10. I can’t believe my bad luck. In one week Sep 3 will be bookable and until now everything has been wide open all summer. Now I can’t find anything.

    Any chance they temporarily removed all award space and will be restoring some?

  11. Following up on my earlier post – I just got off the phone with Austrian and apparently this is still even news to their customer service reps. When trying to confirm that my exit row seat selection would not change due to the introduction of a premium economy, she was adamant that premium economy does not exist on Austrian. I wish I could have screenshot her the webpage where I could make a new reservation on the same flight in premium economy…

  12. I think it is wonderful that more and more airlines are adding true Premium Economy on their long-haul international flights. Regular Economy is too miserable an experience, and Business has gotten too expensive. Premium Economy is the new sweet point.

  13. @Silverspringer What seat were you in? I have heard of the single (throne) seat not having as much room for your feet. I was told that the aisle seats (row C and G) are pretty open. Thanks

  14. @rt 4 g there were different configurations. My husband had 4d and didn’t have problem with unmoveable armrest but he agreed about tight room around feet

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