Singapore Airlines Struggling To Sell Premium Economy On The World’s Longest Flights

Singapore Airlines recently launched the world’s longest flight, from Singapore non stop to Newark using their new special Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft. They decided to fit these aircraft with only 67 business class, and 94 premium economy seats (i.e. no first class, or economy class).

Singapore Airlines operates this aircraft type to Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Ben recently took the world’s longest flight in business class and had various observations:

Singapore Airlines has said business class sales on these ultra long haul flights have met expectations, and are commercially viable.

But what about premium economy?

I recently read a review of the premium economy cabin on TPG on the world’s longest flight between Singapore and New York, and the reviewer made a very valid point that I (and perhaps Singapore Airlines) had not considered when designing the layout when summing up the flight by saying:

The problem with having such a large premium economy class as the back cabin of the aircraft is that it effectively turns into economy.

Besides the seat, indeed a significant improvement over an economy seat, I struggled to find where this flight differentiated itself from Singapore Airlines’ excellent economy product.

Singapore Airlines has 94 premium economy seats on their A350ULR in one enormous cabin. I believe this is, by far, the world’s biggest premium economy cabin.

The enormous premium economy cabin on Singapore Airlines A350-900ULR

One of the benefits of premium economy over economy on any other aircraft (or carrier) is that the cabin is much smaller than the economy cabin, which both feels premium, and results in more personalised service, as there are usually crew assigned just to the premium economy cabin.

Singapore Airlines has admitted that they have struggled to sell premium economy on these ultra long haul flights, saying:

I think we need to continue to stimulate and encourage the market to consider this product, initially with very attractive pricing, but eventually I think people will see that even at prices which we offer it is a good product to purchase because it is a very long flight.

Looking at their non stop flight from Singapore to New York, in, say a few months time, for their business class pricing, they can command a price premium over most of their competitors as being the only carrier to fly between the cities non stop:

But for premium economy, though they should be able to command a premium for the convenience of the only non stop flight, they are by far the cheapest compared with their competitors, who operate with a stop.

Their non stop is even cheaper than their own one stop via Frankfurt, though it should be the other way around:

And looking at their ExpertFlyer loads for the next flight between Singapore and New York, there is only (at least) one business class seat available for the flight, while being at least nine (i.e. the maximum displayable) premium economy seats for sale.

Bottom line

I’ve written before about how and why I personally don’t see the benefit in the world’s longest flights versus connecting.

I’d consider taking the world’s longest flight in business class, but if I had to do it in premium economy I would absolutely take a one stop option to break up the journey and have a stop overnight somewhere along the way.

Usually carriers operating the only non stop service between two cities can command a price premium for the time saving. And for business class, Singapore Airlines is already doing that.

But there is much less demand in the market for premium economy on the world’s longest flights, both because the premium economy cabin is so enormous that it fails to be premium, and the journey is so gruelling that I expect passengers would rather break it up, rather than doing it in one long slog.

If you had to fly between Singapore and New York in premium economy, would you rather do it direct, or stop somewhere to break up the journey?

Comments

  1. I have to disagree for those of us that take these long haul flights for business as well as pleasure. Having taken EK, BA, AF, DL long haul regular over the past 20 years mostly paid by the by an option of premium coach would be welcomed. As I slow my work involvement the option is welcomed. Not all carrier’s product is the same some are work well. I do like AF premium coach, small cabin, quiet and seats are comfortable.

    When you pay for seats out of your own pocket the lens your looking through changes.

  2. …plus the seats are not comfortable. Not for an 18hr flight. And I was in one of the solo seats, too. SQ had the chance to do something special and different with the premium Y seats in their A350ULR, but they didn’t. I wouldn’t fly this route in premium y again.

  3. I wonder how corporate travel policies around booking coach only come into play? If your company has an economy only policy for classes of employees, they could effectively be locked out of this flight.

  4. And perhaps more significantly — I think many who might be interested in premium economy first look at flight pricing in economy and then upgrade during the booking process after they’ve selected an airline / flight. To them, this flight would not come up at all in search results since it has no economy seats.

  5. I was looking to book a ticket in January, but for the flights I want, the only premium economy seats remaining are the 4 abreast in the middle. That is a no-go for us. If I am paying a premium, I want to sit on the 2 abreast sides or the solo seats at the back of the plane. For me, there is nothing premium about being stuck in the middle. So if I am going to Singapore in January, it will not be on the nonstop. Also, I think people are searching for flights in economy, so the nonstop EWR-SIN flight doesn’t show in results, because it has no economy class.

  6. Debit. I’ve been wondering when they will finally offer escorts onboard. Would expect it more from a European carrier

  7. On the first image in the post you drew a map of flights from Singapore to Newark, Los Angeles and Seattle. Meanwhile in the sentance before you mentioned Singapore to Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or not but I just wanted to let you know.

  8. There’s no way my company’s policy would allow me to buy this flight,and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I travel mostly on USG contracts and there’s just no provision for premium economy. They’d probably have better luck if they kept the pricing and service but called it economy instead – corporate policy isn’t great at optimization.

  9. Article states NYC, LAX, SFO. Map shows SEA not SFO. Which is it? I know SEA is coming but it’s it this aircraft?

  10. Agreed with other that they may have inadvertently caused their own issues with having premium economy as the baseline. My work’s system that we must use (we won’t get reimbursed if we book outside of it) only shows economy choices. We may then get an approval to upgrade depending on the length of the flight which is routed in the system. This flight will never be an option to choose, even if its premium is cheaper than the economy options that will populate in the system.

  11. Singapore tried the economy cabin on this flight before, and it failed. Why not go back to the all business class configuration ?

  12. The premium they charge for the non-stop flight in business class isn’t that “significant” at the moment.

  13. Maybe make it ll business class with a fare between the two current prices, and cut some of the trimmings and fripperies?

  14. Good point with the corporate travellers on stingy company travel policies with eco only, or some companies that allow most direct routing (even if more expensive). Why not sell also the most flexible and expensive economy tickets on the flight and “upgrade” them into premium economy for free? That way companies can book, SQ fills the cabin and earns more revenue (flexible economy can sells for a multiple of cheapest premium economy) and I doubt any traveller will complain about the better seat.

  15. For us semi-price conscious -premium leisure travellers, there’s an opportunity to fly to Asia less painfully than in economy.

    I want the most seat for the money and the idea of being caught in 3-3-3 in a 787 or 3-4-3 in a 777 makes me want to stay home honestly. I’d rather take JAL’s PE but it prices around $2,500 at best to Tokyo from BOS. At $1,500 RT, it’s a lot of flight for the money.

  16. Most company policies allow some deviation from the class policy if the higher class is cheaper or the same price as the lower class. When I used to fly JFK-LHR frequently for business, I was only supposed to use business class, but AA frequently offered special rates in F to try to get our business, and I never had any problem requesting it (our outsourced travel provider would usually proactively point out the option.)

    My current employer allows you a 10% variance from lowest price available – it’s meant to allow flexibility in timing, but could also be used to take a flight within the variance and go up a class. (You can’t go up a class on the same flight, even if it was only 10% higher, but that rarely happens because except for executives who need more flexibility, we truly book lowest available, not unrestricted coach. Our events are planned a year in advance, so restricted tickets aren’t an issue.)

    Since these planes don’t have economy, Singapore should just list the tickets as Y and go around the problem entirely.

  17. This just goes to show how wide the gap between the premium market (first and Business class) and economy (including Premium economy) has become! Most of the airlines around the world are putting all their effort into the premium classes at the expense of deterioration of economy.
    Luxurious flat bed suites/seats versus narrower economy seats with poor service. Economy service on major airlines has declined so badly that people are turning to Low Cost Carriers!
    Give the economy passenger better seats and meals for free like you used to and see if numbers pick up again

  18. Such long flights are for premium passengers. I think they should have offered first class too. That’s the main mistake imho.

  19. Supply and demand would should lead to low prices for PE on this flight. Korean Air has 94 business-class seats on the A380. Bulkheads and galleys break up the upper deck into three cabins so there is no “cattle car” feeling. Re the connection/no connection question: I would choose no connection and the 94-seat cabin on SQ because there would be a very good chance of having an empty seat or two beside me.

  20. I would prefer a non-stop over a stop, even in premium economy. I think the problem for PE is feeling you are with the masses. I used to fly Cathay in PE from HK to NYC, which is 2-3 hours shorter than the flight from Singapore. The main advantage was not being stuck with all the noisy Chinese tourists and families.

  21. These PE seats are only more comfortable than economy if economy’s completely sold out. I’d take an economy hobo- business with armrests up over being stuck in those PE seats. Also, I’d never want to take the Singapore PE flight from NYC if I was travelling by myself. The 2-4-2 arrangement means that you’re either without a wall to lean on for that whole time or trapped at your seat. It’s quite difficult to get out when there are legrests.

  22. I would think that there’s at least some demand for First Class on this flight. Perhaps they should add 4-8 first suites, keep business at the same level and reduce seating in Premium economy.

  23. They could use more Business seats. The 3X I’ve tried to book, it was sold out (So I took United through Narita in ‘real’ Polaris, connecting with ANA). No way flying Premium Economy.

  24. The comfort of splitting up a long flight into a one-stop is indeed appealing (if not required) when flying in economy because of the going trend with more cramped seats and fewer comforts than ever before. With SQ’s PE that wasn’t a concern at all. For a comparable experience on other full carriers flying transpacific, there is little to no price difference with SQ’s… at least for the moment when they are still posting (I’d argue promotional) fares.

    If they raised ticket prices for PE on these non-stops, then I’ll have to think twice.

  25. James – You seem to be half answering questions (which therefore doesn’t answer them at all) a lot recently. If you don’t answer them properly it’s probably best not to answer them at all!

    Theyhbu already said that they had a price premium, they said it wasn’t SIGNIFICANT. Being 5% more expensive on the one day you’ve quoted is not particularly interesting.

  26. I wouldn’t considered flying premium eco. May be good option for business when not allowed by their company to fly Jcl. In my point of view would be good only if your stop in Singapore. I rather fly premium eco with one over night transit. Specially if you are on vacations, there is no rush to get to destination.

  27. Thinking more about it, the nonstop option is better for families with small kids (as you’ll go through boarding/security just once on a nonstop flight versus the possibility of going through that multiple times when travelling with stops.)

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