Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Flight #: AF 8
Route: Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Date: July 20, 2023
Duration: 8hr 42min
Cabin and Layout: Air France premium economy with 24 seats, 2-4-2 configuration
Seat: 11L then 10L (window seats)
Cost: 30,000 Flying Blue miles (for 21,600 Citi ThankYou Points) + $233.75
Typical Cash Price: $3,200
Booking premium economy can be a hit-or-miss situation. You will pay more than an economy ticket and less than business class, but where does the ticket fall on that pricing spectrum? And what are the perks — closer to business class or economy class? And in the case of Air France, will you get the new premium economy seats on new and retrofitted planes, or will you get the older seats?
Regardless of what I got, I was happy with this award booking. It was my first premium economy reservation, and I got a heck of a deal. It would have taken a catastrophe for me to be disappointed by comparing what I got with what I paid.
But that doesn’t objectively mean the flight was good. There were a few areas for improvement and some musical chairs with other passengers made for an interesting flight. Here’s what it was like flying Air France premium economy between Paris and New York in late July 2023.
I knew I needed to get home to California from Madagascar in late July, and there was a 30% transfer bonus from Citi ThankYou Points to Flying Blue running when I booked my flights. While I kept hoping for flights to the West Coast to pop up in the next month’s Promo Rewards offering, the best I could do was get to New York and book a cheap flight home from there.
I made separate bookings from Johannesburg (JNB) to Paris (CDG) and another from Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK). I’d waited until the last minute, hoping for something to the West Coast, but I didn’t want to lose a seat on the flight from Johannesburg, which was also a Promo Reward. For the latter flight, I even scored a seat in premium economy and stacked a ton of perks together to reduce my costs greatly.
First, there was the 30% transfer bonus. With this award costing 30,000 miles, I only needed to transfer 24,000 Citi ThankYou Points to make it happen. However, I also hold the Citi Rewards+® Card, which gives 10% of your redeemed points back annually (on up to 100,000 redeemed points). Thus, I got 2,400 points back. My final cost: 21,600 Citi ThankYou Points + $233.75 in taxes and fees. This is even lower than the 24,500 miles usually required for a standard economy award!
On a flight that normally costs $3,200, that’s a heck of a deal. I got 13.7 cents per point in redemption value — about 8 times the average value of Citi ThankYou Points.
I’d be remiss not to mention the high-quality offers I saw in the Air France app when checking in for my flight. For $449, I could’ve moved into business class with a lie-flat seat.
I think that’s a good price overall. Why didn’t I take it? This was a daytime flight, and I didn’t plan to sleep. I would’ve jumped at that offer if this had been an overnight flight. However, others might be interested in this, so check the app 24 hours before departure to see if there’s an upgrade offer you like.
As I arrived from Johannesburg and didn’t have checked baggage, I zipped through the airport transfer process and headed directly to my gate. Despite these being separate reservations, I didn’t need to do a new check-in because I could use the Air France mobile app and get my boarding passes for both flights.
Traveling in premium economy doesn’t afford lounge access to any Air France lounges. And there weren’t any lounges available for me to visit in Terminal 2 using the American Express Global Lounge Collection or Priority Pass. Priority Pass lists Yotel, which is just a collection of tables to sit at unless you want to pay handsomely to get a hotel room. Thus, I grabbed a coffee and a comfortable seat.
Boarding was extremely organized and mostly efficient. After business class and top-tier elites, premium economy and Flying Blue Silver elites boarded together in a dedicated priority lane. In fact, an employee moved through the line checking boarding passes and documents and directing people to the correct lane helped the process move faster and smoother.
As we boarded through the middle door, all economy passengers passed through the premium economy mini-cabin on their way to their seats. A galley separated premium economy from business class, while a small divider and curtain formed the division with the main cabin.
The Boeing 777-200 premium economy seats were in a 2-4-2 layout. There were 3 rows, making a total of 24 seats.
I selected seat 11L, a window seat in the middle row of the mini-cabin.
At the last moment before takeoff, 2 passengers who didn’t have seats together arrived. Since one of them was elderly and needed her daughter’s assistance, passengers shuffled around to get them together while letting everyone keep a seat they wanted. However, during the process, people who tried to trade middle seats for bulkhead aisle seats made things worse.
I’d already played with my seat’s features and taken many pictures before moving from 11L to the seat in front of it — 10L, in the front row, located at the bulkhead. That’s why you’ll see some discrepancies in my location in the pictures.
We had ample bin space with just 24 seats in the small premium economy cabin and overhead bins dedicated to our cabin. Much of it went unused.
These premium economy seats feature more reclining space than economy seats but don’t go flat like a business class seat. However, they’re more spacious in elbow space and side to side and have more leg room from the seat in front. They also have an adjustable reading light located on the flexible arm over the shoulder of the seat.
When sitting in row 11, my knees didn’t hit the back of the seat in front of me, though I’m 5 feet 10 inches tall. At the bulkhead, I had considerable foot space.
Except for seats at the bulkhead, seats also have a footrest.
The footrest folds down from under the seat and can go down halfway or all the way, depending on your preference.
There’s also a leg rest. I didn’t find this overly helpful because it doesn’t go high enough to feel like a recliner chair — just enough to awkwardly lift your feet off the ground.
The seat recline and leg rest were controlled by these 2 buttons along the armrest.
The wider armrest between me and the passenger beside me had a small table space to set drinks.
It also had a strange cubby hole underneath, but I found this impractical for storing anything.
There was also a small control built into the plastic molding here. It had volume and channel controls for the entertainment system and buttons for the overhead light and to call the flight attendant.
We had 2 universal outlets and 2 USB ports for charging devices between the seats.
The tray tables in rows 11 and 12 with seats in front of them were enormous. The table was released from the seat back by pushing up on this latch.
When it came down, I thought it was a good size.
Then, I realized I could unfold the table into this monster. Impressive.
Seats in premium economy had standard windows with pull-down plastic shades, like those featured in economy cabins on most airlines.
But a few additional features also set these seats apart from their economy features. The pillow and blanket at my seat before boarding were good quality. Having flown Air France economy and business class, I’d say these were a great middle ground from what those cabins provide.
Passengers also received a bottle of water already at the seat before boarding.
And there were dedicated spots to hold drinks located between the seats.
Premium economy passengers also got better headphones than the flimsy headsets I’m used to in economy. These weren’t noise-canceling premium products, but they were better than average. Headphones were located in this storage clip between seats, and the headphone jack was conveniently in the same space — no hunting for where to plug in the headphones.
Lastly, the seat belt had more padding to make it more comfortable.
I found the seats comfortable. I didn’t get that “my butt hurts” feeling after sitting in the seat for nearly 9 hours. That’s a compliment, for sure. It wasn’t luxurious, but I didn’t need to adjust positions to get comfortable throughout the trip, and I consider that a win.
I would choose any aisle or window seat here. I wouldn’t take a middle seat (in the sections of 4 seats). Those are seats F and G.
Getting a middle seat seems antithetical if you book premium economy for the extra space, comfort, and legroom. However, these could be good seats for a family traveling together, occupying the whole block.
Aisle seats are available as seats B, E, H, and K. Window seats are A and L. Take your pick according to your preference if you’re a solo traveler. For couples, aim for seats A/B or K/L — the paired seats along the windows.
If you want to get more foot space, aim for row 10 at the bulkhead. If you want a footrest and a seat in front of you with the entertainment system (rather than pulling your screen and tray table out of the armrests), aim for rows 11 and 12.
As we left at 7:30 p.m., dinner was served as soon as we reached cruising altitude. This was the part of the flight I was most curious about. How would the meal be better than economy yet not as good as meals in business class?
The meal wasn’t served on dishes with real silverware, which separated it from business class. It felt like a meal in the main cabin, save for sitting on a nicer tray. And we also got the same paper cups with Air France branding as customers in the main economy cabin.
However, I loved what I got.
When the flight attendant came with the cart to serve meals, she confirmed that I had a special meal (vegan, VGML) and served it while offering drinks. For other customers, there was an option of Mediterranean vegetable pasta with a cream sauce or a shepherd’s pie with duck confit.
My main dish was pasta with veggies in a zesty tomato sauce, which was excellent. I would’ve eaten seconds. The bread roll still seemed fresh and warm, and the salad was a delicious mix of shredded carrots and cabbage with oil, vinegar, and a mix of seasonings I couldn’t identify but enjoyed regardless.
There was also apple sauce, and I had an excellent apple crumble dessert. For my fellow vegans (or anyone who requests special meals), you know desserts are where most airlines fall flat. This was top-notch, though. It didn’t rival the cupcakes and blackberry mousse I got on Finnair, but it was excellent.
Meal service came with a wet towel and wooden utensils. The main dish and the dessert were good enough that I’d order them at a restaurant.
Air France has a record of royally messing up my special meal requests, but they nailed it on this flight. The food had good flavors, the presentation was OK, and the portions were filling without being excessive. Well done here.
Shortly before landing, flight attendants came around with snack boxes. I dozed off for about 20 minutes and missed this part of the flight. Then I woke up with the “we’ve started our descent” announcement shortly after. My seatmate said his box included yogurt, a juice box, bread and jam, and a small sandwich.
We received amenity kits, and I was pretty surprised by how good they were. They came in a blue-and-white-striped canvas pouch.
Inside, I found a bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, ear plugs, and an eye mask.
It was nearly as good as amenity kits I’ve received in Air France’s business class, just missing a pen, some lotion, and lip balm.
The entertainment system had an impressive 12 languages to choose from.
The home screen highlighted new items this month, which is great for those who travel on Air France regularly and might have watched much of the inflight content already.
There was a good selection of movies and TV programs, including recent releases such as “John Wick 4,” “Dungeons and Dragons” Honor Among Thieves,” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
There were games, programs for kids, a flight tracker, and a selection of music from around the world that you could sort by artist or genre. The item that surprised me most was finding relaxation options. These included options meant to help you calm down, meditate, or just tune everything out during the flight.
There were 2 types of Wi-Fi services available: Surf, which could support email and messaging, and Stream, which could support streaming sites. For streaming, the only option was a full-flight pass for €30 (~$29.70) or 6,000 Flying Blue miles.
With Surf, you could purchase a 1-hour pass for €8 (~$7.90) or 1,600 miles or purchase a full-flight pass for €18 (~$17.80) or 3,600 miles. On a flight lasting nearly 9 hours, the full-flight option was a better deal in terms of cost per hour.
The lavatory for premium economy passengers was in the front of our cabin, near the galley. It was nearly identical to an economy cabin bathroom, but it had some issues in need of improvement.
The sole feature to set this lavatory apart from the economy cabin was the availability of hydrating lotion and a refreshing, scented oil.
The lid to the trash bin had obvious signs of age, and the labeling was mostly worn off.
Above the lavatory door, the insulation was coming loose, ready to fall off.
And the insulation around the lavatory, where the bulkhead met the outer wall, was also coming loose.
From boarding to disembarking, the service was good. A strong “good,” but one thing kept it from moving into “great.” I’ll list the positives first.
When boarding and leaving the plane, the flight attendants were friendly. Business class boarded and disembarked first, then those of us in premium economy. My experience included smiles and efficiency, which is a good combination.
Flight attendants passed through the cabin after boarding to greet customers in premium economy and help facilitate the changing of seats so the woman who needed to sit with her elderly mother could do so. And they were friendly to those who moved seats, providing many thanks to passengers.
Flight attendants also passed through our cabin regularly, which may just be a symptom of the fact we sat near the galley. But they checked on passengers, offered drinks, and cleared trash whenever they passed by.
My main issue with the service is the time passed from serving the meal to clearing away our empty trays. The same flight attendants used the same cart to serve us in premium economy and continued down through the entire cabin.
Since I was in the first row, I was the first passenger to receive my meal. By the time flight attendants came to pick up post-meal trash (45 minutes later), I’d gotten tired of waiting and had moved the tray onto the floor to use my laptop on the table.
The passenger beside me also remarked “finally” under his breath when the flight attendants cleared his tray. Shortening this time from finishing the meal to the trays being cleared away would make for a better experience.
We arrived in New York 10 minutes early, which always makes people happy. It also meant our gate was still occupied, and we wound up waiting on the runway for nearly half an hour before arriving at our gate and deplaning.
During this time, the flight attendants and captain kept us informed of what was happening (and told people to sit down when they tried to use the lavatories).
When it was time to disembark, flight attendants thanked us for flying with Air France and gave cheerful goodbyes. We left through the middle door again, and the process felt very efficient for those of us in premium economy.
I was anxious to try out premium economy. It seemed like a nice mix of perks and cheaper costs on a flight over the ocean, and the offers I stacked together made me super happy with the price I paid. I had more space and comfort than I would’ve had in economy, but I didn’t have to cough up the extra miles and fees for business class to get the benefits I wanted on this flight.
So how was my first time flying in premium economy? I liked it a lot. The food was great, I was comfortable, and some of the perks (like a stocked amenity kit) surprised me. A few areas could be improved, such as the slowness to clear trays after dinner and the repairs needed to the lavatory, though the flight crew has no control over this. But the experience was positive overall. If I come across another opportunity to fly in premium economy (especially for this kind of deal), I’ll likely jump at it — with Air France or another airline.
Air France’s premium economy seats are wider and have more legroom. There’s also a leg rest, footrest, and recline to provide extra comfort. Premium economy customers also get an amenity kit similar to business-class passengers, and the cabin is smaller, meaning fewer customers share the same lavatory and there’s less waiting in line.
Business class seats lie completely flat, like a bed. Meals are served on real dishes with real silverware in business class; premium economy meals still come on a tray with disposable dishes and utensils. The seats in premium economy don’t turn into a bed, though they recline more than seats in economy. The availability of alcohol (quality and number of options) also differs between cabins.
Air France has premium economy on most of its wide-body long-haul routes. This includes flights on Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft and Airbus 330, 340, 350, and 380 planes.
This will vary by aircraft. The A380 has 38 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 layout on the upper deck, while the A340 and Boeing 787 have 3 rows of 2-3-2 for a total of 21 seats. On Boeing 777 planes, you’ll find 3 rows of 2-4-2 premium economy for 24 seats.
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Ryan has been on a quest to visit every country in the world and plans to hit his final country in 2023. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.
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