Premium economy class in Cathay Pacific

I tried one of the best premium economy seats in the sky – here’s my honest opinion

This is what it’s like to fly in Cathay Pacific’s premium economy cabin (and how it compares to business class)

Among its many accolades, Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific is known for having some of the best premium economy seats in the sky. But is it actually worth springing for that upgrade, or even giving up your airline miles for?

Over the past five years, I’ve gained a considerable understanding of long-haul travel, having made the 17+ hour schlep from London to my hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia and back more times than I can remember. So I was curious to see if Cathay Pacific's premium economy seats lived up to its name, and how it compares to business class.

Premium economy on Cathay Pacific

Premium economy

Cathay Pacific introduced its premium economy class in 2012, and quickly gained a reputation for hitting the sweet spot between affordability and enhanced comfort – the type you can’t quite get in coach. We’re talking more space, elevated menus, ample storage and even amenity kits. While these features alone may be worthy of an upgrade, especially on a long-haul, what instantly won me over on my five-hour journey from Jakarta to Hong Kong started at the airport.

I appreciated the dedicated check-in counter, which made luggage drop off quick and easy – a perk I was extremely grateful for when I was running late. Speaking of baggage, there is a generous 46kg limit across two suitcases. For context, business class passengers on Singapore Airlines are only given 40kg. And the cherry on top? There’s priority boarding at the gate, too.

Stepping on board and past business class (more on that later) sits the premium economy cabin, which is only available on Cathay Pacific’s A350s and B777s. Outfitted with the carrier’s iconic teal-green colour, seats are laid out in a two-four-two configuration. On my quiet flight, there were 32 seats available but luckily less than half were taken, making for a very intimate and cosy journey.

The food in premium economy class on Cathay Pacific

At first glance, I was immediately struck by the larger seats. It goes up to a sizeable 40 inches of pitch – six inches more than economy class – and 20 inches in width. So window-seaters won't have to deal with awkwardly asking their neighbour to move out of the way to pass.

The seats include a leather-padded footrest, elevated calf rest (an underrated feature that makes all the difference) and a bigger recline. I usually have trouble sleeping on a plane, so the fact that I got some solid shut-eye is a testament to how comfortable these additions are. Pillows, blankets, amenity kits and sleeping masks are also available on request.

Interestingly, the food surprised me the most. With an upgraded menu, the dishes were delicious and anti-economy class in the best way possible. Fliers can expect authentic Chinese delicacies and international flavours. I chose the beef stew with ratatouille, although the wafts of aromatic Szechuan chicken and pak choy with steamed rice from the passenger across from me looked just as decadent. The beverage selection included coffee, tea and juices galore.

Business class on Cathay Pacific

Business class

Entries for lounges are a perk offered to business class passengers but not to premium economy travellers. When flying from Hong Kong International Airport, you have access to three lounges; The Wing, The Pier and The Deck. I enjoyed The Pier the most as you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to dining. With an expansive selection of local flavours and classic hitters, I found myself hopping between the noodle bar, dim sum and dumplings corner and the deli-style buffet. For a caffeine hit, the in-house barista can whip up artisan coffee on the spot. And like in premium economy, there are dedicated check-in and boarding lanes for business class fliers, although you get an additional 18kg across two suitcases.

The Pier lounge in Hong Kong International Airport

Carmen Chan

On board, business class is nestled between the first and premium economy cabins in a one-two-one arrangement. Passengers never directly face one another since all window seats face outward and couple seats face inward. This was particularly welcomed on my 14-hour night flight from Hong Kong to London Heathrow, and partitions offered extra privacy. However, it's worth noting that, unlike Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class, there were no sliding doors separating the seats.

As well as a large side pocket, where I managed to comfortably store my laptop, iPad and headphones, the seats also had a little cabinet with a mirror and an amenity kit featuring airplane essentials that will keep you feeling refreshed through to landing.

Other notable features included the one-click sleep button which seamlessly switched my seat to a flat-bed. Also, the Bamford bedding – a 400-thread count bedlinen and plump pillow – had me raving about it long after landing. Another neat detail was the breakfast card, which you fill out and hang on the coat hook so the flight attendants don't have to wake you up to get your order.

Business class on Cathay Pacific

Since my flight was during the nighttime, dinner was served shortly after take off. The meals were straight out of a fine dining restaurant, owing largely to Cathay Pacific’s collaboration with one Michelin-starred Duddell’s. They dished up Cantonese classics; braised chicken and bean curd sticks drenched in soy bean sauce and a strawberry yoghurt pudding. There were also Vietnamese pork chops with lemongrass but I gravitated towards the Singaporean-style spicy seafood noodle soup.

Lastly, the selection of in-flight entertainment is extensive and is the same across all cabins, featuring blockbuster titles such as AftersunThe Banshees of Inisherin and The White Lotus. But while wifi is available on board, it’s only complimentary in first class.

Regarding costs, no two routes are the same. However, on a May 2023 flight from Hong Kong International Airport to London Heathrow, the average difference for a round-trip premium economy upgrade is approximately £900. If you choose to upgrade from premium economy to business class on the same flight, the difference is nearly £3,500.

So, the final verdict: although it can be hard to go back to coach after experiencing business class, premium economy on Cathay Pacific was the perfect middle ground and is totally worth the splurge – especially for mid-to-long haul flights. Plus, if you’re a Oneworld member, you can get access to airport lounges, so all that would be missing is those ultra-comfy bedlinens.