Economy class. It would be hard to think of two words that strike more fear into the seasoned travel hacker. For many of us, the entire reason we got into travel hacking was to escape the cold confines of the economy cabin and breathe rarified business and first class air.
But what if we didn’t have to? The truth is that even for award travel, economy tickets are often less than half the cost of business and first class awards. And if you’re paying with real money, it’s often more like a quarter.
So, swap your business and first class redemptions and spending for economy, and you could potentially travel two to four times as much!
But is it worth it? Frankly, on many airlines – where economy passengers on 10+ hour flights are treated like cattle – the answer might be “no.” But there are a few holdouts: airlines that somehow still believe that even though you purchased an economy class ticket, you’re still entitled to a modicum of decency, comfort and the odd meal.
Here, we salute those airlines.
Best International Economy for Families: Air New Zealand
International travel with kids can be either a nightmare or a delight, depending on your attitude, your kid’s disposition and the airline you choose.
Kids have one big advantage on the rest of us: They’re not very big. Air New Zealand lets you take advantage of this fact with their innovative Sky Couch configuration that converts three seats into a bed / play / whatever-you-want area.
The airline also made Skytrax’s 2017 list of best economy class cabins at #18, so they’re a good option even if you’re traveling sans little ones.
Best International Economy to Europe: Lufthansa
Every year, the lists of best-rated economy carriers are dominated by Asian-based and Middle-Eastern-based carriers. That makes it a challenge for those of us who like to fly from the United States to Europe without going around the world the long way.
In fact, the only European airline to make the Skytrax 2017 list was German stalwart Lufthansa. Book an economy flight with them, and you’ll be treated to thoughtful German design, legitimate cocktail service, decent food, good in-flight entertainment, highly rated service and more.
If you’re flying economy class to Europe, Lufthansa’s your best bet.
Best Economy to the Middle East & Africa: Qatar and Emirates
If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ve probably seen Emirates’ “Upgrade Your Airline” ad. It might not win whatever advertising’s equivalent of the Oscars is, but it’s nice to see an airline that cares about how it treats economy class passengers.
And it shows: Emirates won TripAdvisor’s “Best Economy Class” distinction, and placed seventh on the Skytrax list. Qatar Airways, in many ways an Emirates peer, placed second on Skytrax’s list and won the organization’s overall “Best Airline” award for 2017.
Both airlines offer larger-than-normal seats, overwhelming entertainment options, highly regarded service, inflight Wi-Fi and class-leading food and drink options.
A reminder: 2017’s laptop ban on airlines and flights from the Middle East has now been lifted, so there’s no reason to not enjoy the benefits of an airline that caters to economy passengers if you’re flying one of their routes.
Another thing to note is that you can fly from the U.S. to many European cities on both carriers, but you’re going to be adding three to four hours of flying to your total travel time. Probably not worth it unless you can score one of their opulent business or first class tickets.
Best Economy to Asia: Take Your Pick
If you want to be treated decently on a flight in economy to Asia, you’ve got a wealth of options. In fact, seven of Skytrax’s top 10 economy airlines of 2017 are carriers based in Asia, including:
#1 Thai Airways
#3 Asiana Airlines
#4 Garuda Indonesia
#5 Singapore Airlines
#6 Japan Airlines
#8 ANA All Nippon Airways
#9 EVA Air
It’s worth noting that Americans will have a harder time in taking advantage of a few of the winners, since Thai Airways and Garuda Indonesia don’t operate flights from the U.S. to their hubs.
Still, if you can fly any of the Asian-based carriers listed in the top 10, you can expect above-average economy service characterized by larger-than-normal seats with deeper-than-average reclines, friendly service, great entertainment systems and genuinely decent food in the sky. You know – the type of thing you might have come to expect a couple of decades ago on an international flight from a domestic airline.
Best Tool for Upgrading Any Economy Cabin: the Evolution S3
Even the best economy class cabin in the world won’t let you lie flat (well, unless you manage to get an Air New Zealand Skycouch to yourself). So, your best bet for a good night’s sleep is the all-new Cabeau Evolution S3 neck pillow. It’s got all the industry-leading premium materials and design of our Evolution line, with an added Seat Strap System (S3) that connects it to your economy seat’s headrest.
77% of travelers say that they experience neck pain during flights, and the most frequent issue is your head falling to the left or right while you sleep (or at least trying to). All our neck pillows help to combat this issue, but no other neck pillow can match the performance of the all-new S3 in keeping you upright and off your seatmate’s shoulder while you sleep.
Grab the Evolution S3 today, and you’ll be upgrading to a first-class sleep in any cabin, on any airline. Grab one today.