Emirates: What it's like flying premium economy vs business class on the A380

Inside the premium economy cabin of an Emirates A380 at Auckland Airport.
The premium economy cabin of an Emirates A380. Photo credit: Newshub.

Recently Emirates launched a premium economy option on its A380 flights between Auckland or Christchurch and Dubai, offered alongside economy, business and first class.

This makes Aotearoa the first country in which all four of the airline's A380 class options are available on all of its services.

There has been much fanfare around the fancy onboard shower for first class passengers, as well as the business class bar area. But Emirates also claims its premium economy is "unmatched in the industry", insisting the experience is superior to its Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore Airlines' equivalents.

To showcase its new and allegedly unrivalled premium economy class, Emirates recently invited local media onto an A380 that was parked up at Auckland Airport, and Newshub was among them.

Additionally, our lifestyle editor Lana Andelane recently flew on the A380 to Dubai and back - premium economy one way and business the other.

Our observations on the differences between the cabins are below, but first - how much more expensive are the superior classes?

The following sample will give you an idea, but keep in mind airfare costs fluctuate depending on things like travel dates and booking period, so these are indicative only.

Newshub conducted the price check via the Emirates website on April 12, for the travel date of Monday, November 6, flying one-way from Auckland to Dubai, which returned these results: 

  • Economy: NZ$1528
  • Premium Economy: NZ$2807
  • Business: NZ$7721
  • First Class: NZ$9874.

Hundreds of people fly this route every day and have to choose which price point and corresponding comfort level is right for them.

Auckland to Dubai Emirates price check, 2023, economy, premium economy, business and first class.
Photo credit: Emirates / Newshub.

For those who have not flown premium economy before and are wondering if the experience is worth the price jump, Andelane said she found it far superior to standard economy.

"It's definitely different. It definitely feels more luxurious," she said.

"The seats are wider, they're more cushioned and comfortable, you've got more leg room - and a leg rest. I felt the service was overall more attentive and the food was better, plus it came with proper plates. I really enjoyed it."

But would she pay the extra on a return fare?

"If you have the money and you want that extra level of comfort for an excruciatingly long flight, it would be worth it. But for people who don't have those resources, it is a lot to spend - in my position, financially where I am at the moment, I wouldn't spend a couple of thousand extra dollars on premium economy for a return trip."

An example of an Emirates premium economy cabin meal served on New Zealand routes.
An example of an Emirates premium economy cabin meal served on New Zealand routes. Photo credit: Newshub.

Andelane said she was able to sleep in her premium economy seat, with the extra space facilitating a more comfortable resting position, and got a total of around seven to eight hours of shuteye during the 17-hour flight.

However, sitting in a middle seat can still be troublesome, even in premium economy. It still means disturbing or waking the person in the aisle seat if you need to get past: particularly if your neighbour is in a reclined position with the leg rest up, as there's no other way to squeeze past them. 

Alternatively, on the business class flight, Andelane said she slept for about the same number of hours - but it was a much better experience.

"Even though I got a lot of rest in premium economy, the business experience was a big step up. That was a level of comfort I didn't previously associate with planes, because I could lie completely flat on a comfy mattress, with a nice pillow and cosy blanket," Andelane said.

"You're in your own 'pod', so to speak, so you don't get the weird intimacy of sleeping right next to a stranger. It's a lot easier to get a restful experience because you can just push a button and your seat transforms smoothly into a bed, or your preferred reclined position."

Business class on the Emirates A380 Auckland to Dubai.
Business class on the Emirates A380. Photo credit: Newshub.

As for the food, Andelane said there was a jump in quality between the two cabins, but there wasn't a "huge difference" in taste due to her general dislike of plane food: however, the presentation in business was noticeably better.

"It's presented like you're in a restaurant, with the proper china and silverware, a tablecloth over the tray. It's really made to look like fine-dining."

Off the plane it should be noted there are other important benefits business class offers that premium economy does not: a complimentary Chauffeur‑drive service to and from the airport, as well as lounge access at the airport. These bring an extra level of luxury and convenience, but also a financial saving in transport, food and beverage fees.

In Dubai, you can also board the plane directly from the lounge, without having to go back out through the terminal.

Andelane said she didn't notice a significant difference in the restrooms between the cabins, but never had to wait long - if at all - to use one in business. What was very noticeable was the step up in toiletries, however.

"In business class you get handed a little bag of designer-label toiletries, like Bulgari," she said.

Those little touches, including the personal mini-bar stocked with Evian water and soft drinks, and your own personal iPad to use throughout the flight, were all enjoyable, Andelane said - but the extra space was definitely her favourite thing about business over premium economy.

"In business you don't have to worry about the passengers next to you. You're in your own seated area - you're not impinging on other people's space, or having your space impinged, and that's an extra luxury I really appreciated."

First class on the Emirates A380 from Auckland to Dubai.
First class on the Emirates A380. Photo credit: Newshub.

Of course, stepping up from business, there is even more of that coveted space on offer for people who splash out on first class.

While you can lie down flat in business, your feet are enclosed in a relatively small space beneath the screen that can be uncomfortable, especially for tall people. In first class this is not the case: there's plenty of room.

It's also a longer space, so even seven-foot folks could lie flat, tossing and turning to their heart's content without feeling cramped, or having to lie in the foetal position, which may be the case in business class.

There is a crazy level of luxury in the first class seats - like your own personal minibar rising up at the push of a button and, of course, the shower suite. It's impressive to look at and I can only imagine how great it would feel to use during a 17-hour flight: emerging from the hot shower, popping on a comfy robe and applying the Aqua Pour Homme and Omnia Crystalline collection from Bulgari, before floating back to a seat that a crew member has converted into a beautifully made bed, and enjoying a blissful sleep.

It's a lovely thing to think about, but one has to keep in mind that loveliness could easily cost around an eye-watering $10,000.

Oh well.

The A380s servicing Christchurch and Auckland are among the latest generation of Emirates' fleet.

The airline is currently carrying out a multi-billion dollar retrofit programme installing premium economy in a total of 126 of its aircraft around the world.

The four-class A380s launched at four cities only and two of them were in Aotearoa, effectively giving New Zealanders better access than anyone else on the planet to all four service levels.

Emirates flight EK449 departs Auckland daily at 8:30pm, while flight EK413 departs Christchurch daily at 5:45pm.