a row of seats in an airplane

Premium economy is not a new concept, but for many airlines it’s a brand new “product”. As major airlines seek to compete with low cost carriers on price by densifying economy cabins – aka making margins in the back borderline unbearable – the cabin in between the pointy end and the back has become increasingly hallowed ground, and for travelers, better value than ever. Many airlines launched “true” premium economy cabins in 2018, which makes this the year the best year to play around. Here’s why you care…

a row of seats in an airplaneLowest Premium Prices In History

There’s no telling how long it will last, but for now – premium economy is being priced at levels similar to what would’ve been considered the very best economy cabin prices only years ago. In 2015, paying $700 for a transatlantic economy ticket, or $900 for a transpacific economy ticket would’ve been entirely palatable, and many would’ve considered these prices a total steal. If you look at offers currently available as of today on some of the world’s best premium economy setups, you find…

There’s no sign of things changing anytime soon. Mainland Chinese airlines are launching by the day and new low cost startups are flooding markets throughout Europe, South America and the USA, with innovative looks at a more premium experience. More competition = lower prices to come.

headphones on a chairA Palatable Flying Experience

Most travelers, even luxury travel focused executives, tend to agree that a day flight in premium economy is plenty palatable. For the price, many corporate and personal travel policies certainly prefer it. Despite the occasional flash sale in the $1000’s, business class beds still retail beyond $3000 for most long haul routes and bridging the gap with a product that’s essentially as nice as short haul first class (or better) with enough space to work, type and stretch out within reason is the new frontier.

Increased competition has not only brought lower prices, but much better premium economy experiences, too. Select airlines, including ANA even provide lounge access and fast track passes for premium economy customers. Virtually every leading premium economy cabin allows priority boarding, additional checked baggage (which helps justify cost) and improved food and beverage programs; but now airlines are separating themselves with high end headphone partnerships, exclusive amenity kits as well as improved bedding and pillows.

a glass of wine next to a blue suitcaseCost Effective Route To Business Class

Though premium prices are impressively low and represent great value, they regularly demand twice the going rate of great discount economy fares, which leaves many travelers wondering – why bother? The answer: a vast majority of airlines only allow upgrades to the next cabin. Buy economy, the farthest you can go is premium – but buy premium and you’re a few miles or credit card points from business. And yes, you’ll almost always earn more miles back too.

For those forced to adhere to the constraints of their wallets, or picky corporate travel policies, a great deal on premium economy is one of the best ways to fly business – provided you’ve been a clever traveler (or spender) and have collected miles along the way. Extremely low premium fares from Europe to the US currently allow travelers to fly business from $660 and 40,000 miles round trip by buying premium for $660 and upgrading using miles. That’s extraordinarily good value.

Featured image: Virgin Atlantic A330-200 Premium Economy

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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    1. I flew BA PE several times last year. It was pretty good, with the food being the best I’ve had in OneWorld PE (BA provides a biz class entree rather than “enhanced” eco food). The quality of other aspects largely depends on the aircraft. The 747 was mediocre at best, with old seats and a broken IFE system. The 777 was about on par with Cathay’s 777 PE – a bit dated, but acceptable. And the a380 was downright great for PE – new and roomy (choose a window seat, which has extra storage).

  1. Will be pricing up PE options every time this year and beyond. Those Cape Town VA PE fares recently were excellent for a good product.
    With BA, snag PE sale fares & use minimal amouht of avios to upgrade to CW (if available).

  2. Have flown PE a few times for super long haul flights because 12-15 hours crammed into a 17” wide, 31” pitch seat aboard any “densified” (aka the intentionally nebulous euphemism favored by airlines managers to conceal/deceive the public about the reality of unacceptably overcrowded conditions unsuitable for any flights longer than three hours that airline CEOs NEVER, EVER fly themselves), 9-abreast Boeing 787 “Nightmareliner” (for Economy pax) or the equally atrocious and revolting 10-abreast Boeing 777 (same number of seats per row as the 9” wider Boeing 747 or the even wider than the “Queen” Airbus A380) leaves no other option, especially for my reduced mobility partner who faces even greater misery and risks to his safety and well being in these despicable, shameful and immoral “densified” flying abominations (that airline managers NEVER, EVER subject their precious bums squeezing into for even short flights let alone cross country and inter-continental flights of 5-15 hours).

    However, when there’s an 8-abreast (2-4-2) Airbus A330/340; “classic” 9-abreast Boeing 777; 7-abreast Boeing 767; Airbus A350/380; or of course, Her Majesty The Queen (Boeing 747) with at least 32” pitch rows (or better yet, an option for extra legroom seats/rows with 34-35” pitch for a reasonable fee), then Economy is more than fine!

    Yes, the “better” meals, “free” booze, and nicer seats in PE are great – there’s no denying that! 😉

    But, if the aircraft used on the flight one is taking is aboard one of Boeing’s dreadful overcrowded, Japanese short-haul configured…er “densified”…beasts, then PE is more necessity than optional no matter what airline industry “fudgers” with pointy noses named Pinocchio who always are outstretched and hiding behind the closed doors or their McMansions…er semi-private “suites”…while sipping champagne and gorging themselves on smoked salmon appetizers before stuffing themselves on celebrity chef “driven” meals in the (where else?) the pointy end of the plane that’s the only part of the cabin with row pitches big enuough for their pointy noses!

    Yeah, 18” wide seats in rows with 32-33” pitches (or higher) like we used to have until gullible folks bought into the myth that they’re actually getting “lower airfares” while half or more of the available floor space on single decked Boeing 777s or 787s are cannibalized for 1-2-1 McMansions in 1st/biz class that then requires Economy class flyers to subsidize the cosseted space hoggers’ demands for ever larger “private spaces” aboard aircraft ill-suited for such incredibly large, space hogging “suites” which is largely why 777s now must be stuffed with the same amount of seats per row – 10 – in Economy as the 9” wider cabin of a 747 (or even wider Airbus A380), or those 9-abreast 787 “Nightmareliners” (for Economy pax, that is) feature those abysmally small seats packed into 31” pitch no legroom rows.

    Oh, and has anyone “experienced” the worst part of Boeing’s shamefully overcrowded (oops! That’s the much more pleasant sounding “Densified” – sorry) 9-abreast 787s and 10-abreast 777s that is having to dodge feet, shins, calves, hands, elbows, torsos, shoulders or even heads (yes, heads!) while trying to shimmy sideways up and down the pathetically narrow aisles of Boeing’s “Densified” monsters?!?!

    PRO TIP: Having now flown these despicable, “densified” Boeing beasts, it’s now necessary to bring a little flashlight aboard to minimize the risk of tripping over the obstacle course that is any “Densified” 777 and 787 on long haul red eye flights where even WITH that little bit of illumination it’s still impossible to completely avoid the occasional outstretched limbs (and tilted/drooping heads!) of other pax who don’t fit into their shamefully small pre-K sized kiddie seats that were intentionally jammed in no legroom rows to make room for the McMansions set aside for the space hogging 10-15% in the pointy HALF (or more) of the plane.

    Well, at least there’s more airlines offering a true PE product now – so at least the “magic” of competition is forcing airlines to step up their PE offerings at more “competitive” fares!

    At least that’s something to cheer about 😉

  3. PS: the outstretched limbs and tilting/drooping heads are NOT occasional!

    They’re actually quite plentiful based on the four super long haul flights taken within the past 10-11 months aboard a pair of Boeing’s atrocious, “densified” beasts (777s & 787s).

    What’s now occasional on the pair of my most recent 15 hours flights taken mere weeks ago aboard a 10-abreast 777-300ER (77W) versus the 12 hours aboard a 9-abreast 787-9 originally 10 and 11 months ago, is the vastly reduced number of times the spaghetti-like obstacle course that is created by the ridiculously narrow aisles featuring outstretched limbs and heads of other pax were unavoidably kicked – or in the case of heads, torsos, shoulders, elbows, arms & hands, smacked – while attempting to shimmy (as in pivoted sideways and shuffling) through those unconscionably narrow aisles resulted in unavoidable body contact versus my first encounter with Boeing’s densified 787-9 “Nightmareliners” after learning to include a flashlight for any flights aboard these hideous, densified aircraft from those original flights when virtually every other person on both sides of the aisles was kicked, bumped into, or smacked in the head while trying to move about the Economy cabin in the dead of night.

    It was horrible.

    And that’s for my somewhat petite 5’8” height and 34-35” waist.

    I can only imagine how much more unpleasant it must be for a great many flyers attempting to pass through those pathetically narrow aisles whose height and build are greater than mine – or whose mobility is reduced, and their ability to dodge all those outstretched limbs and heads is even more difficult and challenging than I found it to be on those four flights taken within the past year.

    Shameful, immoral, unconscionable doesn’t even begin to describe these despicable small seats that have been intentionally packed into no legroom rows with aisles so preposterouslybnarrow one shudders to think about the lives that will be needlessly lost when the inevitable disaster happens aboard these densified aircraft that haven’t been tested using real world conditions and updated safety protocols/research for an emergency evacuation EVER!

    (nb: the aircraft/aerospace OEMs and airlines’ industries now rely only on “computer simulations” to certify these densified beasts for evacuations in emergencies)

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