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Let’s start with a simple question…

What’s premium economy? Is it business class? No. Is it economy? No. Is it a separate cabin, with a different service, with different seats and privileges? Yes. Ask Air France, Cathay Pacific, ANA, British Airways, Singapore Air, Air China, Virgin Atlantic or any of the stalwarts of the premium economy game, and they’ll tell you it’s a “product” all of its own. The food is different, the seat is different, the entertainment screen is different and so is the entire ground experience. Premium economy, as defined by decades of airline service is not a seat in the front of the economy cabin with a free beer. Despite this, Delta continues duping customers into booking “Premium” tickets only to find themselves sat in the economy cabin, and to make matters worse – they blame Google.

This Delta plane has real premium economy, but does the one you’ll be on?

Premium Economy

Delta is rolling out a genuine premium economy, which any airline could and should be proud of, called “Premium Select”. It is a real premium economy, and even has the word “premium” in it to make things easy. As of now, it flies to less than a handful of places, aboard a handful of brand new, Airbus A350 aircraft and perhaps one or two Boeing 777’s which are being modified with the new, “proper” premium economy cabin. There’s no problem there.

Comfort+ Problem

The problem is that Delta also offers “Comfort+”, which is NOT, I repeat, NOT a real premium economy cabin, at least not by any traditionally defined measures. It’s simply akin to preferred seating on any other airline, making up the front rows of economy, with a snack wrap thrown in. The seat is identical in width, shape and design to those found in the rest of economy. Let’s take a look. Here’s a picture of Delta’s Comfort+.

Looks like economy, right? It is. But it’s also “Comfort+”.

You’ll see there’s no divider between it and economy, and the seat behind is exactly the same, which is standard economy. We’ve included a cabin layout screenshot from Delta, which shows it’s the exact same layout as the rest of economy, in case the above wasn’t enough evidence.

Now, let’s take a look at Delta’s Premium Select, a bonafide premium economy seat, and what other airlines define as premium economy. As they say on television: viewer discretion is advised, the results just might shock you…

A real premium economy seat has leg rests, and looks more like domestic first class.

And how about Singapore Air, the seat most people agree offers the industry standard premium economy experience, for good measure too. Yes, it really is lovely. And because we like to hammer in points, let’s do one final comparison of what Delta sells as “premium economy” against their partner, Virgin Atlantic, with their “real” premium economy seat…

Singapore Premium Economy is an actual delight…
We don’t blame you if you’re flicking back and forth between exhibit A and this one. There’s just no comparison. One is premium, the other…

Taking Advantage

To understand the frustration, put yourself in the mindset of a traveler looking for a great deal, perhaps on Google Flights – where millions of travelers find great deals. As a comfort seeking creature, you say “hey, let’s live a little and glance at the premium economy prices”. You do, and to your astonishment, Delta’s prices are $100’s lower than the competition. Are you some kind of deal genius or what?! It says premium economy, so it must be. There’s just one problem – unless you’re getting a plane to one of these places in this comprehensive list, you’re getting that first sub par economy seat, let alone premium economy seat. Let’s look at examples all over the world, and then also how Delta never actually tells you you’re booking the wrong thing.

How is anyone not working in the travel industry expected to know the difference?

Boston To Paris

With a round trip flight time of about 16 hours or more, “premium” makes a huge difference. On a simple search attempt, two direct flight choices came up. One with Air France, and one with Delta. You can read about Air France Premium Economy here. Naturally, you’d be beyond excited to see premium economy at a price that easily resembles economy!

No thanks Air France, Delta has premium economy for almost half!

BUT THEY DON’T. You’re just buying an economy ticket with a beer thrown in, and overpaying by $288 dollars, compared to Delta’s current lowest economy price, for the same seat mold, in the same “behind the curtain” cabin, on the same flight. You will not be enjoying the following seat from Air France, or anything actually resembling a “premium” cabin…

Ah yes, real premium economy.

You’ll just find yourself in the seat below, “behind the curtain” as always, wondering what it’s like in business class, and how they manage to get so many narrow seats into an airplane. You might also be wondering if there’s any remuneration for the fact that you thought you were getting a premium economy experience, and ended up flying economy.

And It’s Not Always The Cheapest Option

Look, this is really simple: if Delta sells you a premium economy ticket on a Boeing 767, Airbus A330 or even many of their Boeing 777’s, you’re sitting in economy. You can polish it all you want with a little blanket and a beer, but it’s economy. It’s not premium economy. Calling this Comfort+ “Premium Economy” is like calling tofu a great red meat. It may be a source of protein, but it’s not red meat. Here’s the same scenario played out for Asia…

For less money, you could get real premium economy, which makes this feel very, very wrong.

If you were on team “well, it’s cheaper, so who cares” – think again. It’s simply not fair! If you booked the option with five star Singapore Air, for roughly $100 less, you’d trade an economy seat on an aging Delta A330 for an actual premium economy seat, like those pictured above! Anyone looking to stay brand loyal, or alliance loyal is being duped, and sometimes for even more more than a bonafide, magnificent premium economy product. This is the simple and important reason Delta should not be allowed to carry on with this deceptive marketing.

And here’s the real problem.

If you actually go through the booking process for a flight (try here), nowhere do you see the words economy. You see premium all the way, and then  “Comfort +” once you reach Delta.com. There’s no reasonable way a consumer can be expected to know that this branded name ISN’T actually premium economy. Find the word economy anywhere in the booking process, we dare you. Duped, indeed!

You can always just blame the tech industry, since they’re usually behind on trends.

Blame Google

If you’re sitting here saying “you already wrote about this”, you’re not wrong, but you’re not right. We covered how Delta was selling Virgin Atlantic flights as premium economy, even though they weren’t, but not how they were marketing economy on their own planes as premium economy tickets. To be abundantly, extra clear, Delta is the only airline which continuously display fares incorrectly in Google Flights. We were going to put this to bed, but Delta issued a statement to us, which specifically blamed Google. They said, and we quote…

“It’s time for third party displays, including Google Flights, to invest in the technology necessary to display the various products available in a way that ensures customers can view all their options clearly, just as Delta has on Delta.com.”

Essentially Delta believes that Google Flights doesn’t give them enough realistic options to display their sort of, semi, kind of upgraded economy seat, and until they do, they’ll call it premium, and everyone can be the fool. In a perfect world, Delta would likely want Google to create a new category in between economy and premium economy, called something like “better than basic”. Who’s to blame: the one airline that does this, or the greatest tech giant in the history of the world?

Do you believe Delta “Comfort+” should be displayed on Google Flights and other search tools as “Premium Economy” or in fact, as “Economy”. Let Delta know…

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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25 Comments

  1. Quick correction – for the intercontinental flights you are mentioning, Delta already gives out free beer/wine/spirits in both economy and Comfort+. The only material difference with c+ on those flights is about 3-4″ additional legroom.

    On that note, I almost got fooled earlier this year, and multiple blogs (maybe this one as well? Can’t remember…) have published “Premium Economy” deals on Delta C+ that clearly aren’t a deal.

  2. I’ve noticed this for so long. Nice to see someone with a large following is letting people know what they’re getting into when booking with DL.

  3. As a Delta regular I almost forgot about this slippery practice. Currently, as you mentioned, it’s all about the aircraft type. A350’s are good to go. But as Delta upgrades their fleet, pax, especially kettles, need to be diligent in checking out seat maps. If Delta is markedly lower than their competition, be certain they are giving less. Much less.
    Glad you reinforced this. Oh, and yes Google is partly to blame as well.

  4. I expected to read an article that analyzed and showed how Delta was responsible for duping passengers into buying the wrong product. Unfortunately I saw no analysis, just a complain on how C+ is not Premium Economy (and repeating the same inaccurate claim about “free beer” which forgets all economy passengers on intercontinental flights get free booze).

    So I decided to see for myself how Delta is “duping passengers” by looking up the same routing on 4 different travel engines, including Google Flights, ITA, Delta.com and Kayak. On only 1 of those 4 sites are the flights incorrectly filtered C+ flights as premium economy. Even though ITA is a part of Google, it still did not flag C+ as Premium Economy.

    With that body of evidence I find it hard to understand how Delta is doing anything wrong. It does show that Google Flights algorithms appear to only use the fare code as the basis for determine what is or is not premium economy, which means in the future if AA, UA or any other airline with a extra legroom seat changes the fare code for those seats, the same error will appear in Google Flights.

    I think it’s important for people to know because even though the click through on Flights takes you to a page that clearly shows C+, most people don’t know what that means and could book the wrong thing. However it’s equally important that Google Flights correct their filters, as gstp notes.

    1. I didn’t know Delta employees made public statements.

      Look: this is very simple. One airline, and one airline only has their fares incorrectly show up as premium economy. And because these fares are branded, and not simply just called economy or premium, most customers, (hundreds have emailed, commented, tweeted, facebooked, carrier pigeoned) to chime in and agree that this is dubious. People have been fooled. Even a cursory glance at the previous article on this topic clearly illustrates that many people have been duped, and some had altercations onboard because of this.

      When everyone gets it right, and one gets it wrong, it’s rarely that one person that’s actually right. Delta is coding economy as premium economy, and it’s duping people. The issue here is irrefutable and well documented.

      1. I’m not a Delta employee, far from it although due to work I spend a fair amount of time in their planes.

        I agree that if you search on certain sites like Google flights using Premium Economy and you click through to Delta’s site it is not clear unless you know Delta’s lingo that what you are booking is not truly Premium Economy. I also appreciate you taking steps to warn those who might otherwise get a surprise when they go to book their flight.

        When I did my own research, I found of the 4 sites I selected, only Google flights was displaying the C+ flights incorrectly. I found this especially surprising because ITA is also a Google product and it correctly excluded C+ from Premium Economy. I also found Expedia doing the same thing as Flights after I posted. I have to ask then if some search engines get it right and others get it wrong, is Delta doing something wrong or is it the search engines incorrectly categorizing the fare class?

        In both the VS Economy Delight issue you posted on earlier and this one, the seats had a fare code of W. W is publicly documented by Delta as Comfort+, which is an economy class product. To be clear for Premium Select which is their Premium Economy offering, it uses fare classes A, G & P. So there is no overlap, it is very clear which seats are C+ vs Premium Select. Given this is the case, it appears that Google Flights is incorrectly categorizing the fare class, although Delta actually having a separate fare class for an extra legroom economy seat doesn’t exactly help matters.

  5. Totally agree with this blog post. You left out the new AA Premium seats which are the most often compared to Delta in my opinion. Basically the Delta Comfort+ seat is the same as AA MCE seats but not the same as AA Premium Economy seats of course. Google should know better because they could research this issue, you know google it 🙂

  6. When searching for premium economy flights, I found Delta offers suspiciously lower than other carriers. It’s only through searching through seatguru that I found this to be the economy comfort seating. My takeaway lesson, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is..

  7. How is this different from BA selling Premium Economy and then delivering broken screens, foot rest and seat (headrest and limited recline on one side), then failing to load enough food and refusing a complaint / compensation on the basis that meals are “complimentary” and seat did hold my backside off the floor even though the footrest wouldn’t stay in any position other than dangling to the floor, the seat itself reclined only on one side and the headrest simply fell off when moved? My experience repeatedly in / out of India and the reason for #flyABBA

    BOTH are rip off’s designed to maximise profit at the cost of the passenger. Yet you haul one over the coals and continue to promote the others services (see recent “sale” offering reductions on BA fares to almost the level of the regular fares charged by their LCC competition.
    EX BAEC gold who had enjoyed over a decade of excellent service from BestAvoided until 4years ago when the plummet to O’Leary standards started

    1. John,

      As we’ve discussed, with due respect – 99% percent of the time, British Airways seats function and so does the entertainment. You can’t take strange exceptions and market them to the world via the comments section as the “norm”. I’ve had planes go tech on almost every airline.

      The difference is BA premium economy is a separate seat, in a separate cabin with individual service. It’s not the same seat, it’s not the same layout and it’s incomparable.

  8. Gilbert

    I have to disagree with you here and agree with omatravel. I’m well aware of Delta Comfort+ along with AA’s MCE or UA’s preferred seats. They are NOT premium economy unlike the new Delta Premium Select. Delta does not promote Comfort+ as Premium Economy and they are heavily promoting Premium Select as such.

    Delta chose to market Comfort+ as a separate fare category I assume to distinguish it’s product from AA/UA. Also some corporate customers are not allowed to pay a seat upgrade but can purchase a higher fare category. On Domestic flights and even on International flights that extra 3 inches of pitch can make a huge difference.

    While I can see that some customers may get confused there are plenty of tools out there that can provide the details for consumers to make an educated choice.

    I’ll be honest as a DL Platinum I usually try to grab an exit row seat vs. Comfort+ and then hope I can get the upgrade to First/Business. But I’ve taken advantage of the free upgrade to Comfort+ if the exit row is not available as it’s still better then a regular coach seat.

  9. How is this misrepresentation any worse than BA selling “premium economy” and then delivering:-
    Broken screen
    Non functional audio
    Seat which only reclines on one side
    Headrest which literally falls off when moved
    Foot rest which simply will not remain in any position other than hanging limply on the floor
    NO MEAL on an 11hour flight “Sorry sir not enough was loaded”, here’s some dried up remains of a special meal from economy that looks/smells so bad the person who ordered it wouldn’t touch it.
    Then when passenger complains, deny all responsibility of the basis food is complimentary and therefore doesn’t warrant anything and since the seat could be sat in (albeit not comfortably)…
    Basically BOTH are misrepresentation but one you call out, the other you continue to promote…

  10. Exactly !! I just took Delta to Big Island , back to Vancouver.
    I fly with many other airlines, Air France, SWISS airline, China airlines, Emrite , KLM, Air Canana……, but not feel confused like Delta, the way they sell the types of seat in their website.
    I must say China airlines( from Taiwan) is VERY FRIENDLY, you could choose your seat for any cabin without paying a fee..Not like many others you have to pay ” extra fee” so to select your seat~!! Honestly I think this is CRAZY ! Back to the OLD DAY, it never had this way !!

  11. The same happens on Kayak and Priceline. Pricing up a trip to London over Christmas PE on Delta is $1622 whereas American is $1740. I’ll gladly pay the extra $120 for a proper PE but I am sure many get duped by the “savings” on Delta.

    The Priceline opaque site has PE on the same dates for $1128, which I would book in a heartbeat if I wasn’t 99% sure I’d end up on Delta in E+.

    Interestingly I also did a search for Tokyo flights. Delta flights were much cheaper than the competition again but the long haul flights were on A350 and actually in PE.

    If this issue really is the fault of Google (and Kayak and Priceline) Delta could surely fix it by only offering regular economy fares to comparison sites. (After all nobody is going to be looking at comparison sites for a fare type only offered by one airline). I suspect Delta is fairly happy with the status quo because they appear cheaper, benefit from extra bookings, and can deflect any complaints saying it is the 3rd party fault.

  12. I never thought of comfort+ as premium. What I like about it is that legroom. As a person who is over 6’5″, most Boeing jets simply don’t allow me in the seat. That 3″ makes all the difference.
    I never thought I was getting free beer or anything premium. I just thought I was getting a seat I could fit in.
    I travel more for work now. I chalk it up to gigantor tax.

    The thing that chapter my house was an AA flight that I paid 50$ for the exit row only to have it the same distance as the regular seats. Airbus trap!

    Fortunately, they returned my money, but I had to work for it.

  13. I dont want to tell anyone how to run his business except ALL the problems and disgruntled comments are placed right in our governments lap. Deregulation is the culprit and body of elected officials who are beholden to favors from the industry via special rulings due them. I, for one, am very willing to go “head to head” with a Senator and/or a Congressman with the draconian rules that the airlines put onto the everyday flying passenger. Bring back the old regulations of the CAB which worked for the huge majority of the populace. Today, flying is not just a luxury but a neccessity and should be regulated.

  14. gtsp I can only go on what I’ve personally experienced but 5/12th of flights I experienced on that route is not 99%. Overall in the last 12months I flew with BA (to South Asia + Singapore, Africa EU and Latin America) I’d estimate 30% had an IFE issue, 10% a seat issue, 90% a cabin cleanliness issue, 100% a catering issue (not all missing some just truly terrible, normally with no choice of main (Club)
    …and today BA’s cost cutting has had yet another negative impact on customers (380,000 credit card, address, name, phone numbers taken from app and website as a result of underinvestment in security).

  15. Whenever I take international flights, I make sure I know exactly what I’m getting, and it really isn’t that hard. Not once have I taken a Delta flight that I didn’t know exactly what seat I’d be sitting in before I got there, including what it looks like and what “extras” are included. Don’t blame Delta for not doing your homework when buying a ticket that costs $1000 or more. If you find yourself “duped” once you’re on the airplane, it’s 100% your fault for not knowing what you’re purchasing.

  16. I completely disagree. They arnt calling it premium economy. They call it comfort+ because thats what it is: more comfort. If you want premium economy you pick the one with the word premium in its name. This is just like how other airlines have extra legroom economy seats, but delta is putting it as a different fare class rather than a 100$ upgrade at checkout

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