Premium Economy isn’t a flat bed and sometimes it’s not even a different meal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a significant premium over economy, or may be.
As airline cabins have evolved, premium now bridges the gap between the economy experience we once relished and the “first class” perks that can make travel oh-so fun, particularly in international premium economy.
Round trip economy flights between long haul destinations like the US and Europe, or Europe and Asia occasionally drop to a mere $250 in basic economy these days, which has more and more travelers booking the obvious bargain, but then wondering how to enjoy a more comfortable ride.
That means figuring out how many miles, or bucks it’s going to take for an upgrade. In some cases, that can lead to some pretty irrational decisions, which we’ll hope to help avoid with this article!
Here’s everything you need to know about premium economy, and how to empower your decision as to whether upgrading, or “buying up” from the start makes sense.
A Different Cabin Entirely
From the start – let’s not confuse actual premium economy with airline branded economy cabin “upgrades” like extra legroom, or front of cabin seats. These seats are often better than standard economy seats, but still not “premium”.
Be sure to do a bit of research to familiarize yourself with what your airline calls premium, so as to avoid the frustration of upgrading to the same cabin, with a bit more room.
If it’s real premium economy, there will be a curtain between you and the economy cabin, with different points earning rates, perks, types of seat and more.
Premium economy, particularly on an international level, is an entirely separate airline cabin with physically different seats in front of the economy cabin and generally has a curtain behind it, just like the gap between business and first class.
Premium Economy Seat Dimensions
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on international premium economy. In any international premium economy cabin, you should be looking at a fundamentally different (and hopefully better) seat with greater dimensions on well, everything.
In general: think 6-8” more legroom – known as pitch – and at least 2-3” more seat width with “real” premium economy seats. In addition, you can typically expect a larger entertainment screen and far more seat padding. In best cases, there are features like a leg rest, extra power ports, better pillows and greater neck and back support.
If you want to know better what you might be paying more for, or upgrading to, be sure to check out seat dimensions on resources like SeatGuru, and read reviews and product info from the airline and top blogs.
More Miles Or Elite Status Progress?
Premium Economy is almost always more expensive than economy, but sometimes only marginally.
Forgetting the physical extras, like legroom and proximity to the exit door, for when it’s time to make the dash through passport control, there are other factors which can really weigh in on the decision, like perks you earn in return, or extra miles.
If you aren’t earning miles every time you fly, you’re doing it wrong, and if you fly in premium economy there’s a very high likelihood you’ll earn more of them than when you fly economy. That’s true for “elite status” qualification as well, where you typically earn more points towards a shiny bronze, silver, gold or platinum loyalty card when you fly in any cabin above economy. That means better perks!
Many airlines offer double the miles or more for premium economy tickets, compared to a discount economy fare. The same goes for elite qualification, where you can hit goals faster flying in higher cabins.
For example, British Airways awards 90 elite status tier points for a flight in premium from London to New York, versus just 20 for a cheap “economy” flight. If you want to earn perks, you’ll get there up to 4x faster on a premium fare in this instance.
When the difference is minimal, it can really push the needle toward that “extra'”. If you pay cash for an upgrade, you almost always earn the points of the cabin you make the upgrade to, not the cabin you started in.
When you couple in more miles earned, and a quicker path to earning elite perks which can save on things like checked bags, or priority security, a small difference in price can be more than just “a better seat”.
And Let’s Not Forget Checked Bags
Just a couple years ago, premium wasn’t quite as valuable. Economy still offered a complimentary checked bag on long haul flights and airlines hadn’t quite figured out how to squeeze all the seats in, so things were pretty “ok”. That’s no longer the case.
On most airlines, the lowest economy fares you can buy – aka bargains – don’t typically include a complimentary checked bag, and bags can be over $60 each way to check in.
That can significantly change the “real” price you pay, if you need a checked bag. That is where Premium Economy, on the other hand, can be easy to justify, even if it’s more expensive. Premium always offers at least one checked bag; and many airlines offer two complimentary bags on every premium ticket.
That’s a saving of up to $240 per round trip, which can go a long way in the “extra” equation as to whether premium is worth it from the outset. If Premium was $800 and economy was $600, checking two bags round trip, you’d actually save in Premium.
Some might argue it’s better to learn how to pack better, but hey – you gotta do what you gotta do.
And Business Class Upgrade Odds Increase
Let’s be blunt – if you want to guarantee flying business class you should find a way to use miles or pay for it. But from time to time, upgrades really do happen, particularly to frequent customers. Being in premium economy can dramatically increase chances of a business class upgrade, too. Why?
If you’re in economy, you’re lucky if they move you to premium. If you’re in premium, which is typically the smallest cabin on the plane, and it happens to be oversold, the best place to move you is up to business class. Frequent flyers back this strategy, big time. A small cabin is more likely to be oversold than a large one.
In oversold situations, frequent flyers in premium economy are far more likely to get the “‘magic beep” to say they’ve been upgraded than those at the back, and while it’s never worth banking on this sort of thing, it’s “a thing”.
So How Much Extra Is Premium Economy Worth?
When figuring out how much ‘extra’ premium economy is worth, the food is basically a $0, but the legroom and extra recline can be worth something. If you’re very tall, value will be even greater.
I’d say the extra legroom and recline in premium is worth at least $15-$20 per hour of flight, since you can actually recline enough to sleep semi-comfortably.
If an economy ticket means earning 2,000 miles and a premium ticket means earning 6,000, I also value 6,000 miles with most airlines at a minimum of $40, so that’s a little something too.
If you’re chasing an elite status with the airline in question that will land you perks like lounge access in the future, that’s worth a premium on every flight too.
On a “per sector”- aka one flight – basis, I’d say premium economy is rarely worth more than $250 more than economy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be worth more, or much less. If it’s on a shorter flight under 5 hours, I’d say it’s only really worth much extra if you’re really tall or really need the extra points.
It’s definitely worth adding premium economy to your flight deal alerts this year as more airlines add the cabin onto new routes. There have been some shockingly low fares at prices quite near budget economy recently and when it’s like that, it’s time to pounce! It’s almost always worth it if the cost is just marginal.
Enjoy the extra room!