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!
The other real value in PE has increased in the last few years – shrunken regular economy has become almost intolerable for long flights. The move to 10 across seating on the 777 and 9 across on the 787 has made them the most uncomfortable planes in the sky, making sensibly priced PE the way to go.
£100 for a day flight and maybe double that for a night. Anyone leaving the UK saves plenty of ADP on the way out so should work in tour favour going west
Flew to Shanghai in December in United premium economy and hated it! If you are a gymnast you might like it. Seats so high that you can’t reach your backpack under the seat in front of you and god forbid that you drop anything down the black hole between you and the wall if you are in the window seat! You will never see it again. Period.
Premium economy is alright. I tend to value it at 20-40% more than the cheapest price that includes hold luggage. Obviously I rarely travel premium economy as most airline price it 2-6 times this price.
I’m not interested in priority boarding, any points, better service or more than 1 bag in the hold. I am solely interested in more space on the airline and possibly an airport lounge if there is a long layover.
We have just flewn air NZ in economy skycouches and actually paid more to do that than premium economy. But we get 6 seats for the 4 of us and they fold flat into mini beds which means my wife and children all sleep nicely.
As someone who’s budget usually doesn’t stretch to business class but is 6′ 3″ and broad shouldered Premium Economy is hugely worthwhile on long flights. If I am seated in economy next to others of similar build we will be pressed hard against eachother, which is uncomfortable and makes mealtimes a challenge, I also hope that the person in front reclines their seat as this usually let’s me stretch out my legs beneath it due to the angle; I can sleep almost anywhere but won’t get a good rest in economy. Having flown business class a few times and with a preference for not drinking in the air so I arrive refreshed I actually don’t find value in it for daytime flights, though lie flat when I want to sleep is worth a lot. So this makes premium a great balance for me.
IMHO the airline is a huge variable on whether or not PE is worth it or not. I’ve flown AA PE and it was OK and worth the $250 premium over coach r/t DFW-HKG (and did get upgraded to business one way) but I know it isn’t the best product (or the worst).
Maybe I’m spoiled or just in a position to indulge myself but I can’t see flying to Europe or Asia in economy. If I can’t spring for Business (w either miles or $) PE is an acceptable option. However some are much better than others. I’m flying Singapore Airlines next month in PE and, given the quality of both their hard and soft product, I would value PE on them much higher than in the article.
I will always take PE if the price is right and I value it at about 40% more than Economy on trans-Atlantic routes. Strange though this may sound to some readers, I think Alitalia is the best PE product in Europe. Flying from Israel, where I spend half of the year, they usually throw in Business on the legs from Tel Aviv to Rome and back. That gives lounges in Tel Aviv and Rome as well as two pieces of baggage, a quiet cabin, more room and a better, although not good, meal.
I’m trying it out for the first time in the end of March with LOT Polish. It cost approximately 50% more than the standard economy offering. I’m hoping for a great experience.
I am a fan of PE – as someone who is 6′ 3″ tall and overweight, the standard economy seats have been squeezed to the point where they simply aren’t comfortable any more and I I won’t fly economy on certain aircraft (e.g. the 787). Premium Economy offers a significant comfort advantage both in terms of legroom and seat width but, remember, it’s still mainly an economy type of service. The key for me is where the PE price is pitched relative to Economy and Business – all too often, the PE fares are much nearer to the Business price and, in some examples I’ve seen with with BA, PE is actually more expensive than a cheap Business class ticket on the same flight. In these scenarios, flying Business becomes the no-brainer. I just wish that the likes of Emirates / Etihad / Qatar would launch a competitive PE offering – when wanting to fly eastwards from an airport in Northern England, the current lack of PE options is a real frustration.
Regarding international (long) flights, I am a largish guy who started taking PE flights 5 or 6 years ago. Although I can survive in an economy seat if needed, I became tired of the shock and grimace I would see from my seat mate when they sat down. Economy provides a 2 inch wide armrest between you and a stranger. PE will offer you a shared armrest like you find on a SUV.
Great read and often give my clients the benefits of going PE, esp when the flight is over 6 hours. Plus usually if you fly economy and pay for exit row seats, it is not much more to upgrade. 1 thought I have ever had, airlines, if book PE should offer discounted lounges (maybe for £50) as this would add to their finances but also make upgrading more attractive. I think they are missing a trick.
If you are flying as a couple, I will also add it is a way to get two seats together without anyone else. You will have a window, typically two between you and the row in front. You do have to pay attention to pricing. It can vary. I have enjoyed Premium Economy on American, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. My personal favorite is the leg rest.
I’m 6’1″ and internationally try to fly business with points. Sometimes I just don’t have enough and will pay for economy. I recently flew on an AA 772 repositioning flight from DFW-CLT and purchased an upgrade to premium economy for $40, just to try it out. Very comfortable flight.
Given the constant downsizing of economy I decided that in the future I will gladly pay to fly PE internationally.
Premium economy is great value if there’s club reward availability –
so for example
a PE ticket to Dubai bought and upgraded with Avios will cost – 48k avios plus £772.57
a club ticket will cost 100k avios plus £540 tax – so 52k avios cost £232.57 (BA cost £875)
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