a row of seats in an airplane

An affordable yet dignified way to travel long haul…

As social media may inform you, through the magic of deals, points, miles and frequent flyer status, I’m often in the pointy end of the plane. But quite often I’ll need to be somewhere at a specific time and will need book a normal cash paying ticket – and when I do, it’s economy or premium. Last night I flew from New York to London on British Airways Premium Economy, and even though it’s not one of the most highly touted Premium Economy cabins, I couldn’t believe how good it was.

a city street with many tall buildings and people crossing itBackstory

In 2011, I  traveled more times between New York and London in Economy than there are months of the year. It was manic. At the time, the rock bottom prices you’d find would cost about $750 round trip. That was for standard economy. I often paid over $900. We’re now seeing exceedingly low economy fares, often under $500, and occasionally under $400! Economy is basically half the price it was only six/seven years ago – but unfortunately it’s about half as comfortable too.


At 6’3” “size matters”. Most airlines have gone in favor of 17” wide “slimline” seats which are about as comfortable as riding your lightly padded bicycle seat to London. On top of that, legroom has been diminished beyond comprehension. But for about $800, and sometimes even far less – I’ve been able to purchase premium economy lately. Compared to standard prices of $3000 and up for business class – it’s a bargain. Would it be worth a premium of $900 or more round trip over economy? Probably not, but if it’s competitively priced like the deals mentioned above – it’s a no brainer. The seat is wide, the headrest is like a pillow, the TV is bigger and the recline … is like actual recline. In fact, the seat is about an inch wider, which helps – but the recline and legroom is about 7” deeper in most good premium economy seats.

a plane with seats and windowsSleeping

I woke up over the coast of Ireland this morning absolutely gobsmacked that I slept a great few hours on the plane, without a bed (or real champagne). With a decent pillow, blanket and plenty of legroom to loft myself into recline, I not once felt the “squeeze” so often talked about in air travel today. I don’t book premium for the “food”. Airplane food is almost universally poor, so I make a point to eat before flying. I did however enjoy a nice glass of prosecco before settling in to some sleep. Another benefit of many premium economy cabins is that they are small. Fewer passengers, less noise and with curtains at both ends, it feels very quaint and with less movement, decent sleep is easier to attain.


Another great reason for booking Premium Economy is upgrades. Many airlines only allow upgrades of one cabin class. Therefore if you booked economy, you’d only be able to upgrade to premium. But if you book premium, you can upgrade to business. Paying $800 round trip and upgrading using points can represent savings of thousands of dollars, versus paying for business class outright.

Do you choose Premium Economy when possible? What’s your favorite?

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. On day flights, in my view it’s pretty difficult to justify business class over a decent PE cabin/seat.

  2. I’ll be taking my first Premium Economy flight on JAL in a few weeks.
    Due to the timing of my trip and reservation (leaving Japan right before Golden week), it actually came out cheaper than booking economy.
    The difference in fare compared to past economy flights was about $100 so I thought it was a deal, but this made me wonder what I should actually be paying for an economy flight since I’m finding fare differences of $800-900 for an off season flight… I suppose that’s a question for another day.

    1. I’ll be flying out of Okinawa the end of May and returning the end of June. Where are you flying out of and going to? I’m having a heck of a time finding reasonable premium economy fares!

  3. I’d value your opinion on one of their Gatwick routes or in fact in any route other than USA or Hong Kong… Consistency is one of BA’s biggest issues (see earlier comments re IFE. The London to USA routes are privileged within the BA network and in effect offer the best they choose to deliver but are not representative of the experience of being ripped off by them on the majority of their routes.
    Eg Try PE to West Africa – tiny screen from 20years ago attached to an IFE that probably wont work, knackered seating that often has issues with recline / headrest and let’s not get started on the “food”.
    As above, BA can now deliver on occasion but they don’t on the majority of their routes for the majority of their customers… just try it!

    1. I’ve done PE on BA’s Gatwick fleet a couple of times mainly 747’s and I would agree the IFE is garbage a tiny screen with a grid of black lines on it which you can never quite stop seeing if as you say if it works at all.

      Not had a problem with knackered seating though and the catering was the same quality I have had in BA PE on other routes which was more than acceptable and better than economy was served.

      Have had one of the older rubbish PE configurations on a LHR flight once which I was very disappointed in on a 777 (I was expecting the Gatwick fleet flights not to be great) although I think this was a last minute plane switch as configuration we booked and the one we flew were not the same.

      If I didn’t need the extra seat width of PE, British Airways PE wouldn’t be worth the extra money for the potential lottery of quality, and my other half wants to fly OneWorld to keep their Executive Club status as they fly a lot for work our long haul holiday just about keep them in Silver.

      I’ve flown a Virgin PE a couple of times (Several years ago) and wasn’t that impressed either, flew JAL once on one of their 787s and their PE is miles ahead of BA in terms of quality, originally I thought that was just because it was a new plane, but flew PE on a BA A380 a few months ago and it was no better than other BA PE offerings

  4. I was disappointed to find that my Iberia PE ticket from JFK to MAD (booked on AA ticket stock but operated by Iberia) apparently can’t be upgraded. I’d need to DOWNGRADE to Econ or possibly move up to a higher PE fare class, neither of which sounds appealing. $800 JFK to MAD and then econ to LIS is OK but would have loved to use some AA miles to move up.

  5. Interesting piece & comments. I flew BA Premium Econ back from NYC to LGW last May on a 777 and the IFE screen was the old tiny one with gridlines all over it. I’m pretty sure I had that in Econ flying to the states about 15 years ago!

    Pays to pick the 787 flights where feasible.

  6. You’re totally correct. For a “cash paying ticket” [I like your phrase], PE seats on Air France A380 were absolutely wonderful bargain. Big ledge by window seat contributes to feeling of spaciousness. Small cabin. 2-3-2.

  7. Poor Service. I flew in the PE “cabin” in May 2018 on AA 777-200 from the U.S. to Paris and then Rome to the U.S. I paid about double the cost of their Coach fare. The flight was delayed 3 hours due to a cabin maintenance issue. If the service had not been so bad, it may have been more worth the price. The seat room and comfort allowed me to sleep more than usual( although the pitch is not very much). The cabin was new and clean. That’s it. There is no where to walk to stretch your legs but back to Coach where the aisles are too narrow to walk. The PE cabin seats are 2-4-2 across. There was no curtain separating Coach from PE. You had to go back to Coach for the lavatories. The only useful items in the amenity kit were the blanket and pillow. The same FA have to service both Coach and PE cabins. FA were consistently unhelpful, unfriendly, and even rude. It was obvious they did not want to be on the job. The drinks are free, but refills or nightcaps were not offered by the FAs. Due to the footrests, only the smallest items fit under the seat. My tote bag was smashed in the overhead bins by Coach passengers coming forward and shoving their wheeled bags on top of it (even though the sign said “PE Cabin use only”). FA encouraged this practice even though they had no trouble telling PE passengers they could not use the close-by Business lavatory! Getting an upgrade to Business cabin a benefit? Not on AA. I requested one but was put on a waitlist and upgrades are given (for $350 cash + 25,000miles each way) if seats are available at the gate. AA also allows coach passengers to upgrade to Business in the same way so there is no advantage. On my flight, the Business cabin was more than half empty when I booked, but full at the time of the flight. Any upgrades are given to AA Elites who have spent the most money on AA during the past year. I won’t fly AA PE to Europe again.

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