Is Premium Economy Worth It?
Airlines are putting in work where it counts: Premium Economy. So rejoice, flyers! More midrange options mean you don’t have to pay a whole arm and leg for a little extra room (just one or the other).
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
The line between business class and coach isn’t so stark these days, thanks to the added option of premium economy – an intermediary class working its way onto more and more international carriers. While the design is nothing new – Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Air France have all had it for more than a couple of years now – more American airlines are taking a stab at it.
So What is it? Well, it’s not a Lamborghini, But Not a Minivan, Either
Generally speaking, the premium economy cabin design offers three to seven additional inches of legroom, a couple extra inches of pitch (the space between a point on your seat and the same point on the seat in front of you), free drinks (yes, booze, too), better food, on-demand entertainment via noticeably larger TV screens, USB ports for charging electronics, and amenity kits typically seen in business class. Of course, there is a caveat – the upgrades come at a considerable cost when compared to the price of flying standard economy.
Level With Me…How Much Does it Cost?
SeatGuru has found that price-wise, even if you book in advance, premium economy runs about 85 percent more than the cost of economy. If that sounds a bit expensive, but you really can’t stand to fly coach any longer, you can always wait it out and book closer to your departure date when rates dip closer to 35 percent above regular economy fare. Or, if you book super, super last minute, you might be surprised to find remaining premium economy seats as low as 10 percent more than regular tickets.
On the flip-side, if you’re someone who generally flies business class, the price will look extremely attractive. Premium economy seats ring in approximately 65 percent cheaper, and come with many of the same perks, to a degree.
New Kids on the (Premium Economy) Block
Most carriers that fly long-haul international routes have some iteration of premium economy, but the most recent crop of converts include Alaska -, Singapore -, and American Airlines.
Singapore Airlines flew its inaugural premium economy flight on January 6th from San Francisco to Seoul and then on to Singapore. Their new section’s seats are 19.5 inches wide (as opposed to 17.5 inches in coach), with 38 inches of pitch (there’s just 32 inches in coach), adjustable headrests and footrests, two USB ports, and meals served a la white tablecloth. Book the Cook – a service previously found only in first and business class – is also available.
American Airlines announced in December that its premium economy option will be available sometime at the end of 2016, and though they haven’t divulged anything super exciting (or out of the norm) they are the first US airline to introduce a midrange class on international flights. Perks will include two free checked bags, priority check-in, being among the first to deboard, leather seats with 38 inches of pitch, touchscreen monitors with on-demand access to TV shows, movies, music, and games, WiFi access, and amenity kits.
Alaska Airlines’ facelift will be coming sometime late this year, as well. Their new premium class is set to include priority boarding, larger overhead bins for up to 48 percent higher carry-on capacity, outlets at every seat, three to four more inches of legroom, and fancy leather seats with 35 inch pitch. The changes will affect 60 planes – about half of their fleet.
A Glimpse into the Future (Spoiler: It Only Gets Better From Here)
Formation Design Group recently introduced a potentially game-changing premium economy cabin design. Like the traditional layout, theirs blends coveted business class perks with decent pricing, but also includes what could be *gasp* the first ever lay-flat, mid-class seats. The ‘blended cabin’ as Skift is calling it, turned industry heads, earning it a Crystal Cabin nom (aka "the only international award for excellence in aircraft interior innovation"). The pioneering design calls for stackable suites – a technique which would efficiently utilize space and fit more seats than a traditional 2D model.
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