Is Flying Premium Economy Actually Worth It?

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Premium economy has always been a bit of an odd seat onboard. The ‘in-between-class’ features few really desirable upgrades (they are left for business class) and yet command a price that is regularly double that of economy.

World Traveller plus
British Airways Premium Economy. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

So, all in all, is the class actually worth considering? Or is it better to go cheaper with economy or save up for business? Let us explore.

What is Premium Economy?

The very first thing you should know about premium economy, is that it is completely unstandardized across the industry. Every airline offers a different standard of ‘premium’. What might be a common inclusion on one carrier could be a costly upgrade on another.

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The first airline to make a ‘better economy’ was actually EVA Air in 1991, but they wouldn’t develop the concept into what we would recognize today until more mainstream versions appeared, such as on Virgin Atlantic.

Let’s go over some of the most common features of the class.

  • A better ‘seat’. This could mean more legroom (the most common upgrade feature) and a folding headrest and footrest. Lie-flat seats are generally reserved as the main upsell for business class, although some airlines (like Air Asia X and Norwegian) come very close.
  • Better food (Virgin Australia premium economy gets the same food service as business).
  • Better inflight entertainment, in the form of a bigger screen, free inclusions (if it’s a low-cost carrier that you have to pay for entertainment, premium economy generally gets entertainment included), including headphones etc.
  • Smaller and sometimes separate cabin away from the main economy cabin. Most airlines operate a cabin of 3-4 rows at most. As these seats are bigger, they generally have one or two less per row allowing them to be wider.
  • In-seat power (which in this authors opinion should be available for all passengers).
  • Lounge access
  • Increased luggage allowance
  • Better points earning potential.

Again, some airlines offer all of these and some only offer a fraction.

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Premium economy on the Air France A350
Premium economy on the Air France A350. Photo: Air France

Is it worth it?

To best understand if the class is worth it, let us have a look at two flights that both offer premium economy:

Premium economy
When searching for London to New York premium economy. Photo: Google Flights.

When looking up London to New York, many options appear that are priced around the same for premium economy. What exactly do you get on each carrier?

Norwegian Premium Economy – $1,059 USD

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Norwegian's premium economy
Norwegian’s premium economy has one of the biggest pitches (legroom) in the entire industry. Photo: Norwegian.
  • Comfortable seat in the Premium cabin with a 109 to 117 centimeters (43 to 46 inches) seat pitch. This is compared to 32 in economy. The seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration, however.
  • Complimentary drinks (mineral water, wine and beer) throughout the flight. You have to pay in economy.
  • 3-course Premium dinner + Premium breakfast. Again, what you would pay for.
  • Seat reservation. 2 checked bags x 20 kg included.
  • Fast Track at check-in

British Airways – $3,360 USD

British Airways
British Airways Premium Economy. Photo: British Airways
  • Know as World Traveller Plus, this cabin offers passengers wider seats and more legroom (38 inches vs 31 in economy, but only an inch wider)
  • A separate, smaller cabin with attentive service – the new cabin is actually between first class and business, far from economy on their Boeing 747
  • Two delicious meals, complimentary bar service including signature cocktails (or mocktail). A personal entertainment system with noise-canceling headphones
  • Stylish amenity kit made from recycled material
  • More free baggage allowance (double that of economy)
  • Priority boarding

Virgin Atlantic – $3,360 USD

Virgin Premium Economy
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy. Photo: Virgin Atlantic
  • 38 inches of pitch vs 30 in economy. 21 inches wide which is significantly wider than economy.
  • Skip the queues at check-in with a special area
  • Complimentary drink when boarding
  • Amenity kit
  • Free seat selection
  • Plated meals and a larger selection than economy
  • Included checked baggage.

But how does it compare to Economy?

Here are the same flight times but for an economy seat

Economy prices for the same flight. Photo: Google Flights

Virgin Atlantic is just over $3,000 more for a return flight in premium economy than economy, which is insane. In this case, paying that much for eight more inches of pitch and free seat selection doesn’t make sense.

Norwegian is clocking in at around $700 extra which is far more reasonable and with an increase of 14 more inches and all the extras included, this might seem worth it.

For British Airways, the increase is around $1,000, which is a middle ground between cost and benefits. The cabin is separated with its own staff, food and a different boarding experience actually makes it feel more exclusive than Virgin.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, it depends if you are price conscious. The problem is that if you don’t care about price, wouldn’t you upgrade to a full business class on your carrier of choice? Premium economy seems designed as an anti-passenger class, created to take extra money out of a passengers pocket for little in return from the airline (after all, these benefits such as in-seat power, bigger screen or included baggage hardly cost the airline that much more).

If you are considering premium economy, be sure to do the research and find out for sure how much is actually included.

What do you think? Will you upgrade? Let us know in the comments.

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