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), yet the cabin regularly commands double the price of economy class. So is it worth it? Is it really worth the premium?

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Photo: Los Angeles International Airport

One of the problems with premium economy class is that it is highly variable. Business class is reasonably standardized – you expect lie-flat beds and direct aisle access on long-haul flights on premium carriers, and comfy recliner seats on most domestic business class services. But what do you get in a premium economy class cabin?

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What you might expect to find in a premium economy class cabin

Let’s take a look at some of the most common features of premium economy class.

  • A better seat. This could mean more legroom (the most common upgrade feature) and a folding headrest and footrest. You’d also expect a far better pitch than in standard economy class.  Lie-flat seats are generally reserved as the main upsell for business class, although some airlines (like AirAsia X and Norwegian) come very close;
  • Better food and beverages;
  • Better inflight entertainment. This could be in the form of a bigger screen and free inclusions like headphones. If it’s a low-cost carrier that you have to pay for entertainment, premium economy generally gets entertainment included;
  • A smaller and separate cabin from the main economy cabin. Most airlines operate a cabin of three to four 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 author’s opinion should be available for all passengers);
  • Increased luggage allowance; and
  • Better points earning potential.

But some airlines offer all of these features and others offer a fraction. Some airlines go the extra mile. Japan Airlines will throw in lounge access for premium economy passengers. Other airlines feed you the same food as economy class. It’s this variability that makes premium economy class travel a tricky beast to pin down, value-wise.

What does the premium economy class cabin cost to fly in?

Things are a bit askew this year and flights are not running as per normal, but based on 2019 offerings, let’s compare three premium economy class products on the route between London and New York. Plus, what exactly do you get in premium economy on these sampled airlines?

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Twelve months ago, a seat in Norwegian premium economy would have cost you approximately US$1,059. What do you get for that?

  • Comfortable seat in the premium economy cabin with a 109 to 117 centimeters (43 to 46″) seat pitch. This is compared to 32″ in economy class. However, the seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration;
  • Complimentary drinks (mineral water, wine, and beer) throughout the flight. You have to pay in for these in economy class;
  • A three-course premium dinner + premium breakfast. Again, you would pay for this in economy class;
  • Seat reservation. Two checked bags at 20 kg each are included; and
  • Fast track at check-in

An economy class ticket on Norwegian on the same flight would have cost you $388.

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Norwegian’s premium economy has one of the best pitches (legroom) in the entire industry. Photo: Norwegian

Paying a premium to fly on the premium airlines

More upmarket competitor British Airways was asking around three times the price to fly the same route in premium economy class. Twelve months ago, a seat in economy class to New York would have cost you $1738. A seat in premium economy on the same flight would have cost around $3360. But for that you would get;

  • A specially branded cabin known as World Traveller Plus. This cabin offers passengers wider seats and more legroom (38″ vs 31″ in economy class. However, premium economy class seat width on British Airways is only 1″ more than in regular economy class;
  • A separate, smaller cabin with attentive service;
  • Two delicious meals, complimentary bar service including signature cocktails (or mocktails);
  • A personal entertainment system with noise-canceling headphones;
  • Stylish amenity kit made from recycled materials;
  • More free baggage allowance (double that of economy class); and
  • Priority boarding
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A British Airways premium economy class seat. Photo: British Airways

Virgin Atlantic was selling a seat across to New York in its premium economy cabin at British Airways prices, asking $1,360. In contrast, a seat in plain old economy class would cost you $334. For the extra $1000, you could expect;

  • 38″ of pitch vs 30″ in VA economy class. Seats in premium economy are 21′ wide which is significantly wider than regular economy class;
  • Premium economy passengers can skip the queues at check-in with a special check-in area;
  • A complimentary drink when boarding;
  • A complimentary amenity kit;
  • Free seat selection;
  • Plated meals and a larger selection than available to economy class passengers; and
  • Complimentary checked baggage.
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Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Doing the math. How does it compare to economy class?

Norwegian is clocking in at around $700 extra which is a fairly reasonable upgrade price, and with an increase of 14 more inches and all the extras included, this might seem worth it. Based on seat pitch alone, Norwegian has one of the best premium economy class products in the sky.

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For British Airways and Virgin, the increase is around $1,000, which is a middle ground between cost and benefits. For both airlines, the cabin is separate with its own staff, food and a different boarding experience, giving an air of exclusivity to the product.

The 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? A savvy bargain hunter could probably find a transatlantic business class seat on another carrier of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic’s asking price for a premium economy class seat.

Premium economy seems designed as an anti-passenger class, created to take extra money out of passengers in return for little from the airline (after all, these benefits such as in-seat power, bigger screen or included baggage hardly cost the airline that much more).

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If you are considering traveling 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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