Is Flying Premium Economy Actually Worth It?

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.

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.

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

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

Video of the day:

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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David RH

Big difference on One World is the mileage credited and speed/ability of hitting tier levels.
Almost impossible in regular economy unless you live on the plane!!!

Howard Miller

As with almost every booking in any class, in an era of dynamic pricing, the key is having the time & patience to study/monitor fares/rates, and to be ready to pounce whenever prices drop. In most (but alas, NOT all) instances, and especially for longer term-planning, with time & patience, one will be successful in finding airfares (or hotel rooms), especially in Premium Economy (or occasionally 1st/Business classes) at price points that make for a “happy intersection” of price/value. I say this out of much experience because in an era of 30”-31” pitch rows, with hard as cement & way… Read more »

Jake

As you said, it really depends on the airline. Do they emphasize the Premium or the Economy? For example, JAL serves the same food you get in Economy, but on fancier plates. No thanks. On the other hand, Air New Zealand gives you better food (not sure if it’s the same as Business) and a much comfier seat, which is nice on those 12-15 hour flights. Most airlines also have dedicated attendants for the PE cabin which should mean better service. I wouldn’t pay these prices for the relatively short flight from the East Coast to the UK. When the… Read more »

Dave Williams

JAL PE sounds exactly like my experience of BA’s WTP. They boasted special meals and gave out a fancy menu but at the end of the day it was the same old partially reheated or over-cooked c*** they hand out in the cheap seats served up in china. BA also used the same cabin crew for PE WTP and economy so onboard service was pretty patchy.

Matt

It will always depend on the price. If you time it right, the price becomes more justifiable. Random examples are meaningless, because tommorow your list of prices could be completely different.

Reed

i think norwegian gives you access to a lounge whereas BA does not.

Reed

I think Norwegian gives you access to a lounge whereas BA definitely does not for Premium

quentin

Hello,
I think and feel that economy premium is offering, and hope will be offering, more space and legroom than the ever more confined awfully cramped economy profit making downgraded class (28 inch pitch is now commonly so inadapted to most people’s size) , this is what I like when flying long haul destinations. I am not so much interested in other services: being able to sleep with legs extended and elbow space is so much appreciated.

James Pappas

I paid $1200 round trip, Boston to London on BA thru Iberia. Economy was $900. This was a slam dunk absolute bargain and I would do it all the time.

Philippe

I booked Premium economy with Philippine Airlines from Toronto to Manila and got upgraded to business class twice. Premium Economy in my opinion is the best way to be upgraded to Business class without paying the fare.

John Lee

I enjoy the “extra” seat pitch only as long as the seat in front is not reclined – once that has
happened I feel as trapped as I would do in economy . I believe there is a solid argument for
limiting the degree of recline.

Dave Williams

I tried BA’s Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus) a couple of times and it was a complete waste of money. In comparison Virgin’s PE proved excellent value but the best deal I found has to be Delta Comfort+, that gives you all the useful little perks you need without costing a fortune.

AF Kay

Norwegian’s premium economy is worth it, given its relatively low fare. Norwegian throws in lounge access as well. However, be aware that the El Al lounge at EWR is outside the security check point. I once was close to missing the flight even with a full hour allowed for the security lines.

TheDude

Anything is better than peasant class.

Cynthia

Long haul over night I would use P. Economy as I couldn’t afford business . There would be more room to sleep

Ovtraveller

Check every aspect of your flight, that includes seat location in the PE cabin. The forward bulkhead seats on a Qantas 787 in PE are the superior pick as the leg room is outstanding and the FA provide footrests. Hence one is able to almost stretch out. Other PE locations on the B787 are abysmal on anything over 5 hours. So as I am old and crabby on anything beyond three hours, I will indulge in a J seat

Eric O

I am 6′ 3″ and 250 pounds. I personally think it’s discrimination against tall people that we have to pay extra just to have enough room for our knees to fit. I have had people stare daggers at me when they can’t recline their chair because my knees are right up against the back of their seat. I’m really surprised no one has wanted to take on a class action suit against the airlines for us tall people who have to pay more just to be barely comfortable.

Ivan

I have read the article about WestJet before, and I’m really interested in it. Do you think you can do a trip report on the airline? BTW they received a Boeing 787.

Joanna Bailey

I’m sure we’ll cover it at some point! Will suggest it to the team 🙂