What Is Premium Economy (& Is It Worth the Price of Admission)?

In the skies, comfort has always been king, in so much as only the select few tend to have it. And for the longest time, if you wanted it, you had to pay a king’s ransom to get it. Luckily, we’ve come a long way from the medieval times of air travel. Today, travelers have the world at their fingertips, and at their feet, they have their choice of fares offering comfort alongside affordability. One of the most notable fare types offering this elevated experience is Premium Economy. But what is Premium Economy, and is it worth the extra money to upgrade on your next flight? Let’s dive into what this premium cabin experience offers and whether you should consider it for your next trip. 

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Table of Contents

What Is Premium Economy? 

Many people think of Premium Economy and rightfully think of roomier seats and enough space to stretch out their legs at 30,000 feet. But make no mistake, Premium Economy is miles apart from any extra legroom upgrade like Delta’s Comfort+ or JetBlue’s Even More Space seats. Created to be a step above Economy but not as flashy as Business class, Premium Economy promises a hybrid of Business class comfort and economical pricing to provide extra perks, additional amenities, and a completely separate cabin experience. 

What Are the Benefits?

Premium Economy doesn’t always look the same on every airline—or even every aircraft, for that matter—but you can expect some standard benefits and perks to come with upgrading your fare. The most sought-after benefit is the added room. Premium Economy seats are often larger with several additional inches of legroom compared to Economy seats. But if that’s all it was, it wouldn’t be much different from the extra legroom upgrades some airlines now offer. 

Instead, Premium Economy is an all-around elevated experience, with travelers receiving perks like priority check-in and boarding, checked baggage allowance, amenity kits, free drinks, and upgraded meals. In this way, Premium Economy sets itself apart from Economy and aims to give travelers a middle-of-the-road option that provides more than the standard main cabin experience while avoiding the steep costs of First Class.

How Much Does It Cost?

Speaking of cost, Premium Economy manages to be more affordable than Business class, but that doesn’t mean it comes cheap. Seats can range from 1.5-3 times as much as regular Economy tickets. Sometimes even more. And there’s a lot of variation between airlines—in both cost and perks—that doesn’t always necessarily reflect what you’re paying for. Let’s take a trip from Los Angeles to Paris as an example. Planning a trip for the fall, in October, Justfly.com shows Premium Economy fares at $2,246 on Air France, $1,813 on Delta Air Lines, and $1,574 on French Bee, the low-cost French airline. 

While you’re guaranteed extra room on each of those flights, the airline and aircraft largely determine the amount of legroom and the other amenities you can look forward to. So it’s worth comparing Premium Economy classes on different airlines to ensure you’re not paying more for less.

How Does Premium Economy Compare?

So, how does Premium Economy stack up against its main two competitors? If you’re trying to get an idea of what more, or less, you’ll get over the standard Economy fare or more decked-out Business class option, then here’s everything you need to know about the differences between these three common fare types and your experience on each.

What Is the Difference Between Economy and Premium Economy?

Premium EconomyEconomy
Average Seat Width18.5”17.5”
Average Seat Pitch38”32”
Average Recline8” 2-4”
Power OutletsUsuallySometimes
Upgraded MealsUsuallyNo
Amenity KitsYesRarely
Priority Check-InYesAdd-On
Priority BoardingYesAdd-On
Checked Baggage AllowanceUsuallyRarely

What Is the Difference Between Premium Economy and Business Class?

Premium EconomyBusiness Class
Average Seat Width18.5”21”
Average Seat Pitch38”62”
Average Recline8” Lie-Flat 
Power OutletsUsuallyYes
Upgraded MealsUsuallyYes
Amenity KitsYesYes
Priority Check-InYesYes
Priority BoardingYesYes
Checked Baggage Allowance1 Checked Bag (generally)Two Checked Bags

What Does Premium Economy Look Like on Different Airlines?

Now that we’ve got some general differences out of the way, what about specifics? If you were to travel Premium Economy tomorrow, what would your experience look like? Well, as we mentioned earlier, the experience can vary widely from airline to airline, so let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest US airlines offering Premium Economy and just what you can expect as part of your premium experience. 

Premium Economy on Delta Air Lines

Delta Premium Select touts itself as the standard for Premium Economy travel, and it kind of is. According to Skytrax, it won Best Premium Economy Class Airline in North America for 2023. 

Delta’s Premium Select seats are roomier, plusher, and more relaxing. They have a wider armrest and the ability to recline. Add an extra five inches of legroom, and it’ll seem massive compared to the cramped, sardine experience of Delta Economy. 

In addition to a more comfortable seat experience, Delta Premium Select provides snacks and elevated meals inspired by your route. Amenities like a self-care kit make being on the go easier, while pillows, blankets, and noise-canceling headphones make it easier to wind down. But that’s all just the inflight experience. Other premium perks apply before you even step foot on the plane, with two free checked bags included with every Premium Select ticket and access to priority security and boarding. 

All in all, Delta does its best to offer a truly premium experience at a significantly lower cost than one would pay to fly Delta One.

Premium Economy on American Airlines

American Airlines was the first major US airline to introduce a Premium Economy option in 2017. Perhaps that’s why they’re the only ones to call it Premium Economy. They like to keep it simple. 

The same can’t be said for their perks. American Airlines promises several additional inches in legroom and seat width. Unfortunately, that’s where the guarantees stop. The rest of the experience is largely up to your route. While travelers on long-haul, international flights receive “chef-inspired” meals, those on shorter, domestic flights may receive the same meals as in Economy. It’s a similar story for their in-flight kits. While a Casper sleep set with a blanket and pillow is available for all travelers, their Shinola and D.S. & Durga amenity kit is reserved for long-haul international flights.

That said, American Airlines elevates the travel experience for Premium Economy travelers in other ways, with priority check-in and boarding, footrests or headrests on their seats, and seatback entertainment to while away the hours in the sky.

Premium Economy on United Airlines

United was the only other major US airline to make it into the top 20 of best Premium Economy Class Airlines in 2023, with its Premium Plus class coming in at number 12. And from the airport to the plane, United delivers on a “plus” experience. At the airport, travelers enjoy Premier Access, which includes priority check-in, exclusive security lanes, priority boarding, and priority bag handling. 

On the plane, travelers get seven extra inches of legroom plus a six-inch recline. Seats aren’t just roomier either; they also come with an adjustable legrest, footrest, power outlets, USB, and 13” seatback screens (compared to the 9” screens in Economy). Premium Plus also provides free meals, snacks, and drinks (alcoholic & non-alcoholic). And to sleep, travelers get noise-canceling headphones, blankets, and pillows on long-haul flights.

In addition to all the above perks, Premium Plus travelers get two free checked bags and reserved overhead bin space. Not to mention, with a Premium Plus ticket, travelers can get access to discounted United Club passes. It’s safe to say that United doesn’t skimp on the premium in Premium Plus.

Premium Economy on Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines may be much smaller than the Big Three, but don’t let the size fool you. This airline offers its own version of Premium Economy called Premium Class. 

As on other airlines, the most notable quality is the legroom. Travelers get an additional four inches than what’s on offer in regular Economy. However, it’s worth noting the seat sizes aren’t any bigger. They’re also located in the main cabin, though they are placed directly behind First class, which makes boarding and de-boarding much quicker. Premium travelers also enjoy amenities, like priority boarding and free drinks on flights over 350 miles. 

While it may not be as premium as other airlines, it may still be worth it for the added comfort. And since Premium Class upgrades start at $15 and each leg is charged separately, travelers can build their preferred flight itinerary and save money by upgrading on longer legs and skipping out on shorter ones.  

Is It Worth Upgrading to Premium Economy?

Ultimately, whether it’s worth upgrading to Premium Economy comes down to what you’re putting into it and how much you’re getting back. Spending around 50% more to upgrade to the premium cabin ticket works out well for the value—any more than that, and you’re likely paying more than it’s worth. Still, if you’re interested in a specific perk, like roomier seats or a better cabin experience on a long-haul flight, you may find the added expense worth it to arrive feeling more relaxed and refreshed than you would be coming out of Economy.

Unfortunately, the lack of exact standards across this class makes it harder to determine if you’re truly getting your money’s worth. In this case, the best thing you can do is research what the airline offers and how it compares to how much extra you pay. Doing a little bit of due diligence will allow you to click “Book Now” with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your money wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere.

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