Lonely Planet Writer

Plane Insider: What do you get when you buy premium economy, and is it worth it?

With even more airlines offering premium economy seating these days, and particularly in the context of the ever-shrinking economy class living space, it’s important to know what you’re getting if you decide to treat yourself to a bit more space when you travel.

BA’s World Traveller Plus. Image by Jamie Moore / CC BY 2.0

The first key difference to understand is between proper international premium economy and extra-­legroom economy —and there are airlines out there making it hard to figure out which one you’re buying. Do you know offhand which is better between Comfort+ and Premium Select? Proper premium economy seats are around 19­-20” wide, with around 38” of seat pitch (that’s the distance between one point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front). That’s about two to three inches wider than economy, and with around seven to eight more inches of space between rows. Premium economy usually has one to two fewer seats in each row than economy as well. (In fact, when Virgin Atlantic, one of the airlines credited with creating premium economy in the early 1990s, went to their seat-maker, they actually took a regular business class seat from back then and just put it closer together.)

Delta Premium Select. Image by Delta News Hub / CC BY 2.0

If you’ve flown in a domestic US first class cabin, or business class on an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 in Australia, Asia or pretty much anywhere other than Europe, it’s similar to that. They’re usually in a different cabin of service, so you’ll get nicer food, better wine, and more personalised service —but not up to business class, mind. Think: British Airways’ World Traveller Plus, Qantas Premium Economy, Delta Premium Select. Extra-­legroom economy seats are just that: regular old economy seats with a few inches of extra space between each row. Sometimes you get a free drink, extra pillow and so on thrown in, but the key thing to remember is that these seats are not the same. Think: United Economy Plus, American Main Cabin Extra, Delta Comfort+.

Premium economy often includes extra drinks and snacks. Image by BraunS/Getty Images

Obviously, you’ll want to ensure that if you’re forking out some extra dough for a better experience, you understand what you’re getting for it. Sometimes comparison websites can be a little vague on exactly what each class of service is, so head to the airline’s website and check out the seat maps: if you can clearly see that there are fewer seats in each row, that’s probably proper premium economy. Top tip: if you’re booked in economy, and fancy a bit of extra space once you get to the airport, don’t hesitate to have a quick word with a check­-in agent. Often, airlines are happy to offer on-­the-­day upgrades to premium economy for very reasonable rates—but make sure you know whether you’re getting proper premium economy or just extra legroom, and whether you’re going to be upgraded into a middle seat.  A hundred smackeroos or so can go a long way to a great flight if you use it right!