5 Reasons to Fly Premium Economy

Jun 4, 2017

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Cheap fuel, fuel-efficient aircraft and more available routes have pushed economy fares down — often to record-low levels. But even as economy fares become more passenger-friendly, economy seats have become decidedly unfriendly, and we’re seeing even the world’s top-rated airlines squeeze more seats into long-haul aircraft in a bid to wring out more money.

Enter premium economy — a growing class of service that, for customers willing to spend a little bit more, returns coach-cabin service to the golden standards of a bygone era. Or at least offers a little more legroom.

But is the extra 15% or 20% or more you pay worth it? Those who haven’t flown in a true international premium-economy cabin may find it difficult to justify coughing up the extra dough. You might even skip over premium-economy fares, which are sandwiched between economy and business class on most airfare search engines like Google Flights, Kayak and Skyscanner.

Don’t be a skeptic: Extra legroom is just the start of a long list of amenities airlines now offer in the middle cabin, and the upgraded service can offer excellent value. Here are five reasons to consider paying extra for premium economy on your next flight.

1. You’ll Arrive Feeling More Rested

Unlike economy plus and preferred seats that just offer additional legroom, premium economy seats on long-haul flights feature dimensions similar to those of the recliners that domestic first-class passengers are familiar with in the US. At 19 to 20 inches wide, these seats offer enough space to truly have an impact on sleep — a sleep study conducted by Airbus and The London Sleep Center even found that just one additional inch of seat width helped participants sleep an average of 53% longer during a long-haul flight. Even though you won’t be reclining in a flat bed in any premium-economy cabin, a combination of larger seat dimensions, wider armrests, adjustable leg rests and extra features like personal dividers and noise-canceling headphones almost guarantee you’ll feel more rested upon arrival.

TPG dozes off in premium economy during a tour of the new Singapore Airlines A350.
TPG dozing off in premium economy during a tour of the new Singapore Airlines A350.

2. You Can Say Goodbye to Airport Lines

Airlines don’t offer premium economy passengers the same level of airport service as business- or first-class passengers, but many perks are similar. Premium economy passengers enjoy dedicated priority check-in lines — I didn’t have to wait in line during any of the three premium economy itineraries I flew last year — and board before the rest of the economy cabin, often through dedicated boarding lanes. Some airlines — including Air New Zealand, ANA, JAL, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic — offer priority baggage handling for premium economy passengers, even without elite status. That means your bags will be first to the baggage claim, along with those of business- and first-class customers. Many airlines also grant premium economy travelers lounge access, usually for a reduced fee. JAL is among the few airlines that provide premium economy passengers with complimentary lounge access, however if part of your premium economy itinerary includes a business-class leg, you’ll score lounge access anyway.

Premium-economy passengers often enjoy dedicated check-in lines, often separate from but next to business-class and first-class check-in.
Premium-economy passengers often enjoy dedicated check-in lines, often separate from but next to business-class and first-class check-in.

3. You’ll Enjoy Service From Extra-Attentive Flight Attendants

Premium economy cabins on most airlines are served by a dedicated crew and are often quite small, featuring as little as 15 seats — fewer than most international business-class and first-class cabins. As a result, premium economy flight attendants have time to serve you and attend to your specific needs. Thirsty mid-flight? Every time I’ve felt a need to press the flight-attendant call button on premium economy flights, a smiling flight attendant responded within moments, often just as quickly as they might in a business-class setting. Upgraded food and beverage options, including sparkling wine, premium liquor and even espresso on some carriers, give the whole experience a premium-cabin feel at a fraction of a business-class ticket.

A premium-economy meal on Singapore Airlines.
A premium-economy meal on Singapore Airlines.

4. You May Get Upgraded to Business Class for Free

Some airlines offer reasonable mileage upgrades for premium economy ticket holders. Flying Blue allows passengers to upgrade paid premium economy fares to business class for as few as 10,000 miles one way. A one-segment transpacific upgrade from premium economy to China Airlines’ Premium Business cabin costs 30,000 Dynasty miles and can also be applied from select Skyteam partner accounts, including Delta SkyMiles — if you can find a phone representative with the know-how that is. It’s also not uncommon for carriers to offer premium economy fares on connecting routes that aren’t served by a premium economy cabin. In this case, premium economy passengers are often ticketed in the next-highest class of service.

On a round-trip itinerary last year between San Francisco (SFO) and Bangkok (BKK), I was seated in premium economy on China Airlines’ beautiful 777-300ER for the first leg, between San Francisco and Taipei (TPE). On the second leg, my travel companion and I found ourselves in 180-degree flat-bed seats aboard a 747-400. While we only got to enjoy our flat beds for about four hours, that business-class ticket afforded us all the same amenities as those enjoyed by full-fare business-class passengers, including exclusive business-class lounge access and VIP passport-control lines in both Taipei and Bangkok.

Lie-flat seats in China Airlines' Next Generation Premium Business. We found ourselves in business class on the second leg of a premium-economy itinerary last year.
Lie-flat seats in China Airlines’ Next Generation Premium Business. We found ourselves in business class on the second leg of a premium-economy itinerary last year.

5. You’ll Earn More Miles

While frequent-flyer programs often significantly cut the miles you earn for discounted economy-class fares, premium economy passengers earn at least 100% of miles flown. Plus, you’ll get bonus mileage in many cases, even when purchasing deeply discounted premium economy tickets. For this reason, a $200 or $300 fare difference on a transatlantic flight might net as much as three times the mileage. For example, Air France is offering economy fares between New York (JFK) and Madrid (MAD) during the last week of August for $488 round-trip. Premium economy fares on the same round-trip itinerary are priced at $736. Both fares are heavily discounted, but while the economy fare nets a paltry 2,570 Flying Blue or Delta SkyMiles for the transatlantic crossing, the premium economy ticket still nets 100% of distance flown, or 9,156 miles. In addition, SkyMiles members would earn 50% more Medallion Qualification Miles on the premium-economy flight, and over three times as many Medallion Qualification Dollars.

A view of the Air France 777-300ER premium-economy cabin.
A view of the Air France 777-300ER premium-economy cabin.

Bottom Line

For a fraction of the cost of a business-class ticket, and a sometimes marginal price increase over the cost of an economy seat, international premium economy cabins offer a significant upgrade for travelers with a few extra dollars to spare. Just remember to check seating charts before booking your flight to ensure premium economy offers wider seats in a separate cabin, as some airlines do still sell extra-legroom economy seats in premium-economy fare buckets.

Have you flown in premium economy internationally? Tell us about it, below.

Featured image courtesy of TPG.

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