Interesting facts
about premium economy

  • Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to introduce a separate premium economy cabin in 1992, called “Mid Class”, targeting cost-conscious business travelers.
  • Different airlines use various names for their premium economy class, such as Economy Plus (United Airlines), Delta Comfort (Delta Air Lines), or World Traveller Plus (British Airways).
  • The Airbus A380, flown by several airlines, offers some of the roomiest premium economy seats. The wide-body plane design allows for more generous seat configurations.
  • The Asia-Pacific region accounted for the largest global premium economy market share, followed by Europe and North America.
  • On average, premium economy fares are about 85% more expensive than economy class tickets but 65% cheaper than business class tickets.
  • Despite making up just 15% of total seating on average in long-haul flights, premium economy seats account for nearly 25% of the total airline revenue.
  • Passenger demand for premium economy seats has seen a steady increase. The occupancy rate for premium economy seats in 2023 is around 70%, compared to only 55% in 2018.
  • Some airlines have partnered with famous chefs to design their premium economy menus. Singapore Airlines, for instance, offers a ‘Book the Cook’ service where you can pre-order meals curated by internationally renowned chefs.

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What do you get in premium economy?

Premium economy offers a significant upgrade from regular economy class. The specific benefits vary from airline to airline, but some common features include:

  • Improved seating - wider seats that offer more legroom and often greater recline. Premium economy seats typically have 36-42 inches of legroom and 18-21 inches of width, compared to 30-34 inches of legroom and 16-18 inches of width in economy class.
  • More baggage allowance. Premium economy class usually comes with a more generous baggage allowance than economy class.
  • Dedicated overhead bins - access to dedicated overhead bins, which can help to reduce the amount of time spent waiting to stow luggage.
  • Better dining. Higher quality meals and a broader selection of complimentary beverages, often including alcoholic options.
  • Additional amenities. Passengers might receive amenity kits (containing items like sleep masks, earplugs, and skincare products), larger personal entertainment screens, and even noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Priority services. Some airlines provide separate check-in, priority boarding, and baggage handling to premium economy passengers. In some cases, passengers may also have access to airline lounges.

Some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, offer a welcome drink, often a cocktail, to their premium economy passengers, injecting a little glamour to the start of the journey. Other airlines, like Cathay Pacific, offer a premium amenity kit featuring a dental kit, socks, an eyeshade, earplugs, and skincare products.

Premium economy vs business class

While premium economy offers a better experience than regular economy, it's still a step below business class.

Business class provides more luxurious seats that typically convert into fully-flat beds (sometimes even enclosed suites), a gourmet dining experience often with a la carte menu choices, top-tier amenities, larger personal entertainment systems, and access to airport lounges.

Business class passengers also enjoy personalized service, a greater baggage allowance, and faster security clearance.

That said, the gap between premium economy and business class is always reflected in the price.

Are the seats in premium economy larger?

Yes, the seats in premium economy are typically larger than those in economy. They provide about 20% more legroom than standard economy seats. Premium economy seats typically have 36-42 inches of legroom and 18-21 inches of width, compared to 30-34 inches of legroom and 16-18 inches of width in economy class. This extra space can make a big difference in comfort, especially on long flights. Additionally, premium economy seats often recline further than economy class seats, and some even have footrests. Qantas and Air New Zealand, offer unique 'couples' seating in their premium economy cabins on some planes – these are two-seat pairs without a third seat in between.

Can I bring more luggage?

Yes, you can typically bring more luggage to premium economy class than economy class.

The specific baggage allowance varies from airline to airline, but you can typically expect to bring one more carry-on bag and one more checked bag than you would in economy class.

For example, on United Airlines, premium economy passengers can bring one carry-on bag that is up to 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches high, and one checked bag that is up to 62 inches long, 36 inches wide, and 24 inches high. Economy passengers can only bring one carry-on bag that is up to 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches high, and one checked bag that is up to 50 inches long, 36 inches wide, and 20 inches high.

Can I use the airline lounge if I have a premium economy ticket?

Airline lounge access is usually reserved for business and first-class passengers. However, some airlines do offer lounge access for premium economy passengers, either as part of the ticket or for an additional fee.

Alternatively, you can purchase a day pass or membership for independent lounges, providing a relaxing pre-flight experience regardless of your ticket class.

How much more is premium economy?

The price difference between premium economy and regular economy class varies by airline, route, and booking period. You can typically expect to pay about 15% to 35% more for a premium economy seat on shorter flights. For long-haul international flights, where the benefits of premium economy (such as extra legroom and better food) are more noticeable, the price difference can be higher, often around 65% to 85% more than economy class.

How to upgrade to premium economy?

Upgrading to premium economy can typically be done in several ways, depending on the airline's policies:

  • During booking. Most airlines offer this option on their booking platforms.
  • After booking. If you've already booked an economy ticket, you can usually upgrade to premium economy through the airline's website or mobile app. This option is typically available in your booking details or under manage your booking section.
  • At the airport. Some airlines allow upgrades at the airport, either at the check-in desk or at the boarding gate, subject to availability. The cost for this kind of last-minute upgrade can vary.
  • Bid for upgrade. Some airlines run a bidding system, where after booking an economy ticket, you can place a bid for an upgrade. If your bid is successful, you'll be upgraded to premium seat.
  • Using airline miles or points. If you're a member of the airline's frequent flyer program, you might be able to use your accumulated miles or points to upgrade.

Can I upgrade at the airport?

Yes, in many cases, airlines do offer this option. This can usually be done at the check-in desk or sometimes even at the boarding gate.

Availability depends on the airline and whether there are unsold premium economy seats on your flight. Upgrading at the airport could potentially be cheaper than pre-booking the premium economy fare. However, it's a riskier approach, as there's no guarantee that premium economy seats will be available.

Is premium economy available on all airlines?

No, not all airlines offer premium economy class. It's more commonly found on international carriers and long-haul flights, where the enhanced comfort and amenities are particularly valuable.

Premium economy class is still rare on low-cost airlines.

Airlines that offer premium economy class

Some of the airlines that offer premium economy class include:

  • Air France
  • Air New Zealand
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Finnair
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

What airlines have the best international premium economy?

Several airlines stand out for their exceptional international premium economy experiences. Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, and Air New Zealand are often praised for their spacious seats, delicious cuisine, and attentive service. Other top contenders include Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and Cathay Pacific.

Is premium economy worth the extra cost?

It all depends on your priorities and budget. If comfort, additional legroom, and improved amenities are important to you, the investment in premium economy can significantly enhance your travel experience.

However, if your primary concern is cost, you may prefer to stick with regular economy class and find other ways to make your journey more comfortable (travel pillow, noise-canceling headphones, etc) or book a hot seat - an economy seat with extra legroom, located in the exit row.

References

  1. Cathay Pacific, Premium Economy Class
  2. Singapore Airlines, Premium Economy Class
  3. Aviation Business News, The rise of premium economy class seating
  4. Journal of Air Transport Management, Willingness to pay for airline’ premium economy (PDF)
  5. Wikipedia, Premium economy

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