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Economy vs. Premium Economy

Well, as it has been more than 25 years since I've been on an international flight, I've got a few things to learn.
I don't think there was such a thing as economy vs. premium economy back in 1987. I think it was just "regular" and "first class/business."
Are these all new planes that have been built in the 21st century?

Can anyone tell me if it's worth paying more for premium on a flight to Europe from the US? Of course I am trying to keep costs as low as possible. But I don't want to feel awful for 6+ hours.

(I have been on domestic flights in the 21st century. I think I just flew economy. Are international flights much different?)

Posted by
823 posts

Yes! Especially if you are taller than 5'...

Have you flown domestically recently? The seat pitch (distance from YOUR seat-back cushion to the back of the seat in front of you) has been reduced to something on the order of the back seat of a Yugo! Well, guess what, it has international flights as well. So, if you like being able to lower the tray table all the way without it hitting you in the chest, I would opt for the Economy Comfort (or Premium, or whatever the airline markets it as). These seats provide you an extra 4 to 6 inches of knee room...

Posted by
504 posts

I am 5'8" and my husband is 6".
Last time I flew domestically was 2007, to Florida. I do remember it being a bit squeezy, and to be honest, last time I flew to London in 1987, I said to myself, "Next time I am going first class."

Posted by
714 posts

It's worth every cent! I flew premium economy to Europe last year (Air Canada) from the west coast (9+ hrs Vancouver to London) and it made a huge difference especially as I immediately flew on to Rome. I am flying to Japan in a few weeks and have again opted for the premium economy. If you can afford it, go for it!

Posted by
7205 posts

Is it worth paying more for having a "decent" seat? A seat that every human minimally deserves? The answer to this question can be found by asking yourself "Do I like to be held prisoner by a glutenous airline who is willing to sell me an overpriced ticket for a seat that is designed to make me miserable and therefore FORCE me to pay more for a minimally decent seat?"

Posted by
504 posts

Tim, Well, no, I don't want to be held prisoner, of course. It is a shame that we've been forced into this position (as so many others).

Posted by
1589 posts

" I am trying to keep costs as low as possible."

Economy In all likelihood, you will only feel awful for about 3 hours..

Posted by
2788 posts

I have flown between Seattle and Europe (9 1/2 hours) for 13 of the last 14 years. I am over 6' and ever since airlines started offering that "extra" option, I have paid for it and arrive in Europe in much better shape than before it was offered and I was caged in standard economy seating. I also fly between Seattle and Hawaii
(5 1/2 hours) a couple of times a year for 30 years now and have always paid for the "extra" option since it became available when the airlines stopped letting me sit in an emergency exit for free. I am retired and am not well off financially but that "extra" option undoubted will let me last longer to continue enjoying my trips. Let your financial situation dictate whether you can afford it or not.

Posted by
3493 posts

Premium Economy means different things on different airlines.

At the minimum, you only get a few extra inches of legroom. Everything else, meals drinks and physical cabin on the plane, are the same. At the other end, you are in a separate cabin from economy and you get higher grade food free alcohol and a wider seat along with the extra legroom. You really need to look at what each airline offers among the choices you have that will get you where you need to go. Then decide if the price differential is worth it. I feel it is always worth it.

Posted by
8293 posts

My sister and I flew AirTransat to London in August. We opted for the Option Plus fare, their version of Premium Economy, for $79 Cdn. This allowed us priority boarding, a slightly larger seat, a little package consisting of a blanket, blow- up pillow, eye mask, etc., plus a small bottle of very, very bad sparkling wine. Except for the wine, it was worth the money.

Posted by
2746 posts

I fly regular coach, but am picky about seat selection. I reserve the 2x2 seats (most intl planes have 2 seats, aisle, 4-5 seats?, aisle, 2 seats). Then my husband or whoever I'm traveling with sits next to me. My husband is 6' and fairly thin. He finds the legroom tight but manageable in an aisle, especially if I'm next to him so the armrest is up. I'm 5'3 and average weight and find airplane seats sufficient if there's not a huge stranger spilling into my space.

So I pay for seat selection where required. British and Iberia charge for this, and sometimes you have to call. A middle seat next to a stranger would be unbearable and I'd pay premium to avoid it. A 2 seat row with me and my partner is fine.

Posted by
2278 posts

Check www.seatguru.com for seat maps for every seat on every airline, with seat width, pitch, and general cabin layout prominently displayed to help you compare and decide for yourself whether it's worth it to upgrade.

Posted by
518 posts

I think paying the extra is worth it. You get a lot of comfort (relatively speaking, of course) for nowhere near what you would pay for an actual business class ticket.

A word about exit rows. Exit rows will afford you even more leg room than the economy-plus seats (for those exit rows that are at the start of a section, not the exit rows that are mid-section, as they are on some planes), but you have to book early to score those seats.

Posted by
5697 posts

Good point about checking seatguru -- some of the "premium economy" seats have extra legroom except for the equipment under the seat ahead ... or don't recline ... or people treat the row as a crossover space.

For me, at 5'4" and able to sleep anywhere, not worth the premium; for my husband, as long as he gets an aisle seat he's ok. But we try to book early and get the 2-across seats. (Flying nonstop from SFO, so loong flights)
Full disclosure -- we are cheap, and would rather spend the $$ on extra gelato ... a LOT of extra gelato.

Posted by
524 posts

We decided to splurge for it on the way over, but not back. We decided later and the seat selection had us next to someone, from now on I will splurge both ways...it's really not that much.

It just continually angers me that they squished us all in.

Posted by
518 posts

...and, even if you've booked preferred seats in advance, whether they are exit row seats, 2+2 seats, aisle seats, etc., the airline is completely in their right to change you last minute if they need to. As frustrating as it is, it's all in the fine print. Your best bet (and this is something no one can take from you, not the airlines, and not any fine print) is to enter that plane with a good attitude and prepared for the worst.

Posted by
1068 posts

Well it is a toss up if you are trying to save money. It depends on how long the flights are and the advantages economy premium gives you on any particular trip. I tend to use premium economy if the flight is longer than 6 hours as I have found my tolerance for an economy seat is generally 4-5 hours. I can stand a couple of uncomfortable hours for $100 (especially in an aisle seat where I can stretch out a bit more.) It is also worth considering how many legs you will be flying in a given day. A 3 hour flight followed by 3 hour layover and 6 hour flight is not bad. However something like returning from India with a 9 hour flight followed by a 3 hour layover and second 9 hour flight..... nope, I'll take 2 economy premiums please!

Posted by
504 posts

I'm doing a bit of internet research, and finding that the prices vary wildly/widely.

For instance, Delta has an upgrade to Delta Comfort for around $120 each way. However, when I looked at Virgin Atlantic's upgrade to Premium Economy it really made the fare much more expensive.

Boy, back in the day, all I did was call Virgin and make a reservation. This looks like it could be a part-time job in itself, choosing flights!! LOL

Posted by
190 posts

I agree with Mark that Premium Economy is not all the same across the airlines.
I was very comfortable on Qantas from Sydney to San Francisco.
Delta was not as comfortable from San Francisco to London.

But for long international flights, I still vote for Premium Economy.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
1878 posts

Looks like mine will be a minority opinion here. I'm 5'10", tall from the waist up and short from the waist down. So legroom is not an issue for me. I'm much more constrained on width - even though I am in good shape, I have very broad shoulders. I'm a lot more worried about the middle aged male business traveler (my demographic) who feels entitled to a seat and half with respect to width. Or the person in the middle seat with a big bulky jacket that they wear the entire flight, despite the fact that it's 82 degree in the cabin, and that is overflowing into my seat. Or, the person who falls asleep and ends up leaning over into my lap. Or the person who is especially large and requires seat and a half. (I am broad but very very careful to stay in my space). Argh, flying has not gotten any easier. I am a lot more sensitive to being in contact with a person than an object, so economy plus has never been remotely worth it for me. But, it depends upon your body type, personal preferences, and the price of course.

Posted by
42 posts

As someone already stated, premium economy for each airline is different. I have found that if you go to SeatGuru.com you can actually compare airlines (and their individual airplanes) to determine which ones offer the most spacious seating in premium economy. We fly internationally a few times a year and finally had it with being packed in like sardines. We rather spend the extra on premium economy and cut back a bit on hotel spending at our destination.

Posted by
127 posts

You're getting good advice starting with the idea that you need to determine what "Premium Economy" means for the specific airline.

I don't spring for "premium" but I do have some coping strategies:

  1. I book early enough that I can select an aisle seat among the outer seats (as opposed to the five or six in the middle of the fuselage).

  2. I pay the fee for that seat selection because it is worth it to me.

  3. I try to book flights operated by foreign carriers. There seems to be more seat room and decent service on a Lufthansa flight operated by Lufthansa as opposed by a "Lufthansa" flight that is operated by United Airlines.

For me, I'm not so tall that I can't endure a few hours packed into a small space. Especially since most flights to Europe are overnighters. I don't like it and wish I could always travel like I did when British Airways bumped me up to business class but the destination is more important than a few hours of semi-misery.

Posted by
1427 posts

We just returned from England having taken our first Virgin Atlantic flight. We always fly United because we have miles and always fly Premium Economy. We feel better with the extra space and even that doesn't seem to be enough - it's always a very cramped feeling for us. I heard different opinions about Virgin Atlantic but will have to say the experience was a great one. I'm not dissatisfied with the United Premium Economy but Virgin felt a little roomier (and the meals and other perks were very nice). The only thing I did not like about Virgin's setup was the fixed armwrest between seats - it made it hard to get up because normally I lift the arm to slide out.

Posted by
1020 posts

In the world of airlines, the term "Premium Economy" is used for a separate class of service, between economy and business classes. Besides more room and a nicer actual seat, you usually get better food as well as some other perks, depending on the airline. The big US airlines do not have a true Premium Economy. Seats like United's Economy Plus or Delta's Comfort Plus give you more room, but the seats themselves are the same as in economy class, and you usually get the same meal service as in "regular" economy. This is why United's and Delta's offering is less expensive, than, say, Virgin Atlantic's, which does offer a true Premium Economy product.

Having said that, I'm 6 foot, and fly from the West Coast to Europe. I take whatever extra legroom I can get, and I'm willing to pay for it. For me, it does make a difference on the long flights.

Posted by
5265 posts

I spring for premium economy (by whatever name) on the 9-10 hour flights between Seattle and Europe, but not the 5+ hour flights between Seattle and east coast US. I'm 6'1" with long legs and even 2-3" more pitch is worth it to me on the long hauls. Got a first-class flight to Mexico some years back for just an extra $50 (viva Alaska Airlines!), and I'm looking forward to more of that when I win the lottery.

Posted by
727 posts

Every airline executive should be forced to travel in a middle seat in economy every time. What the airlines have done to reduce seat pitch, especially on international flights, is disgusting.

Posted by
2930 posts

Hi SandraL, I can't see from where in the US you are flying so our system might not work for you. We have our own "1st class" system, from which we swear we'll never again deviate (when ever I say that I deviate, LOL). We each get aisle seats across the aisle from each other on British Air, our favorite airline. We are fortunate to have a day flight from Boston to London Heathrow on BA. We take the day flight, stay over night at the hotel Sofitel, which is essentially at Terminal 5 in Heathrow, to relax and get a good night's sleep. The next day we take the European flight to wherever (next trip Venice). I don't find 6 hours on a day flight too long in those seats, easy to move around, etc. I have started paying for my seat as well, so I am mostly guaranteed a seat at the front of the economy section so exiting the plane upon landing is much easier because I don't need to wait for all the people with excessive carryon baggage to gather their things (tongue in cheek, LOL). However, I'm lucky enough to not have to worry about limited number of days and I like to think the travel is part of the adventure…but, geesh, I hate the overnight flights and the day(s) of feeling like crap afterwards. This system works well for us, we have little to no jet lag, and we enjoy the flight reasonably well. And it costs less for the hotel room than it does to upgrade to premium economy. However, if we get a good last minute upgrade offer, we are also much more apt to take that as well, but there's no guarantee that that will happen on most flights these days. It's been a long time since we've been upgraded by the airline for free on an international flight…which does happen on domestic flights (I think it is because we dress nicely when we fly, but only a theory.) Here's hoping you live near the Boston flight! Best, Wray

Posted by
1015 posts

Wray, I love your comments and methodology. I fly BA, too, but Philly only has the evening flights. I second the idea of the Sofitel as an overnight before moving on if it is not feasible to make a same-day connection or if I want a quick day in London.

I am going to check out the day flights out of NY. If there are any from Newark, I might change my departure airport.

Sandra, for a number of years now, I have opted for BA's World Traveller Plus. The cabin is small and separated from economy and business. The seats are like a barcalounger, and there are fewer of them, Fewer small children fly economy plus, at least on the flights I have taken, which can contribute to increased quiet. If I have to choose going or returning, I would opt for the upgrade going overnight for the extra comfort. I have noticed, though, that serendipitous upgrades handed out from BA seem to be most often for the return flight. Nice to have in either direction. Generally, I use miles/points for the upgrades. What I need for an upgrade accumulates much more quickly than the points needed for a free flight.

I use seatguru, too. I am going to remember this thread to re-read prior to my next trip. Happy Travels.

Posted by
1064 posts

Many people saw this coming 20 years ago and more, when the airlines were trying to kill each other off in a war of attrition, primarily through steep fare cuts to fill their seats. Now, the winners are claiming the spoils of victory. The cheap fares of a few years ago have gone up but are still vastly cheaper than business class. Seats have become smaller, closer and more uncomfortable, seemingly by the year. The airlines are doing all they can to make economy passengers so uncomfortable we will pay more for a chance to return to the comforts of the past. Economy comfort and premium economy are the most affordable option, even though they are much higher and still a step below the basic seating of the past. I have stubbornly refused to pay the difference, which can be considerable when paying for two people going and coming on international flight, but I don't know how much longer I can continue to do so.

Posted by
518 posts

Wray, I like your inventiveness and the whole creating your own first class thinking (while keeping costs reasonable). I have an upcoming flight to Hong Kong from San Francisco in November and it's the first time I've ever been fortunate enough to book exit-row-front-of-economy-section seats. While I'm excited about the leg room I completely overlooked the added bonus of being able to off board the plane first. But you reminded me of some of the near combativeness of folks who are all rushing to get off the plane (and those that think they're the only passenger on board who are in a hurry), even though they KNOW that the cabin door has yet to open. It's even more awkward to see those who insist on standing up, with heads bent, because they have a window seat and you can't stand up all the way in that seat! Unless you truly are in a hurry (to catch a connecting flight, a limo, train, etc.), why not treat your 6 hour flight as a 6 hour 15 minute flight and continue reading your book until all the hustle and bustle has cleared and you can easily and casually walk out of the plane.

Back to the seating issue, I agree with the other comment of comparing economy plus seats across different carriers to see which offers the most leg room. I've gotten to the point where I will only fly (or at least try to fly) on specific airlines or conversely, will not fly on certain airlines (for example, United).

Posted by
504 posts

I should add that I am on the East Coast of the US and will most likely be flying out of Newark, NJ, or JFK in NY. And I will be going to England and returning from there as well.

Thanks for all your helpful input!
I'm enjoying this thread!

Posted by
2746 posts

NY to the UK is pretty short as far as Europe flights go. I'd say not worth it unless you are very tall, or just don't mind the cost at all. Assuming you can select a decent regular seat.

Posted by
1127 posts

I too am 6" and all legs. I have flown Premium Economy with Air France and Lufthansa and enjoyed the added leg room, of course I travel out of San Francisco, so more time in the seat then out of the East Coast. Air France set up was in an individual shell, so the person in front of you does not lean back into your space and vice-versa with you and the individual behind you. We also boarded with the Business Class & was allotted a second suitcase to check in. Lufthansa did not have the individual shell set up, but I had no issues with the person in front of me when they reclined, except to have them sit up when it was meal time. We also boarded with Business Class and had the second suitcase at no charge option.

Posted by
274 posts

I don't fly that often but when i do, I refuse to pay for "premium" economy. Do "they" think we are stupid? Wait, maybe they do. I would rather feel like a pretzel for a few hour, take a benedryl and suffer thru economy than pay for their"upgrades"!

Posted by
544 posts

I like the suggestion of a morning flight there and the latest afternoon flight home for your best experience to price ratio. That way you'll arrive closest to bedtime, which will minimize the jet lag.

Posted by
2761 posts

Definitely research the airlines you're looking at to make sure their "premium economy" is really a premium product. And based on the last time I used Google Flight to look at flights, full business is not always that much more and is a much better product.

Also keep in mind that throughout the booking and boarding pass procedure you will be offered "opportunities" to upgrade to PE, each time at a different price depending on how full the plane is.

Posted by
823 posts

One more thing. If flying American, especially out of the recently subsumed US Airways Hubs, check the flight equipment against SeatGuru for the availability of Premium Economy. Some of the older US Airways aircraft haven't been (or will not be?) reconfigured for Premium Economy. If it's important to you, do your homework BEFORE committed to the fare.

Posted by
2761 posts

to second Todd's point, in the United fleet there are still planes configured in the Continental way. Which is sometimes better and sometimes not.

Posted by
13011 posts

Hi,

I always book Economy, some seats are decent, with others you're hemmed in, squished. I've been upgraded twice, just random chance, both times going over SFO-FRA , flying Lufthansa, got to the check in, was told I was being upgraded, the first time to Business class, the second time to a better seat , that's all I know. Getting the upgrade is no question more comfortable, nicer but forget paying extra for that additional piece of luxury. .The ticket is expensive as it is. I can put up with a direct 10.5 hr flight squished in Economy,...that you get used to. I'm 6'

Posted by
65 posts

Well, you've had a lot of great advice, so I won't be to lengthy...But do your homework as it can vary from one airline to another. We returned from France 2 weeks ago via British Air, World Traveler Plus. Wonderful experience! Roomy, good food and entertainment choices. Our flight going to Paris was on American- Coach....about as comfortable as a STAGECOACH! Old plane, and we were crammed in the back. About every third seat had a giant aluminum box underneath housing the electrical for the technology upgrades they were attempting. Except that was where your legs were supposed to be!!! My husband is 6'2 so it was more than a problem. Do as much fact finding as possible, and if its a long flight consider spending a bit more if comfort is a factor.

Posted by
823 posts

Sandra,

To expand on Terry's comment about under seat equipment, I've had the same issue on BA (window seats on 747s) and Delta (middle seats). I thinks it's endemic to all older aircraft that have been "retrofitted" with personal entertainment systems and/or "over the water" flights.

It really pays to check SeatGuru to see what it says and read some of the seat reviews. However, you'll need to get familiar with the various aircraft codes used by each airline to identify which aircraft model is being used.