Which Airlines’ Premium Economy Is Worth It?

A little bit of an upgrade can go a long way on some flights. Here’s when it’s worth it to shell out a bit extra to go from economy to Premium Economy.

Air New Zealand's Premium Economy seats with one passenger sleeping and a few others reading books in their row

Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy seats are some of the roomiest in the industry.

Courtesy of Air New Zealand

Economy class is exactly what is sounds like: a standard airplane seat with very few frills. Basic Economy has even fewer. A lot of times that’s OK—we’ll put up with it just to get where we’re going. But sometimes we travelers want a little bit more, say, a little extra legroom and some dignity. That’s where Premium Economy comes in. But the perks of the class vary from airline to airline—as does the price—so we asked our staff and reporters to weigh in on which airlines offer Premium Economy that is worth the cost.

Air New Zealand Premium Economy

I first flew Air New Zealand on a 13-hour overnight flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, and if my recollection is a bit hazy, that’s because I slept through much of it curled up in an exceptionally roomy seat in Premium Economy. With some of the world’s longest flights—most international nonstops exceed 10 hours—the Kiwi carrier has long competed on the amount of space it gives to passengers who aren’t sitting in the pointy end of the plane. (To prove it’s serious, it’s adding bunk beds for economy fliers that can be booked for four-hour intervals.) In Premium Economy, that translates into soft recliner-style leather seats that are 19 inches wide, and an industry-leading 41 to 42 inches of seat pitch (the space between rows). But you might want to stay awake for the three-course meals and wide selection of New Zealand wines.Barbara Peterson, AFAR’s special correspondent for air

Air France Premium Economy

Air France's premium seats slide back without compromising legroom

Air France’s Premium Economy seats slide back without compromising legroom.

Courtesy of Air France

European carriers are notorious for monitoring carry-on bags, but Air France’s Premium Economy passengers get an increased allowance: two pieces plus a smaller item. The combined weight can’t exceed 26.4 pounds, which is not different from what most people would bring on a U.S. flight anyway, but I appreciate that flexibility. The most important perk in this cabin, however, is the seat: It’s set within a hard-shell structure that maintains legroom for the person behind you when your seat reclines. That’s what makes this one of my favorite Premium Economy products. Don’t discount the luxury of having your back neighbor stand up without grabbing your headrest for support.

While Air France is the only major airline to offer free champagne to every passenger on board, Premium Economy meals still feel like a slight step up. They feature an improved appetizer and dessert over economy (although the main dishes are usually the same) and arrive on a cloth napkin place setting with real glasses for drinks. An open bar makes it easy to kick back and relax with the latest movies via the (typically) 12-inch screen. It’s not business class, but Air France crew members do a solid job of making this feel like a special step up from the main cabin.Ramsey Qubein, contributor

American Airlines Premium Economy

American's Premium Economy comes with Casper-branded blanket a

American’s Premium Economy comes with Casper-branded blanket and pillows on some flights.

Photo courtesy American Airlines

For its Premium Economy, American uses seats similar to those in domestic first class; they come with about six more inches of space than what you’ll find in the main cabin, plus a footrest and a larger entertainment screen. I value the extra room, but sometimes, it’s the little touches that make the difference, like the Casper-branded blanket and plump pillow (both of which are more substantial than the unbranded ones in the main cabin) and the upgraded meal service (proper dishware, cutlery, a tablecloth, and different menu options from economy). It’s also nice to have a small table at the end of the armrest to place the free drinks that American offers all customers on most long-haul, international flights. Ramsey Qubein, contributor

Delta Air Lines Premium Select

Delta Air Lines premium economy seats with passengers reclining

Delta’s Premium Economy seats have more legroom.

Courtesy of Delta Airlines

For me, Delta’s Premium Select adds some space and comfort without breaking the bank. An entertainment screen as large as 13.3 inches, extra legroom (as much as 38 inches of pitch, which measures the point between a seat in one row and the same point in the next, depending on the aircraft), memory-foam pillow and wider armrest add up on long flights. I’ve found that it’s worth the extra mileage or cash upgrade if I need to work on the flight. Those without a higher tier of Medallion status benefit from Sky Priority for faster check-in and boarding lanes. The meals are upgraded from the Economy menu, there’s an amenities kit with tiny tubes of Grown Alchemist products, and beer, wine, and most cocktails are free. Ramsey Qubein, contributor

Emirates Premium Economy

Empty seats in Emirates' Premium Economy with a standing flight attendant.

Emirates’ Premium Economy is closer to business class than economy.

Courtesy of Emirates

Emirates may be best known for its lavish first-class cabins with an onboard bar and shower suites, but the Dubai-based carrier also offers an impressive premium economy product. Launched in 2021 and rolling out across more than 100 aircraft, Emirates Premium Economy is a significant step up from the main cabin—and, usually, with a reasonable price tag.

The details make it more akin to business class than economy. Travelers are greeted with cream-colored leather seats with cross stitching, a thickly padded calf rest, shiny polished-wood trim, and double-shuttered windows controlled by a button. Expect an elevated dining experience and plush bedding crafted specifically for Premium Economy passengers. For daytime flights where a fully-flat bed won’t be missed, this cabin is an excellent option for budget-conscious premium travelers.Chris Dong, contributor

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy

Reclining seat next to upright seat in Singapore Airlines' Premium Economy

On Singapore Airlines’ ultra-long-haul flight between JFK and Changi airports, Premium Economy is the entry-level seat class.

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Last November, I flew from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Singapore Changi Airport on Singapore Airlines. At 9,537 miles, it’s currently the world’s longest commercial flight and takes 18 hours and 50 minutes to complete. Thankfully, the entry-level ticket (which usually costs about $1,500) is Premium Economy for this ultra long haul on an Airbus A350—they don’t bother offering anything less—which means I enjoyed a 19.5-inch wide leather seat that came with a calf rest and footrest that allowed me to get comfortable. In terms of spaciousness, Singapore’s Premium Economy offers a 38-inch seat pitch (the distance between a row of seats), which is much more generous compared to the 31-inch U.S. economy average. The food was also excellent (recent menus have included the likes of pan-roasted chicken with grain-mustard sauce and stir-fried pork with spicy black-bean sauce), and the entertainment system had a generous 13.3-inch HD enabled touchscreen monitor, came with noise-canceling headphones, and had multiple plugs for my devices. Lyndsey Matthews, senior commerce editor

United Premium Plus

Rows of empty seats in United's Premium Plus

United’s Premium Plus seats provide extra legroom and free meals and drinks (alcohol included).

Courtesy of United Airlines/Wayne Slezak

For United loyalists, the airline’s Premium Plus seats are a welcome addition to the airline’s fare options. Available on transatlantic, transpacific, a handful of long-haul domestic routes (such as Newark to San Francisco), and a few routes in South America, it feels akin to a business-class seat on most of its other routes: large chairs with 38 inches of legroom, 38 inches of pitch, six-inch recline, and adjustable footrests; different meal options than Economy; complimentary alcoholic beverages; and an amenity kit. While you may occasionally find a good deal when purchasing it outright, it’s most worth it if you can score an affordable upgrade option—if it’s under $300 to upgrade or I can book or upgrade with miles, I generally go for it.Jessie Beck, senior manager of SEO and video

Virgin Atlantic Premium

Man in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seat reading a book and holding a pen

In Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy seating, you’ll start your trip with extra legroom and a glass of prosecco.

Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

I vouch for Virgin Atlantic’s Premium over any other—and not just because this is the OG airline that invented the idea (though, in 1992, it was known as Mid Class). Its primacy is because Branson’s baby understands better than any other that the PE experience isn’t just down to the roomier seat.

Sure, I love its leather armchair-like thrones, especially on the new A350, but I appreciate there’s no corner-cutting on fripperies. Virgin offers passengers in this cabin a glass of fizz before take-off, and meals are distinctive from Economy’s F&B, served with proper glassware and plates, and the amenity kit’s nice enough that I take it with me every time.

Heads up that this is different from any of Virgin’s class names with “economy” in them: Virgin has split those into three variations—Economy Light, Economy Classic, and Economy Delight. Instead, Premium is the upgraded name for its mid-class cabin, shucking off any pesky associations with that lower class.Mark Ellwood, contributor

For more intel on selecting a worthwhile airline, see These Are the Best (and Worst) Airlines in North America, According to Fliers.

Billie Cohen is executive editor of AFAR. She covers all areas of travel, and has soft spots for nerd travel, maps, intel, history, architecture, art, design, people, dessert, street art, and Oreo flavors around the world. Follow her @billietravels.
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