What Is Premium Economy — and Is It Worth It?

It's different than an extra-legroom economy seat.

<p>Courtesy of Delta</p>

Courtesy of Delta

Over the past decade, more airlines have introduced a long-haul premium economy cabin on board aircraft like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Premium economy offers more room and comfort for passengers without the price tag of a seat up front — think of it as a Goldilocks middle ground in both space and cost.

Premium economy seats are cradle-like recliners, straddling the line between back-of-the-bus economy (and their upright seatbacks) and business-class beds that lie flat.

That means several more inches of recline, legroom, and width compared to their economy siblings. There’s also a larger seatback screen, an armrest for each passenger, and additional storage. Some carriers even include a footrest, privacy partitions, and a dedicated cocktail tray.

Related: One of the Best Airlines in the World Just Rolled Out Its New Premium Economy Cabins in the U.S. — Here's How to Get on Board

<p>Courtesy of American Airlines</p>

Courtesy of American Airlines

“I often pay for premium economy on long-haul flights for the additional space; it’s significantly more than what you get in economy, even extra-legroom economy seats, and I value that,” says Edward Russell, an aviation expert and journalist.

In terms of service, expect an elevated dining experience and more personalized attention from the crew — again, not quite at the level of business class, but decidedly more, well, premium than economy.

Related: What Flying First Class Is Really Like and How to Decide If It's Worth It

Many airlines have had a premium economy cabin for years (and in some cases, a decade or more). American Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to debut long-haul premium economy in 2016, and it’s a segment that's surging across the industry. Later this year, American Airlines plans to introduce a new, second-generation premium economy seat with more privacy and double the in-seat storage space.

Other carriers are newer to the world of premium economy. Emirates, for its part, only introduced a premium economy cabin in late 2022. In total, the Dubai-based airline will add 1,608 premium economy seats to its Airbus A380 fleet of 67 aircraft and 1,032 premium economy seats to its 53 Boeing 777 aircraft.

It’s important to distinguish between a true premium economy versus just an extra-legroom economy seat, says Russell. “You can determine if the airline you’re flying offers premium economy when you book. The seats are typically sold as their own separate class — like business or economy — whereas extra-legroom offerings are usually an added fee on the economy fare.”

In the coming years, airlines will continue to add more premium cabin seats, including a premium economy section. It’s a big money maker for airlines, but it’s not always good news — that often comes at the expense of a more cramped economy cabin.

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