Premium Economy Class: Is It Worth It?

by  Karen Gardiner | Nov 1, 2013
Plane in sky
Plane in sky / AlexeyPetrov/iStock

When Hawaiian Airlines announced their new Extra Comfort seating option a few days ago, they were just the latest in a line of airlines adding options for travelers flying economy. For those of us who are fed up feeling squashed into standard economy seating, and are willing to spend a little more, the option of premium economy can offer a welcome compromise.

Starting on June 1, 2014, and available to book beginning in January, seats in the new Extra Comfort class will offer 36 inches of room (an increase of five inches), as well as priority boarding, a personal power outlet, pillow, and blanket. Customers flying on international routes will also get to take home a souvenir pillow and blanket set. Rates start at an extra $40, each way.

How does the new service stack up against some of the others we've seen recently?

JetBlue's Mint Class

One of the most tempting upgrade offers we've seen recently is JetBlue's premium Mint section. Available only on flights between New York and San Francisco, and New York and Los Angeles, the new Mint class, when it debuts in June 2014, will feature six-foot-long lie-flat seats with massage function, air cushions with adjustable firmness; 15-inch flat TV screens, and dual power outlets with two USB ports. Four seats will also feature doors that can be closed to create a private suite. Mint class will also offer a tapas-style menu and cocktails from New York City’s Saxon + Parole restaurant, in-flight coffee from a custom cappucino machine, and customized amenity kits from Birchbox.

JetBlue hasn't started booking for Mint's June launch, but prices will start at $599 each way. The lowest regular fares between New York City and Los Angeles start at $179 on JetBlue, so that's quite a large price difference of $420. Throw in the gift box, private suite, lie-flat bed, meals, and cocktails and, if you have the spare cash, you might find it worth the splurge.

Cathay Pacific's Premium Economy

Hong Kong 's international flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, rolled out its Premium Economy Class more than a year ago. Coughing up a little extra makes perhaps the most sense on this airline; if you're flying Cathay, you're probably going long-haul.

Premium perks include priority check-in at the airport, a seat that is 19.5 inches wide (economy seats are 18.5), eight inches of recline, a headrest with four-way movement, a three-position footrest, 38 inches of legroom (6 inches more than in economy), power outlets and USB ports, noise-canceling headphones as well as a welcome drink, more meal options (almost the same as served in business class) , and an amenity kit.Premium economy travelers also get a little more luggage allowance: 25kg versus 20kg in economy.

But how much more will it cost you? We checked December rates for a one-way tickets from New York to Shanghai and found economy rates as low as $799; premium economy for $1,335, and business class for $4,558. That's makes it more than 65 percent more expensive to fly premium economy than economy (but still hugely cheaper than business). Worth it? For a travel time of almost 20 hours, you decide.

SAS Scandinavia Airlines' Economy Extra

SAS's premium economy leg room clocks in at 38 inches, the same as Cathay Pacific's, but their seats are narrower: offering only 18 inches compared to Cathay's 19.5.  Economy Extra passengers can check in with business class passengers, and additional perks include a three-course dinner, cocktail, after-dinner liqueurs, increased baggage allowance and extra piece of hand luggage allowance.

A round-trip flight between New York City and Copenhagen in December costs $857 in economy class; $1576 in economy plus, and $4624 in business class. We think that's quite a significant difference for a flight that's only going to last around eight hours.

Qantas' Premium Economy

The Australian flagship carrier's premium economy class occupies a small space behind business class on the aircraft's upper decks. Qantas allows two carry-on bags of up to 7kg (15.44 lbs) (Cathay only allows one) and provides priority check-in, a welcome drink, 38 inches of legroom, seats that are 19.5 inches wide, padded leg-rests, power points, amenity kits, and noise cancelling headphones.

A round-trip between Los Angeles and Sydney will cost $1426 in economy; $2997 in premium economy, and $9671 in business class. That's almost double the cost going from economy to premium economy. Bear in mind, though, that you will be in your seat for 18 to 20 hours.

So is it worth it?

The prices of some of these premium economy fares suggest airlines are putting their focus on the "premium" over the "economy" - paying almost twice the cost for a ticket on Qantas, for example, just isn't an option for most travelers (although Cathay's offer is fairly more reasonable). Whether or not the extra cash is worth it or not ultimately depends upon what price you would put on an extra couple of inches of space.

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