The premium economy puzzle: why 'economy plus' isn't a premium class

By John Walton, July 25 2012

Premium economy is the new black for business travellers who are balancing cost and comfort, especially on day flights and shorter routes.

The 'in-between' class behind business but ahead of economy offers extra space, better service and an easier go of getting some decent work done en route -- but not all 'better than economy' seats are premium economy.

Several US airlines offer sections of their cabin which may sound like premium economy but it's just a standard economy seat with extra legroom. Everything else is the same, including the meals and service.

United kicked things off with Economy Plus, Delta followed suit with Economy Comfort, and American Airlines is the latest with Main Cabin Extra.

(You'll also see a similar approach at Singapore's low-cost Scoot, which sells the same economy seat with three different degrees of legroom – although these are more transparently marketed as 'economy standard', 'super' and 'stretch'.)

Delta's "Economy Comfort" does have a bit of extra recline, but other than that it's standard "extra-legroom economy".

Extra-legroom economy is certainly better than regular economy down the very back of the bus, don't get us wrong.

And it's comfortable for short flights in the way that, say, Air New Zealand's Space+ sections of the plane give extra legroom to frequent flyers and people who buy its Works Deluxe fare. (The latter also get a blocked middle seat.)

But don't be persuaded by your travel agent or corporate bookers that extra-legroom economy is the same premium economy you're familiar with closer to home.

That's especially the case with US airlines as they tend to provide spottier service, older planes and less entertainment than their international rivals.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand and many other airlines have actual premium economy cabins on international flights, with:

  • wider seats, usually around 2-4 inches more than economy
  • greater recline, so you get a better snooze
  • an increased seat pitch, resulting in around six to eight inches of extra legroom than economy
  • upgraded food and beverage options
  • extra frequent flyer points and status credits

Check out the latest premium economy news from Australian Business Traveller for more of what's on offer.

If you're not sure about whether your flight has real premium economy or just extra-legroom, try an image search online, check the airline's website or drop us a tweet: we're @AusBT on Twitter.

John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.



22 Jun 2012

Total posts 11

Definetly, the US airlines Premium Economy isn't a great deal better. I'm not usually critical about Virgin, but their Premium Economy on domestic was similar to the airlines in america, in other words, not great, and quite frankly, not deserving the Premium Economy title. Don't get me wrong, the service was better, but still not a great deal better than Y.



08 Oct 2011

Total posts 44

The same goes for "business" class in some European flights.  You get a standard economy seat with the middle seat blocked and probably the same pitch.  This is an even bigger con job.

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