You may not remember the “golden age” of travel, but you probably remember when the main cabin on most airplanes was called a “coach.”
That sounds a bit more appealing than the term “economics,” which is thrown around a bit more today.
As airlines seem to continue to make economy more painful on long trips, they have also continued to improve the seats most of us pass through on the way to our cramped economy seat.
Watching your favorite movie, listening to music, or meditating can all be effective ways to deal with today’s economy class experience. A tour of business class, however, may leave you wondering if you can afford to fly in a more comfortable seat.
For decades, the only option on most international flights would be to upgrade to business class. More recently, many airlines have added a new product on long-haul flights that they refer to as premium economy (or a similar name unique to their airline).
More seating options translate to more price points and a greater variety of benefits. That may be great in theory, but it’s important to understand what to expect in premium economy or business class. Let’s take a look at both.
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What does the premium economy offer you?
Premium economy cabins are much more available on international flights right now, especially on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.
One of the biggest benefits of premium economy is space. The typical premium economy seat is not much larger than an economy class seat.
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Where you’ll see the biggest difference is the space between the seats around you. Typically, you will have a sizable armrest between you and the seat next to you. This means you’re unlikely to inadvertently bump elbows into your seatmate.
You’ll also notice more legroom. The chances of your knees hitting the seat in front of you when you’re in premium economy are pretty slim. On top of that, someone is less likely to pull on your seat back to get out of their seat (although there’s always a passenger…).
Enhanced meal service is also another benefit you’ll see in virtually all premium economy cabins.
As airlines begin to adjust their offerings after the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, premium budget meals have become a bit more appealing.
However, it is important to set reasonable expectations. This is still airline catering. On longer flights you should expect an initial hot meal. Many airlines offer similar menu items in both business class and premium economy.
In premium economy, you probably won’t have multiple dishes, and you may not have china or flatware. However, the food should be better than what is offered in economy class (if a meal is offered in economy class at all).
Most airlines offer a second small meal or snack before you land on longer flights, although it’s unlikely they’ll offer you another type of meal during the flight.
The rest of the premium economy perks are unlikely to be game changers, but they are nice to have. Airlines often offer priority check-in and boarding, but rarely offer lounge access.
A higher baggage allowance is quite common, as are bonus miles on paid tickets. Also, in most cases, you’ll get a pretty basic pillow and blanket.
Related: How to Go From Budget to Budget Premium Without Going broke
What does business class offer you?
The business class experience often begins before you set foot on a plane. As you might expect, priority check-in and boarding are available in most cases.
You’ll also likely have access to a lounge before your flight, as well as between some connecting flights. Business Class lounge experiences vary widely, from paltry, curated offerings to a la carte menus and vintage champagne. It pays to do some research on these benefits before choosing your flight.
Business class on international flights is usually the best seat on most airlines. There are some airlines that still offer a true first-class product (looking at you, Lufthansa), but business class is usually as good as it gets.
Reclining seats and plenty of space are the current standard for business class. In most cases, each passenger will have direct aisle access, although some new products, such as TAP Air Portugal’s new A320neo business class, will require people sitting by the window to climb over someone to reach the aisle. bathroom. Large flat screen televisions offer a wide variety of entertainment during your flight.
The bedding deals are more luxurious than the premium economy ones. A duvet and a pillow are table stakes. In some cases, like United’s Polaris class, you’ll find cooling gel pillows and other extras.
In short, if you can’t sleep on the typical business class bedding offerings, you probably can’t sleep on airplanes.
Meal service is more luxurious than in premium economy class. The first in-flight meal will typically be multi-course and may even include extra treats such as caviar and dessert carts.
There are usually a number of fine wines to choose from and decent to excellent champagne on offer.
The service in general in the business cabin will be more careful than in the premium economy class. Flight attendants are likely to check in and offer drink refills multiple times during meal service.
A second meal service is usually offered on longer flights and is very similar to the second meal/snack served in premium economy.
Business class passengers typically enjoy a higher checked baggage allowance and receive an amenity kit when they board.
These kits contain essentials like eye masks, earplugs, toothpaste, and combs. Sometimes kits deserve a place in your luggage, like the ones made by Rimowa.
Finally, business class fares generally earn considerably more miles than premium economy fares, and for good reason. You may be paying double to fly on the pointy end of the plane.
Related: Are These Airlines Really the Best and Worst for Business Class Travel?
Price difference between premium economy class and business class
It can be quite expensive to rent additional space on your next flight. While it hasn’t always been the case, the current differences between economy, premium economy and business class fares are some of the biggest we’ve seen in a long time.
At a high level, you can expect to spend at least 50% more than economy to upgrade to higher economy. In many cases, expect to pay 75-100% more.
Additionally, sitting in business class can cost at least 75% more than in premium economy on most long-haul flights, and many popular routes cost twice as much to upgrade to business class.
We check fares for popular destinations in Europe, like London and Paris, from cities in the US, including New York and Washington.
Economy class tickets ranged from $500 to $800 round trip. Premium economy fares ranged from $1,100 to $1,600. Business class was as cheap as $2,600 round-trip, but increased significantly for flights with more desirable route options.
If you’re considering premium economy or business class, be sure to pay for the ticket with a credit card that earns bonus points for booking airfare.
The American Express Platinum Card® offers 5 points per dollar on airline tickets booked directly with an airline or through Amex Travel. And, with the new Bilt Rewards “Rent Day” promotion, you can earn 4 points per dollar on all travel purchases made on the first day of the month.
Related: 7 Tips & Tricks For Traveling Business Class From 1 Newbie To Another
Bottom line: Should you upgrade?
By today’s standards, it can be quite expensive to buy up to premium economy or business class on your next flight abroad.
There are a couple of key factors to consider when making your decision. The duration and timing of your flight should definitely be a factor.
The longer your flight, especially a night flight, the more value you’ll get from the extra space. This is obviously more valuable if you buy business class and can get a good night’s sleep lying flat, although you’ll likely pay handsomely for the privilege.
If you’re flying from New York to Iceland with a short red-eye flight, the hefty business-class premium makes a lot less sense.
How much it costs to upgrade should also be a key consideration.
Paying double the cost of an economy class ticket for slightly better food and a little extra legroom can seriously hit your future travel budget.
Lastly, another factor to consider is whether there is a more affordable path to that upgrade.
Some airlines, such as Hawaiian Airlines, allow you to bid on an upgrade to a premium cabin. Plus, you can sometimes use miles to upgrade to premium economy or business class that’s much more affordable than the cash alternative.
Upgrading to premium economy or business class generally makes more sense on longer flights.
Typically, you won’t find much of a difference in price based on the length of your flight. That means you’ll get the most out of your investment on long flights to Europe, Asia and South America.