What Is Premium Economy (And When Should You Choose It Over Economy)?

While it's been around for decades, premium economy seating is still a foreign concept to many travelers. Basically, premium economy is a seat classification between business class and coach in terms of price, perks, and place on the aircraft. As airlines continue introducing creative, new ways to cramp the confines of coach travel — and charge for seemingly everything through unbundled airfare — air carriers have discovered that passengers will pay for upgrades to basic economy.

Although different airlines use different terminology, let's start by differentiating premium economy from "economy plus" (or a similarly termed classification). On most flights, especially long-haul routes, premium economy is separate from the main cabin. In simplest terms, economy plus is just a better seat in the main cabin, while premium economy is more of an actual upgrade from coach, often with a price tag to prove it.

However, when you ask, "what is premium economy?", you should know that the answer varies drastically from airline to airline, from the quality of meals to seat comfort. That said, there may be times when premium economy is worth the price.

What premium economy (may) include

Before getting into the potential perks of premium economy, let's first start with price. While prices vary, premium economy is usually priced at about halfway between business class and basic economy, which can translate to 100-200% more expensive than a seat in coach. However, depending on the route and availability, its price can change quickly.

When deciding if the price tag is worth it, you first need to know what the classification includes. Some premium economy offerings are a lot less premium than others. But what's universally true about premium economy is that the classification provides passengers with more space. The seats are typically wider and the rows are more spacious, providing you with additional legroom. In addition, many premium ecomony seats recline and feature footrests.

Beyond extra space, the variance in added perks gets pretty wild. Flying premium economy on some airlines includes gourmet meals with real cutlery, priority boarding, free checked bags, priority bag handling, and snazzy amenity kits for sleeping, as well as truly comfortable seating. On other airlines, you get extra space. Again, it's important to do your research before you splurge on disappointment.

When should you choose premium economy

Although more expensive, there are instances when purchasing a premium economy seat makes sense. First, the closer to the departure date, the narrower the price difference between economy and premium economy may become due to availability. If you're purchasing a somewhat last-minute flight, check to see if the prices are really that different. If they're not sold out, you may also be able to upgrade at the gate for a discounted price.

Discounted or not, however, you'll still need to know what the airline actually offers to its premium economy passengers. If you're a heavy packer and premium economy includes two or three checked bags, this could also offer you value. In an unbundled airfare format, the price of a basic economy seat with two or three checked bags could be comparable to a premium economy seat that includes baggage.

More than anything, premium economy is worth it when you're on long flights and could use a good night's (or day's) rest. It's also particularly convenient for larger, taller, or older passengers. When you're flying for seven or more hours, what has a higher premium than extra space and a bit more comfort?