Saturday, April 05, 2008

Premium Economy Seats

A couple of years back, American Airlines tried their “More Room Throughout Coach” program. Apparently, American didn’t garner enough additional business or revenue to make it profitable to remove seats from planes to get the extra legroom.

We aren’t currently elite fliers with any airline, so don’t have access to upgrades unless we use miles (which we think is a good use of frequent flyer miles) to upgrade to business. Thus, we frequently seek out airlines offering some sort of Premium Economy service, especially for longer flights.

There aren’t a lot out there: Air New Zealand, ANA, bmi, British Airways, Eva Airlines, Japan Airlines, SAS, Singapore, Thai, and Virgin Atlantic are the only carriers listed on Seat Guru that offer Premium Economy, with seat pitch usually all around 38 inches, and generally about 1 inch of extra seat width. Seat Guru doesn’t count United, noting that United’s “Economy Plus is not sold as a separate cabin and doesn't have enhanced amenities beyond legroom.”

We, on the other hand, love United’s Economy Plus. No, you can’t purchase it as a separate fare, but it’s automatically available to all United Elites; you can frequently purchase an upgrade at the ticket counter; and us common folk can purchase a one-year Economy Plus Access for $349. United’s EP generally offers pitch of about 34-36 inches, a surprisingly comfortable addition over 31. With EPA, customers are offered EP seating anytime a seat in that section is available, and can take one companion on the same reservation at no additional charge. The seating is available no matter the booking channel, and is also available for award flights.

Some commentators have knocked United’s EP as being half-assed. To each his own – we love it. It is a lot cheaper than the fares for most international carriers’ Premium Economy. For example, a recent search on SAS for Seattle to Copenhagen flights found regular economy at $1331, premium economy at $2041 (in a separate cabin, offering a slightly wider seat and 38 inches of pitch, according to the SAS website), and $5031 in business. British Airways had a SEA-LHR flight on the same dates for $1322 in economy, $2142 in economy plus, and $5477 in business.

If seat comfort is important, and you’re not looking for the absolute lowest fares, look into premium economy offerings.

So you don't have to walk like this when you get there.