As a taller person in a shrinking world I've finally been forced to give up on economy seating for all but the shortest of flights. Coach pitch was always somewhat uncomfortable for taller adults, but these days it feels more like a knee crushing vein squeezing health risk than a mere uncomfortable inconvenience. For several years I was a fan of TWAA's MRTC. When that was dissolved I often booked United's E+. After falling out with United it was time to start exploring other options again. Most of the US majors are just as boring today as they've always been, but two of them stood out with premium economy services that were comfortable and pleasant enough to make flying relatively enjoyable without breaking the bank.
Alaska Airlines – Premium Class – Satisfied. Priority boarding, free cocktails, little snack pack, plenty of legroom, reasonably priced. This is the way to do it. If it's offered on your flight I recommend it. Not much else to say other than that. Verdict: A
America West dba US Airways dba American Airlines - Main Cabin Extra – Mixed Reaction. AA doesn't really give you much to work with. No priority boarding. No cocktails or snacks. Best case scenario you'll experience the same legroom as TWAA's MRTC from way back. On a recent A319 the extra legroom was greatly appreciated and the staff were friendly. However, on an equally recent CRJ9 I honestly couldn't tell the difference between MCE and basic coach. It's almost as if AA was selling MCE upgrades on contracted regional jets without actually changing anything. If you're flying on a regional jet I'd only upgrade to MCE if bulkhead or exit row seats were still available. Which isn't to say I'd fly AA coach in that case. I'd simply fly another airline entirely. Supposedly AA is planning to add free cocktails and designated bin markers to MCE. I saw one aircraft with bin markers and another flight gave me one free drink but I think that was compensation for a maintenance delay. Verdict: C
Delta Airlines – Comfort Plus – Satisfied. Delta offers priority boarding, free cocktails, extra legroom, extra recline, and dedicated bin markers. In general I like the Comfort Plus experience but it's a bit of an outlier in some ways. For instance, you can't simply upgrade from a coach fare since DL considers Comfort Plus to be a separate cabin from coach. That means the process for searching and booking is different and it can complicate upgrades for travelers with loyalty status. It's a nice service but for now it's the quirky outlier that needs to be planned before booking and some of the benefits (free cocktails, pillows/blankets) are duplicated in coach class on long haul international flights. If and when the other airlines move their own premium economy offerings into a separate fare structure prices will probably rise (as it appears to have done with DL) but eventually prices might fall again as it will be easier to compare PE prices across multiple airlines without having to check each website individually. Verdict: B
Southwest – Business Select/Upgraded Boarding – Unsatisfied. Southwest is great for carrying extra luggage or bypassing tedious fortress hubs or for last minute full fare trips, but it doesn't have a true equivalent to premium economy. You can buy up to priority boarding and (usually) extra legroom by booking Business Select or paying the Upgraded Boarding fee on the day of travel but it's really not ideal. Business Select comes with one free drink but that's it. If Southwest Airlines offers the only nonstop flight for your city pair or you're buying a walk-up ticket this may be your best option, but it's not a good solution for people who want dependable access to extra legroom on a regular basis. The one saving grace is that Southwest flights are generally short domestic/regional hops that don't necessarily need extra legroom to be practical. Verdict: D
United Airlines – Economy Plus – Unsatisfied. It's been a while since I've flown United but I've been familiar with their E+ seating for a long time and so far as I'm aware it's no different now than it was a decade ago. Among the legacy carriers it's by far the least impressive option today. Which would be fine if it was really cheap but in my experience that's rarely the case. I double checked United's E+ service for any major changes and it looks like the only way you can come close to duplicating the Alaska and Delta experience is to tack on several additional upgrades unrelated to E+ itself. The only benefit UA has over any other offering is that (unlike AA/AE's MCE) E+ provides reasonable legroom on regional jets. Verdict: D
As traditional services and staffing levels have decreased while taxes and surcharges have increased I've also started looking for "premium economy" hotels to see if there's a market with a reasonable bargain/benefit to be discovered there as well. So far I've found the Embassy Suites and Drury Inn chains to be the closest match to a premium economy concept with (usually) reasonable rates and fewer nickel and dime charges for typical use of available amenities. On a recent trip I chose a Drury Inn over a Hilton Garden Inn. The Garden Inn had a nicer lobby with better food and drinks but I ended up saving $100 or more across four days thanks to the included breakfast/snacks/dinner and cocktails. The food and drinks weren't fancy but the selection was more substantial than the typical Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn fare. The Drury rooms were nearly identical to the Garden Inn so the money saved was genuine. Although it's early in my research I've also found the Embassy and Drury staff to be less stressed and confrontational, possibly due to having fewer room types, amenity charges, and usage fees to squabble over?
Your Own Experiences
So are there any other premium economy services worth trying? Have you had better/worse experiences with premium economy airlines/hotels than my own examples given above? If you were in charge of your favorite (or least hated) airline/hotel's premium economy options what would you change?
Edited by Devil's Advocate, 14 March 2018 - 01:45 PM.