Best Airlines To Fly Premium Economy Domestically
With news earlier this week that Delta would be revamping its Economy Comfort seats into the new Comfort+, we asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to take a look at the current premium economy products available on domestic flights.
Earlier this week, Delta announced that it would be rebranding its Economy Comfort seats as Comfort+ on all its two-cabin aircraft (economy and business or first class) around the world. Here is what the new Comfort+ experience will look like, and a rundown of the other premium economy seats offered by US airlines.
Note: Most airlines now offer “select” or “choice” seats that are closer to the front, on aisles or at the window for a higher price or for elites. But the products discussed below are actually distinct premium economy offerings with larger seat sizes and more amenities than your average economy seat affords on domestic flights.
Also keep in mind that many of the major airlines field a vast variety of aircraft and seat sizes and amenities can differ widely from one airplane to another, so it is always worth reviewing the amenities legends in detail when booking a flight to see what you can expect.
Quick Rankings and Comparison Table
Taking into consideration seat size, general number of these seats available, onboard amenities, and complimentary access for elites.
1. Delta Comfort+: With extra amenities like priority screening, free wine and spirits and an updated look as well as free entertainment, this looks to be the new pack leader. The main drawback is that the elite availability window for these seats is dropping from time of booking to 72 hours.
2. American Main Cabin Select: These seats are widely available and elites have decent access to them. They don’t offer much more than economy seats, but a few extra inches of legroom can go a long way.
3. Virgin America Main Cabin Select: These seats can be a great deal, especially if you maximize the free food and beverages and entertainment. The big drawbacks are that the elite upgrade window is small and the limited number of these seats.
4. United Economy Plus: These seats offer a bit of extra legroom, but not much else.
5. JetBlue Even More Space: These seats don’t offer much more than economy seats other than legroom and the fact that Mosaic members don’t get free upgrades is a drawback.
6. Hawaiian Extra Comfort: These seats do offer more room, but are only available on the airline’s A330’s and you must pay for them unless you’re an elite.
Domestic Premium Economy Comparison Table
|Seat Pitch||Seat Width||Entertainment||Amenities||Cost|
|American||35-36||17-18||Good on new planes, WiFi becoming more widely available||Priority boarding||$9-$159|
|Delta||35||17.2-18.25||New Studio streaming system. WiFi available||Priority boarding, complimentary wine/spirits/snacks||$9-$180|
|Hawaiian||36||18||Free on-demand personal IFE screens||Priority check-in and boarding||$40-$100|
|JetBlue||38||17.8-18.25||Free live TV, movies for purchase||Priority screening and boarding||$10-$99|
|United||35-36||17-18||Varies widely, free live TV on new system||None extra.||$9-$200, $499 for subscription|
|Virgin America||38||17.7||Free live TV, shows and movies||Priority boarding, screening, free food/beverages, 1 free checked bag.||$39-$159|
AIRLINES AND PREMIUM ECONOMY OFFERINGS
American Main Cabin Extra
American launched its Main Cabin Extra seating option back in 2012. According to AA, it is currently available on the following aircraft:
Note that American will begin installing new seats on US Airways’ domestic fleet of A319’s with 24 Main Cabin Extra seats by the end of 2016.
Seats: These seats are the same as Main Cabin seats but with 4-6 extra inches of legroom depending on the aircraft and row. That usually gives them 34-36 inches of pitch and 17-18 inches of width. The number of these seats varies greatly from aircraft type to aircraft type, but on American’s workhorse domestic fleet of 737’s you’ll find 30-48, and there are 18 aboard its new A319’s, and 36 aboard the A321 transcon.
Amenities: When flying in Main Cabin Extra, you get Group 1 priority boarding.
Access: AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Platinum members and their oneworld equivalents as well as US Airways Dividend Miles Preferred members and customers who purchase a full-fare Main Cabin ticket receive complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seats. AAdvantage Gold and Oneworld Ruby members as well as Dividend Miles Silver Preferred members can purchase Main Cabin Extra tickets for 50% off or get complimentary access to available seats within 24 hours of departure.
Cost: Main Cabin Extra seats range from about $9-$159 depending on the route.
This is basically a rebrand of Delta’s current Economy Comfort product. The seats are going to remain the same, but Delta has updated some of the amenities flyers get when traveling.
Seats: There is not really any change here…well, except for some new seat covers. These seats have up to 4 more inches of legroom than standard economy seats, putting it in the range of about 35 inches. On some long-haul international routes (and transcons and flights between ATL-HNL), they have extra seat recline, and customers get pre-set pillows, blankets and little sleep kits, while on transcontinental flights from JFK to Seattle, LA and San Francisco, they get the same pillow-blanket-sleep kit combo and a Luvo snack wrap and frozen yogurt. The number of these seats per airplane varies depending on aircraft type, but to give you an idea, Delta’s 737’s have 18-21 of them, and its 757’s have 18-44.
Amenities: Customers in Comfort+ will get priority boarding in Zone 1, dedicated overhead bins, complimentary beer, wine and spirits on all flights and complimentary premium snacks on flights over 900 miles, and complimentary premium entertainment on the Delta Studio entertainment system.
Access: SkyMiles Diamond and Platinum Medallion members will continue to enjoy complimentary upgrade eligibility to First Class and will also receive complimentary access to Delta Comfort+ seats at booking. On March 1, 2015, Gold and Silver Medallion members will continue to enjoy complimentary upgrade eligibility to First Class as well as complimentary access to Delta Comfort+ seats starting 72 hours and 24 hours prior to departure, respectively. There will be no complimentary access or discounts for Delta Comfort+ for Sky Team Elite or Sky Team Elite Plus members.
Cost: If you don’t get complimentary access to Comfort+, you can always purchase it for prices ranging from $9-$180 depending on the flight.
Hawaiian introduced premium economy seats, called “Extra Comfort,” on its A330’s in August 2014.
Seats: These are standard economy seats with 5 more inches of legroom for a total pitch of 36 inches, and 18 inches of width. The airline’s A330’s have 40 of these seats available.
Amenities: Extra Comfort ticketholders will get priority security and boarding, complimentary on-demand in-seat entertainment, and personal power outlets. Hawaiian’s A330’s offer in-seat entertainment at every seat, complimentary beverage and meal service, and
Access: Pualani Gold and Platinum elites are eligible for complimentary upgrades to Extra Comfort.
Cost: Varies depending on the route, but $40-$60 from the West Coast to Honolulu, and $100 from New York.
JetBlue Even More Space
Seats: JetBlue’s EMS seats are regular economy seats with 38 inches of legroom (compared to the standard 34) and priority boarding. They are usually in the first few rows of coach and the exit rows.
Amenities: Flyers in EMS get priority security at about 60 airports and early boarding. JetBlue offers all flyers a first checked bag free, free snacks and free entertainment on seatback monitors with DirecTV and XM Satellite Radio.
Access: TrueBlue Mosaic-level members can use their TrueBlue points to purchase EMS seats.
Cost: $10-$99 depending on the flight.
United Economy Plus
Seats: United’s Economy Plus seats are regular economy seats with 4-5 inches of additional legroom for an average of about 35-36 inches in pitch and 17-18 inches in width. The number of seats varies by aircraft, but there are 40-42 aboard A319’s, 18-48 aboard 737’s, and 42-50 aboard its 757’s.
Amenities: No defined extra amenities, but usually earlier boarding than regular economy section.
Access: MileagePlus Premier Platinum members and higher enjoy advance complimentary access for themselves and up to eight companions, and Premier Gold members enjoy advance complimentary access for themselves and one companion. Premier Silver members continue to enjoy complimentary space-available access to Economy Plus for themselves and one companion upon check-in.
Cost: Varies by flight but starts at $9 and ranged up to around $200. You can also purchase an Economy Plus subscription starting at $499
Virgin America Main Cabin Select
Seats: Main Cabin Select seats are in the bulkhead and exit rows of Virgin’s economy cabins. They offer up to 6 inches more legroom for a total of 38 inches of pitch and nearly 18 inches of width. The airline’s A319’s and A320’s each have 12 of these seats.
Amenities: Customers with Main Cabin Select seats get complimentary unlimited food and drinks (including alcohol), free entertainment, priority check-in, boarding and one free checked bag.
Access: Complimentary space-available upgrades 24 hours in advance for Elevate Gold members and 12 hours in advance for Elevate Silver.
Cost: This can vary widely, especially if you purchase a seat at the time of booking. However, within upgrade windows, it usually varies from $39-$159.
Do you have a favorite domestic premium economy product? If so, what is it and why?