Why premium economy is more attractive than biz on Delta’s latest plane
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Delta’s making a big bet on the future of travel.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the airline’s fleet strategy. Delta’s just announced that it’s adding 36 planes, while also embarking on a year-long cabin retrofit program for some of its oldest international jets, including the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767-300.
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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to check out the first reconfigured Boeing 767-300 in Atlanta. While the entire plane is decked out with enhancements, including mood lighting, modernized seat covers and updated lavatories, the real star of the show is the new premium economy cabin.
The 767-300 sports an 18-seat Premium Select cabin, with recliners arranged in a three-row, 2-2-2 configuration. This represents the fourth aircraft type to receive Delta’s take on premium economy, after the cabin first debuted on the flagship Airbus A350 in 2017, followed thereafter by the Airbus A330neo and Boeing 767-400.
In recent years, Delta, along with the other U.S. Big 3 competitors, began realizing that a market exists for a product between a private lie-flat pod and a standard coach seat. That’s exactly where premium economy fits — the cabin was designed to bridge the gap between business class and economy at an intermediate price.
On some planes, the difference between the lie-flat business-class and premium economy cabins is stark. In Delta’s case, there’s a night-and-day contrast between the Delta One Suites at the pointy end of the A350 or A330neo relative to the Premium Select recliners behind the biz cabin.
But, on the newly retrofitted 767-300, that gap between biz and premium economy is much smaller: so much so that it might be worthwhile to save some money and stick with premium economy.
For one, despite the reconfiguration project, Delta isn’t installing a new business-class seat in the biz cabin on the 767-300. That means you’ll still find the woefully outdated first-generation Thompson Vantage seat when flying up front.
Sure, the airline added all-new finishes with extra memory foam, but the “bones” of the seat are ultimately the same. They’re tight and offer limited privacy.
Additionally, the seat-back entertainment screens are some of the smallest you’ll find across premium cabins on U.S. carriers. At just 10.1 inches, you might prefer to bring your own content on your higher quality iPad or laptop.
In premium economy, you’ll find a much more modernized recliner. Of course, it’s not a flat-bed pod, so if you need to be horizontal to catch some z’s, then you’re better off in biz.
For everyone else, or if you’re not planning to sleep, the comfortable leg rest, footrest and generous recline in Premium Select could be worth considering.
While there’s no privacy divider between seats, this is Delta’s most intimate premium economy cabin in the sky. With just 18 seats, odds are that it’ll be a quieter ride in this mid-cabin section than on other Delta widebodies. Plus, if you’re traveling with a companion, you might find it more comfortable to be seated closer to each other.
Additionally, the inflight entertainment system in the premium economy cabin is just as good, if not better than the one up front. Like biz, each premium economy seat has a 10-inch screen, but these ones appeared to offer much better resolution than the old screens you’ll find in Delta One.
Though inflight service remains modified due to the pandemic, premium economy travelers can usually expect a watered-down version of business-class service. In Premium Select, flyers are served elevated meals on real china, a selection of wines, beers and premium spirits, and a Tumi-branded amenity kit.
It’s not just the relative difference in products that might make it worthwhile to stick with a premium economy recliner on Delta’s retrofitted Boeing 767-300. Consider the routes that the plane flies as well: many of them are within the U.S., including hops between Atlanta and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Internationally, Delta flies the 767-300 on shorter flights, like from Atlanta to Lima or New York to Madrid, both routes between 3,000 and 3,500 miles, or roughly six to seven hours. While it could make sense to splurge for biz on ultra-long-haul flights, like Delta’s longest route from Atlanta to Johannesburg, the price difference might not be worth it for shorter hops.
Case in point: for a round-trip ticket from New York to Paris in early August, Delta’s charging a whopping $6,600 for business class. Meanwhile, premium economy is “just” $1,500, a modest $500 upcharge compared to coach.
(For now, the Premium Select cabin on the 767-300 is currently being marketed as extra-legroom Comfort+, so top-tier Medallion elites can select one of these seats free of charge. Delta will likely start charging for these seats once it consistently deploys the retrofitted plane on a specific route.)
If those flights were operated by a retrofitted 767-300, there’s no chance I’d fork over an additional five grand for an outdated lie-flat bed. In that case — and in many others — Premium Select might be the way to go.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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