Is KLM premium economy worth it on the 787 Dreamliner?
While some European airlines have offered premium economy for decades, Dutch carrier KLM was relatively late to the party, only launching its Premium Comfort product in September last year.
Eight of the airline’s Boeing Dreamliners are now fitted with the new seats, with its remaining wide-body fleet of Boeing 777s and Dreamliners expected to be retrofitted by June 2024. The 787-10 Dreamliner operates from KLM’s hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) to several U.S. destinations, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
KLM impressed TPG’s Zach Griff on the inaugural Premium Comfort flight in 2022, so as a frequent premium economy traveler myself, I was keen to see if it was worth the hype between Amsterdam and Chicago's O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
Here’s what the experience was like on my round-trip itinerary.
How to book premium economy on KLM
Round-trip cash fares in KLM premium economy are usually priced between 50% to 100% more than the cost of economy. Business class is usually around three times the price of economy.
Air France-KLM’s loyalty program, Flying Blue, uses dynamic pricing for awards, meaning mileage redemption rates can vary dramatically depending on travel dates and demand (and what cash fares are priced at). We booked a round-trip redemption from London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Chicago via Amsterdam in Premium Comfort for 83,500 Flying Blue miles plus $672 (including the United Kingdom’s Air Passenger Duty), which was at the lower end of the redemption scale. The short hops between London and Amsterdam were in economy, as there is no premium economy on the narrow-body aircraft KLM uses on this route.
Here are the ranges of airfare and award redemptions in all three cabins on just the Amsterdam-Chicago route over the next year (the taxes and fees were lower than on my own ticket since I departed and arrived in London).
|Round-trip prices||Economy||Premium Comfort||World business class|
|Flying Blue miles + taxes/fees||34,000-170,000 + $255.||60,000-475,500 + $390.||113,000-646,500 + $554.|
You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy to Flying Blue. Outside of Marriott, all these transfer partners offer conversions at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy transfers, on the other hand, are at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.
Checking in to premium economy on KLM
A premium economy ticket on KLM (whether booked with cash, Flying Blue miles or partner miles like Delta SkyMiles or Virgin Atlantic points) includes free seat selection and two checked bags of up to 50 pounds each.
Passengers can also use the Sky Priority check-in line (along with business-class passengers), which was shorter than the regular line, as well as fast-track security, though this was not available in Chicago. Premium Comfort passengers with SkyTeam Elite Plus status can access KLM and partner lounges on their journey, but if you do not hold this status, then a KLM premium economy ticket won’t get you in.
Boarding lanes at both airports were carefully set up for the five different boarding zones, with Premium Comfort passengers invited to board in the second group, after business class.
How comfortable was premium economy on KLM?
|Economy||Premium Comfort||World business class|
|Seat pitch||31-35 inches.||38 inches.||78 inches.|
|Seat recline||5 inches.||8 inches.||Fully flat.|
|Seat width||17.5 inches.||18.5 inches.||20.25 inches.|
|Screen size||11 inches.||13.3 inches.||18 inches.|
Located directly behind the business-class cabin, KLM’s 787-10 Premium Comfort cabin contained 28 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration across four rows.
For my daytime flight to Chicago, I chose an aisle seat in the back row of the cabin. For the overnight flight back to Amsterdam, I opted for a window seat, this time in the front left bulkhead row.
The fresh, new seats were fantastic and much more comfortable and luxurious than the narrow-looking, nine-abreast economy seats in the cabin behind. My seat featured great padding, generous recline and a headrest that could be adjusted up and down into multiple positions and had wings on the sides that you could adjust to cradle your head.
A leg rest popped out from below the seat cushion with the touch of a button in the center armrest.
Seats in the front row had another button to fold down a footrest at the base of the leg rest, while seats in the other three rows behind had a footrest that was manually folded down from the back of the seat in front. Having tried both, I preferred the front row as my feet had more wiggle room when the seat was reclined, and it felt like a bit more personal space, which is valuable on a plane.
There were two universal AC charging points in a console between every set of seats for use by passengers in the row behind. That translated to one per passenger in the side rows and four for the three passengers in middle rows to use among them, which was a generous ratio. Both a USB-A and USB-C charging port were available in each seat’s center console, next to a handy water bottle holder.
A bi-fold tray table that popped out of the armrest, measuring 17 inches wide and 11 inches long, was large and sturdy enough for a full-size Macbook.
Amenities in KLM premium economy
Waiting on each seat when passengers boarded was a pillow, a blanket wrapped in plastic and a set of headphones. While the pillow wasn’t much larger or plusher than economy passengers received, the thick, fluffy blanket was of business-class quality, as were the comfortable noise-canceling headphones.
Passengers were also given a basic amenity kit designed in conjunction with Repreve Our Ocean, a supplier of resin and fiber materials sourced from plastic bottles that are collected near coastlines in countries that lack formal recycling systems. It contained a pen, eye mask, earplugs, toothpaste tablets (which I hadn’t seen before), and a bamboo toothbrush. I appreciated the sustainability effort of the kit, but the mesh design was not something I would ever use again, other than perhaps to separate items in a washing machine.
What I did get plenty of use from during both flights was the large and crisp 13.3-inch HD inflight entertainment touchscreen with high-quality headphones that tilted upward for a comfortable viewing angle when the seat in front was reclined, and swung out from the center console for those seated in the front row. It was stocked with 40 new-release movies, including “The Whale,” “Bandit” and “Dune.”
It wasn’t a big surprise that the premium economy cabin did not have dedicated lavatories, given how intimate the cabin was. Premium economy passengers shared the six lavatories with the economy cabin behind, which were kept sufficiently clean throughout the flight.
How was the food in KLM premium economy?
Flight attendants did not offer premium economy passengers predeparture drinks on either flight, in contrast to many other carriers, including Singapore Airlines and British Airways.
Rather than drinks, flight attendants handed out printed menus during boarding. Shortly after takeoff, a choice of drinks was served from the trolley with a packet of salted nuts and a large bottle of water. The wine choices included a white, two reds and a sparkling cava, and a Bols espresso martini in a fun-looking black tube.
I sampled four different meals across my two transatlantic flights. First up on my Amsterdam-Chicago outbound was lunch with a cream of corn and lemongrass appetizer, a side dish of cheese and grapes and a bread roll, and then a choice of three entrees and one dessert:
- Ricotta cannelloni with asparagus and mushrooms.
- Chicken thigh with red Thai curry.
- Cold Waldorf salad with smoked chicken.
- Cherry cheesecake ice cream.
The meal was served on a single tray in recyclable black plastic containers (some other airlines use real china in premium economy).
The presentation more than made up for this, though — both the appetizer and Waldorf salad entree were beautifully arranged and tasted light and fresh — ideal for a midweek lunch. Real glassware and metal cutlery provided a premium touch.
While there was no choice for the second meal served 90 minutes before landing, the portion size and quality were impressive compared to some of the meager snacks other airlines tend to serve. A mesclun salad topped with cold smoked salmon was generous in size, and I was offered two bread rolls. This was the first time I had been served a pastel de nata on a plane. I visit southern Portugal at least once a year, and have had dozens of these sweet treats fresh from local Portuguese bakery ovens. This one was hot, flaky and crunchy — no mean feat so high up in the air. Warming this tart before serving was the impressive attention to detail that made this a very refined meal.
For the overnight return flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, dinner was quickly served less than an hour after departure to help maximize rest. I practically gasped when I saw an appetizer of poached lobster on the menu served with a fennel and cauliflower salad, a side dish of cheese and grapes and then another choice of three entrees and one dessert:
- Mushroom ravioli pasta.
- Pork belly with bulgogi sauce.
- Cold chicken fajita bowl.
- Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Once again, the meal was nicely presented with high-quality ingredients — the lobster, especially, was excellent, and the pork belly entree was not dry or overcooked.
I like ice cream (who doesn’t?), but it was a little repetitive and unrefined to serve a tub of ice cream as dessert on both flights.
Ninety minutes before landing, the cabin lights were turned on, and all guests were served the same three dishes:
- Coconut chia oatmeal.
- French toast with vanilla sauce.
- Cold cuts with salmon, ham and gouda cheese.
The French toast was a small portion in a tiny bowl, but otherwise, it was a suitable meal as the sun rose outside.
The cabin crews dedicated to the premium economy cabin were great on both flights. They were clearly proud of their new cabin class and provided plenty of smiles, enthusiasm and warmth throughout the service. They told me they had received plenty of compliments on the new product from passengers already.
Was KLM premium economy worth it?
KLM did a terrific job with its new Premium Comfort section, and, along with Emirates, it is easily one of the best all-around premium economy products. The food was delicious and elegant, though perhaps a departure from just ice cream for dessert would be a good move.
While it might still be a struggle to sleep sitting up on an overnight flight, on the daytime leg to Chicago, my seat neighbor commented that the seat was so good that there was little need for business class, and I agreed.
Overall, however, KLM premium economy was a noticeably more luxurious experience than KLM economy on the same plane, with nine seats across the economy cabin in each row instead of seven in premium economy.
Cash and mileage redemption rates vary significantly on this route and the others where KLM premium economy is offered. Still, where you can book Premium Comfort for less than twice the price of economy, it is definitely worth the upgrade and a great way to cross the Atlantic.