Newport International Group

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Last week I was returning home on a transcontinental flight, and my seatmate noted that today's business class is yesterday's economy class. It seemed an apt observation, particularly since even the barest of amenities in economy or coach—a window seat, earphones, a pillow, a cold snack, added legroom that only contortionists would refuse—usually comes with a fee these days. But the gaping divide between the cost of an economy seat and a business or first class seat is too wide for many consumers to bridge.

That's why premium economy class is growing in popularity with passengers and airlines alike, since it offers a little bit more room and other goodies for much less than upgrading to business or first. However, carriers around the world offer vastly different products under this name, so identifying what you are getting and determining the value of the additional investment has become a critical exercise.

I went through this myself a few years ago when I was researching a book in India. I had no desire to acquire deep vein thrombosis in a cramped economy seat on such a long voyage, but on the other hand there was no way I could afford to spring for a 400% increase to ride up front. Premium economy became the sweet spot.

Defining products

The global airline industry offers dozens of different premium economy classes, from Air France to Air China to Air New Zealand. SeatGuru.com provides a comprehensive guide to such products, complete with a detailed chart.

SeatGuru.com summarizes premium economy as offering "about 5 to 7 inches of extra legroom as well as additional amenities, which can include 1 to 2 extra inches of seat width; 2 to 3 extra inches of seat recline; adjustable headrests, legrests, or lumbar support; larger personal TV screens; laptop power ports; and premium food service."

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