Is premium economy worth the travel splurge?

Allison Yee
Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

Confession time: until recently, I’d never flown anything but economy. Not only that, but I was a budget flight bandit, signing up for cheap fare alerts and putting very serious thought into whether I could get away with stuffing three weeks’ worth of ski gear into hand luggage rather than fork out for extra baggage.

Then I was given the chance to try out premium economy from Sydney to Los Angeles flying American Airlines and my travel planning changed forever.

Sure, I’d shuffled past passengers sipping on champagne in premium economy on my way to my normal budget seat before. But other than being able to board first, a few extra snacks, and a little bit of extra leg room, how different could it be?

There’s plenty of space and relaxation to be had in premium economy. Photo: Be

Quite a lot different, as it turns.

Anyone who has flown 15-hour leg for Sydney to LA knows it’s never fun. But after priority boarding my way to my seat on AA’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the thought of spending a full day in the air was made a lot better by the comforting treats that awaited – namely an incredibly plush pillow, and extra thick blanket. This mightn’t seem like a lot, but anyone who has tried to sleep on a pillow filled with what appears to be static can understand.

The ultimate in-flight sleep kit. Photo: Be

Then there was the leg room. At 160 centimetres tall, space isn’t usually an issue for me, but I felt like a little kid as my legs dangled in the abyss where they were meant to stretch out to.

Worried about leg room? Premium economy has more than enough for even the tallest traveller. Photo: Be

The abundance of space continued with the seats as well. Extra wide, roomy, and separated by a very generous armrest, there was no absolutely no danger of elbow jousting or awkward unwanted upper arm touching.

Food lovers can rejoice: the dishes served in premium economy are pretty darn tasty. Given a choice from three options (no boring beef or chicken here), my Thai yellow vegetable curry was packed with flavour and came with proper cutlery and cloth napkin. Sadly, I was sprawled in a heap and sound asleep when the mid-flight snack of a chicken panini and mango ice-cream bar went around, but I have it on good authority from my travel buddy that they were delicious.

Photo: Be
Photo: Be

Truth be told, we all know premium economy doesn’t come cheap. A one-way ticket from Sydney to LA with AA will set you back around $3000, compared to a standard economy fare of around $900. But that pales in comparison to the $7000 you can pay for business class.

And while I’ve walked past other premium economy seats in other airlines and not been too impressed by what I’ve seen, AA definitely does deliver when it comes to extra space. Given that I never sleep on flights but clocked in a solid eight hours (which was a godsend given the two-hour immigration queue at LA) if you’re heading off on a special trip, want to splurge without completely breaking the bank, or need to hit the ground running when you land, premium economy could be the way to go.

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