Is the New United Premium Economy Seat Worth the Cost?

The carrier’s newest class of seats bridges the gap between a tight squeeze and luxury.
A look at United's Premium Plus seats

For the vast majority of travelers, the business class section of the cabin remains a distant dream—unless you’re willing to pay a five-figure price for a single ticket (or work for someone who will foot the bill). The best most of us can hope for: there’s nobody occupying the seat next to yours. But recently airlines have begun to slowly democratize luxury travel with a new, more affordable (if still expensive) premium economy class, the latest example being United's Premium Plus.

What is United Premium Plus?

On Monday, the airline began offering the new class of tickets for certain international flights, joining industry rivals American and Delta in catering to passengers who can't afford the most expensive tickets but are still willing to pay extra to avoid the discomforts of economy seating. Here's what passengers can expect when flying United's new class of seat:

More room: Probably the most sought-after commodity on any flight is more room to relax, and the premium economy seats have a width of 19" and a seat pitch (the distance between rows) of 38" (similar to the dimensions offered by Delta and American with their premium economy seats). To put those numbers in perspective, regular economy seats usually have a width of 17" (depending on the airplane) and a cramped 31" of seat pitch.

Free alcohol: Or "complimentary drinks" if you're shy about sounding like a lush, but whatever you call this perk it means free mini bottles of rosé or bourbon or Mike's Hard Lemonade to make that trans-Pacific flight a little more bearable. Or at least to help you sleep through it.

Fine china: No more paper boxes filled with a half-frozen ham sandwich and dry salad—your meals in premium economy are served on real plates and eaten with real (or at least metal) silverware, which can make even the most unappetizing of food taste better.

All the comforts of home: Well, maybe not everything you enjoy at home but you do get a blanket and pillow from Sak's Fifth Avenue and a pair of noise-reducing headphones to help you enjoy your fancy bedding in relative silence.

United premium economy ticket holders also enjoy benefits before they even step foot in the airplane, with two complimentary checked bags and access to a premium boarding line.

How much does Premium Plus cost?

The exact price of a United premium economy seat depends on the individual flight, but in general this class of ticket costs more than economy while remaining far more affordable than business class. A one-way premium economy ticket leaving New York to Hong Kong in April costs $909, a sizeable increase from the $683 an economy seat would cost. Both prices are, however, dwarfed by the $4,834 you would pay to sit in business class. While United's business class seats offer an entirely different experience than the premium economy, with seats as wide as 24" and seat pitch in the mid-70-inch range being just two examples of its luxury, that's still a steep price to pay (though one that may be worth it with the right credit card).

James Ellis

James Ellis is a former Staff Writer for ValuePenguin, covering credit, banking, travel and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote for Newsweek, Men's Health, and other nationally-published magazines.

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