THE BLOG

Guide to Premium Economy

06/12/2015 03:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2016

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In the beginning, air travel was egalitarian, classless, and, well, classy. Everyone sat in identical seats. In the 1950s, they resembled your dad's La-Z-Boy: luxuriously padded, with footrests.

In the 60s, those "regular" seats morphed into "first class" and, to make travel affordable for all, economy-class seats were introduced, configured six across in each row. There was still plenty of legroom in coach, and you got a hot meal, playing cards, and plastic wings for the kiddies.

But as economy class became more cramped, airlines began offering premium economy. On domestic flights, it's called "main cabin extra" or "economy plus" and it's not much of a thing --just some extra legroom and priority boarding, maybe a drink and snacks. But on international flights, there can be perks galore: better meals, fewer seats per row, priority check-in, dedicated lavatories and cabins, and little niceties such as welcome Champagne upon boarding.

Still, it's premium econ's wider seats, extra leg and knee room ("seat pitch" in airline parlance), and greater seat recline -- all making sleep easier on long haul flights -- that attracts fliers. Here's what to expect on a variety of international airlines if you're willing to pay a premium.

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Air New Zealand
What it's called: Premium Economy Spaceseat
When launched: 2011
Seat pitch: 40-42 in.
Seat width: 20 in.
Seat configuration: 2 x 2 x 2 (every seat has aisle access)
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: Yes
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: $10-$75
Power ports: In-seat power, USB and iPod connections
Average price over economy: 75-85 percent more
Other perks: Noise-cancelling headphones, more menu choices, amenity kits; airline is unique in that all premium econ seats have aisle access.

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British Airways
What it's called: World Traveller Plus
When launched: 2000
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Sea width: 18.5 in.
Seat configuration: 2 x 4 x 2 (2 x 3 x 2 on A380 aircraft)
Aircraft: All long-haul aircraft
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: On most routes
Charge for reserving specific seats in advance: Varies depending on seat
Power ports: Yes
Average price over regular economy: 30-50 percent
Other perks: Amenity kits, larger video screens, premium meals, bigger pillows and blankets

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Cathay Pacific
What it's called: Premium Economy
When launched: 2012
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Seat width: 19.3 in.
Seat configuration: 2 x 3 x 2 or 2 x 4 x 2
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: Yes
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
Power ports: Yes, plus USB ports
Average price over economy: Varies
Other perks: Enhanced meal selections, Champagne, larger personal TV with noise-cancelling headphones

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El Al
What it's called: Economy Class Plus
When launched: 2012
Seat pitch: 36 in.
Seat width: 18 in.
Configuration: 2 x 3 x 2
On what aircraft: 747, 767, 777
Separate cabin: No
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: No
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
Power ports: AC power on most aircraft
Average price over economy: $150 one-way for long-haul flights
Other perks: Personal iPad with extra entertainment options, business-class blanket and pillow; free upgrades to upper-tier frequent-flyer members

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Lufthansa
What it's called: Premium Economy
When launched: 2014
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Seat width: 18-20 in.
Configuration: 2 x 4 x 2
On what aircraft: All long-haul aircraft by summer 2015
Priority check-in: No
Extra baggage allowance: Yes
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
Power ports: Yes
Average price over regular economy: About $700 more per round-trip long-haul flights
Other perks: Option to pay (about $28.50) to access business-class lounges

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Qantas
What it's called: Premium Economy
When launched: 2008
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Seat width: 19.5 in.
Seat configuration: 2 x 4 x 2 on 747; 2 x 3 x 2 on A380
Aircraft: 747 and A380
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
Power ports: Yes
Average price over regular economy: Varies, but premium economy is a third of the cost of a business-class seat
Other perks: Amenity kits, noise-cancelling headphones, premium meals and wines, ability to pre-select meal choice, USB ports on A380 aircraft

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Singapore Airlines
What it's called: SIA Premium Economy
When launched: 2015 on a few routes, more in 2016
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Seat width: 18.5 to 19.5 in.
Configuration: 2 x 4 x 2
On what aircraft: 777-300ER, A380, A350
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: Yes
Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: TBD
Power ports: One for every two seats, USB for every seat
Average price over economy: About 40-50 percent more
Other perks: Noise-cancelling headphones, wide selection of pre-ordered meals, more menu choices, amenity kits, in-seat reading light

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Virgin Atlantic
What it's called: Premium Economy
When launched: 1992
Seat pitch: 38 in.
Seat width: 21 in.
Seat configuration: 2 x 3 x 2 on A330, A340, B787 aircraft; 2 x 4 x 2 on B747 aircraft
Aircraft: All aircraft
Separate cabin: Yes
Priority check-in: Yes
Extra baggage allowance: Yes; two bags free of charge, up to 50 lbs. per bag
Charge for reserving specific seats in advance: No
Power ports: Yes
Average price over regular economy: Varies
Other perks: Welcome glass of Champagne and pre-flight choice of newspaper; complimentary three-course meal served on china, linens, and stainless steel cutlery; hot breakfast or afternoon tea service depending on time of travel; wine service with dinner and after-dinner liqueur; dedicated amenity kit; personal seatback TVs with over 300 hours of on-demand entertainment; Wander Wall self-service snack and beverage area on 787 Dreamliner aircraft only