To summarize the last couple of years of airline seating trends: International first class is out and premium economy is in. And while many carriers worldwide have scrambled to introduce premium economy cabins into their long-haul fleets, booking this class of service as an award ticket hasn’t been as straightforward.
Specifically, many premium economy seats still aren’t bookable with partner miles.
Here are the airlines that offer premium economy and how you can book these seats with points and miles.
What is premium economy?
As business class improved from merely a reclining seat to a fully lie-flat seat, this left a yawning gap between the no-frills economy section in the back — including some extra-legroom “economy plus” seats — and the very comfortable business-class seats up front. Premium economy class was created to offer more comfort than coach but at a lower price point than business class.
But just like with business class, there aren’t really standards for premium economy seats, and the quality differs significantly from one carrier to another. For some, it’s more “economy plus” and not worth much more than a small surcharge over coach, while others adopt a “business light” approach which can be a savvy investment.
At its best, a premium economy cabin can rival domestic first-class cabins. But at its worst, airlines may market their economy-class seats with extra legroom as “premium economy” — with perhaps a little additional recline on long-haul flights.
Some would prefer not to be “upgraded” from their window or aisle seat in economy to a middle seat with extra legroom. Thankfully, few airlines are selling these extra-legroom seats in economy as a truly different class of service.
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When should you consider premium economy awards?
There are several scenarios where premium economy awards can make sense. First, you might be short the miles necessary for a business-class award, leaving premium economy as the best alternative to flying coach.
A premium economy award might represent a better value than business class on shorter daytime flights, when you don’t need a fully-flat seat. While cash fares for premium economy can easily be twice the price of regular economy (and sometimes more), the difference in miles is usually only 5,000-20,000 more per flight, a much more reasonable increase than business class.
Finally, there are some times when business- or first-class awards aren’t available, leaving premium economy as the best remaining option.
Thankfully, a number of popular airline loyalty programs allow members to book premium economy awards. In addition, many of them partner with at least one of the major credit card programs with transferable currencies. This means you may have access to these points and miles without even realizing it.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular frequent flyer programs with premium economy award options.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Aeroplan was one of the first frequent flyer programs to offer premium economy awards. The pricing ranges from just a bit more than economy to nearly the price of business. For example, premium economy awards to Europe can cost as little as 15,000 points more than economy but 10,000 short of business class.
That said, because Air Canada-operated flights have a range of prices within distance bands, the difference can vary significantly.
Although Aeroplan is normally great for booking Star Alliance partner awards, premium economy redemptions are not available on partner airlines.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
While Alaska doesn’t offer a true premium economy service on its own flights (just Premium Class, which is extra-legroom economy), you can redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for premium economy award seats on some of its partners, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Condor and Qantas.
Premium economy awards to Europe cost 42,500 miles (plus high taxes and fees) on British Airways and Condor. Cathay Pacific premium economy awards to Asia cost just 40,000 Alaska miles each way — a modest 10,000-mile premium over standard economy class.
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines offers a true premium cabin on all of its wide-body aircraft. The seat looks a lot like a domestic first-class seat. However, it includes extendable footrests and headrests, seatback entertainment, upgraded dining, a complimentary amenity kit, a pillow, a blanket and two free checked bags.
With dynamic pricing, prices start at 40,000 miles to Hawaii or Asia, 49,000 miles to Europe or South America and 54,000 miles to the South Pacific. However, you can expect to pay a lot more than this during high demand.
Alternatively, you can book American Airlines premium economy awards using British Airways Avios. The rates will typically be higher than the lowest amounts AAdvantage charges but won’t rise with demand — there’s a single price for all dates with availability.
American also lets you redeem miles for premium economy awards on select partners. Specifically, you can redeem American miles for premium economy awards on Air Tahiti Nui, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia and Qantas. American is one of the few airlines that has retained an award chart for partner awards. These awards can be booked directly at aa.com.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways’ premium economy product — World Traveler Plus — offers wider seats, a better entertainment system, premium food options and additional baggage allowance.
As with other awards, British Airways Executive Club prices premium economy awards based on the distance flown and whether it’s a peak or off-peak date.
That said, they are always double the price of economy class and a bit more than half the price of business class. For example, award flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) on off-peak dates cost 26,000 Avios in premium economy. Economy class costs 13,000 Avios each way, while business class is 50,000 Avios. Thankfully, the difference in taxes and fuel surcharges isn’t too significant between economy and premium economy.
You can also book premium economy awards on British Airways flights through airlines like Alaska, American, Cathay Pacific, Iberia and Qantas. You can redeem British Airways Avios for premium economy awards on any of these partners, except for Alaska.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific’s premium economy class offers a slightly wider seat with 6 extra inches of legroom and 8 inches of recline. It also features an increased baggage allowance, more entertainment options and an amenity kit.
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program offers premium economy awards on its distance-based chart. These awards are appropriately closer in price to economy than business class. For instance, award flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) cost 40,000 miles each way in premium economy, 30,000 in economy and 65,000 miles in business.
As mentioned, you can also book Cathay Pacific premium economy awards with miles from partners like Alaska, American, British Airways, Iberia and Qantas.
Asia Miles also offers premium economy awards on Oneworld partners American, British Airways and Qantas.
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles
Delta currently offers Premium Select on most of its wide-body planes, including all A330s plus select A350s and Boeing 767s. It features adjustable headrests and footrests, as well as a larger screen than standard economy seats. You also get access to Sky Priority check-in, boarding and baggage delivery.
The only way to book Premium Select awards is directly with the Delta SkyMiles program. While Delta offers these awards for far less than business class, the rates are often higher than other airlines charge for business class. For instance, a one-way Premium Select award from the United States to Japan could set you back 130,000 SkyMiles one-way.
In 2021, Emirates debuted a new premium economy product on its newly delivered A380s. The product will also be available on Emirates’ Boeing 777X aircraft once those enter service. Emirates is also retrofitting some existing A380s with these new seats.
The product is very competitive, with 19 1/2-inch-wide leather seats featuring 8 inches of recline and 40 inches of pitch. Each seat has an adjustable headrest, calfrest and footrest, along with a 13.3-inch entertainment system.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to book these seats using Skywards or partner miles. So cash is the only way to secure the product.
Flying Blue (Air France and KLM)
Both KLM and Air France offer a true premium economy cabin with extra legroom, additional recline, a footrest and an amenity kit. KLM’s product, launched only last year, is now one of the best premium economy products in the skies, thanks to a terrific dining experience and top-notch service that rivals some carriers’ business-class offerings.
With dynamic pricing, premium economy award prices fluctuate wildly. At the lowest level, it costs just 30,000 miles from North America to Europe – a terrific deal, especially for KLM’s new product. During peak periods, however, you can expect to pay more than 200,000 miles for a single flight across the Atlantic, which is not worth the price.
Remember, Flying Blue often releases premium economy seats as part of its Promo Rewards, and it’s a transfer partner of several programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.
You can find Iberia’s premium economy product on long-haul flights operated by the Airbus A340-600, A330-300 and A350. The seats come with at least 37 inches of pitch, and offer a good amount of recline, footrests and crisp seatback entertainment screens. Passengers receive a small amenity kit, noise-canceling headphones and upgraded meals.
The best way to book Iberia premium economy awards is typically through the Iberia Plus program, though these awards are now priced similarly through British Airways. Redemption rates vary based on the time of the year you’re traveling and the distance, but as an example, peak-season premium economy awards start at 35,000 Avios and off-peak awards start at just 25,500 miles each way from U.S. East Coast cities. You can transfer points to Iberia from programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You can also redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for Iberia premium economy awards. One-way awards from the U.S. to Europe cost a flat 40,000 miles.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
JAL’s premium economy is only offered on some of its wide-body aircraft. It features a slightly wider seat, extremely generous legroom and an amenity kit. The meals themselves are the same as in economy, though you get better snacks and drinks. What makes JAL’s premium economy stand out the most is that it also includes lounge access — something most premium economy products don’t offer.
You can only use JAL Mileage Bank miles for premium economy on the carrier’s own flights. One-way awards from North America to Japan in premium economy are a good value at 32,500 miles as opposed to 25,000 for economy class and 50,000 for business class.
You can also book JAL premium economy awards through partners like British Airways and Qantas, but not Alaska.
Miles & More (Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Swiss and others)
Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Austrian Airlines offer premium economy seats on all of their long-haul aircraft. These products offer a slightly wider seat than in economy class, which is close to a domestic first-class seat in width and legroom. On all of the airlines except for Brussels, premium economy passengers also get extra perks like amenity kits and upgraded bedding and dining.
Swiss unveiled its own premium economy product in 2021, with a fixed-shell design found on the carrier’s 777-300s and Airbus A340-300s.
Miles & More charges a flat 40,000 miles each way for premium economy awards between the U.S. and Europe, regardless of the carrier. That’s roughly halfway between economy- and business-class awards. Unfortunately, the fuel surcharges on these redemptions can be high.
Currently, you can’t book premium economy awards on these airlines through other Star Alliance partners or vice versa. Miles & More miles are also much harder to earn than other airline miles.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qantas has premium economy sections on its Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft that offer a slightly wider seat and more legroom than standard economy. Other perks include dedicated check-in, priority boarding, an amenity kit and upgraded dining.
You can redeem Qantas premium economy through the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, which is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Capital One. However, Qantas points are not particularly valuable, as the program charges 81,300 points each way for a premium economy ticket from Los Angeles to Sydney.
Instead, you’re better off booking Qantas awards through a partner like American Airlines, which charges a flat 65,000 miles one-way for premium economy awards between the U.S. and the South Pacific.
Other partners you can book Qantas premium economy awards with include Alaska Mileage Plan, British Airways Executive Club and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore’s premium economy seats offer 8 inches of recline, and you can even use its Book the Cook program to preorder premium dishes up to 48 hours before boarding. It also offers priority check-in and an amenity kit.
A passenger on a flight aboard the A350-900ULR — the airplane also serving the longest nonstop flight in the world, from Singapore to New York — was overheard by a TPG reviewer describing the seat as the “closest I’ve ever been to business class.”
As with any other premium cabin flights, Singapore doesn’t release premium economy awards to any partners. However, you can book them directly with Singapore KrisFlyer. One-way premium economy awards between the U.S. and Singapore cost 80,500 to 111,500 miles, and the carrier’s fifth-freedom flight between New York and Frankfurt costs 52,000 miles.
The airline partners with five major transferable-points programs — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy — though the transfers aren’t instant.
United Airlines MileagePlus
United’s Premium Plus seats look a lot like what you’ll get in domestic first class, but with a larger recliner and HD seatback entertainment system. Passengers also receive a Saks-branded pillow and throw blanket, headphones, an amenity kit, premium dining and additional baggage allowance.
United sells premium economy awards exclusively through its own MileagePlus program. Rates can vary significantly from one flight to another due to the program using dynamic pricing on all awards. Sometimes premium economy awards can be as little as 10,000 more miles than economy, while other times they can be almost the same price as a saver business-class award.
Unfortunately, you can’t yet redeem United miles for partner premium economy awards.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin offers premium economy seating across its entire fleet. The cabin offers upgraded seating, entertainment and dining options, as well as an amenity kit, two free checked bags and free seat assignments.
Virgin charges just 17,500 to 27,500 points each way for premium economy awards between the U.S. and U.K. during the standard season. This is the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic in premium economy. Plus, Virgin points are easy to earn since the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
The only drawback to booking with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is that the taxes, fees and fuel surcharges on these awards can be steep (think $250 to $500 each way). You can potentially pay lower fees by booking through Delta, but you’ll spend at least 70,000 miles on the award.
While numerous Oneworld carriers are making premium economy awards bookable through partners, the same unfortunately can’t be said for Star Alliance and SkyTeam.
In most cases, your premium economy experience will likely be closer to economy class than business class. As such, you probably shouldn’t pay too much of a premium if you decide to splurge on one of these seats. In most cases, when the difference between premium economy and business class is small, you’ll be better off spending the extra miles and booking business class outright.
Additional reporting by Ben Smithson.