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Delta to Add Premium Economy on International Flights in 2017

For most of us, premium economy is just the scenery we walk past on the way to our coach seat. But of all the upper class seating options, premium economy is the most accessible and perhaps the easiest to justify purchasing, especially on long-haul transoceanic flights.

International premium economy is common on non-U.S. carriers—you can find it on Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, and others—but no domestic carrier currently offers it, and only American has announced plans to add it.

Enter Delta, which announced this week that it will expand its Comfort+ class to transatlantic flights next year. Delta’s Comfort+ seating, which offers extra legroom, dedicated overhead bin space, and free drinks, has until now only been available on domestic flights.

But while Comfort+ is in many respects merely an upgraded economy seat (although Delta is now selling it as a distinct product rather than an upsell), the international iteration of Comfort+ figures to be its own distinct class of service. Think: additional recline and seat width, leg rests, and upgraded dining options.

According to USA Today, Delta President Glen Hauenstein said his airline’s international premium economy “will really put us in line with some of the international carriers that have introduced this” and said it will offer a choice for flyers who don’t want to be crammed in coach but can’t afford business- or first-class.

Premium economy is a tantalizing prospect for many carriers because it offers something close to real, actual value for travelers of a certain budget. While business- and first-class are often priced at almost laughable levels, premium economy is often … well, who are we kidding? It’s still pretty expensive. But it does offer a substantial upgrade over economy and it’s a bargain compared to actual upper class seats.

For comparison, I priced out a trip from JFK to London on British Airways next month. An economy fare was $395 one-way compared to $839 for premium economy (a 112 percent price premium) and $2,739 for business (a whopping 593 percent price premium). Are you going to be 593 percent more comfortable in one of British Airways’ private lie-flat beds? Maybe. But despite its still eye-popping price, premium economy—which on British Airways offers wider seats, extra recline, meals and bar service, and upgraded entertainment options—comes closer to offering tangible value for the extra money spent.

With Delta and American adding premium economy seats to their international fleets, it seems inevitable that the trend will continue with other domestic carriers flying overseas.

What about you? Would you spring for premium economy on a long-haul flight? What about booking it for a special trip, like a birthday or anniversary?

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