The Basics

A Great Time To Purchase Economy Plus/Comfort/Extra Seating

international travel with children
Written by Charlie

Many international carriers have a seating section between business and economy that is called some flavor of “premium economy.” However, what American, United and Delta offer on their flights (international and domestic) could not fairly be put in the same category as those “premium economy” seats because they are really just a slightly roomier economy seat with a couple of perks, unlike the international carrier’s premium economy that really offers a better seat.

Economy Comfort

The premium economy offering from Turkish Airlines, their Comfort Class

Economy comfort

Cathay Pacific and their Premium Economy

As you can see in the photos above, Cathay Pacific and Turkish Airlines have premium economy seats that could actually be mistaken for regional business class seats given their recline, width, foot rest, etc! That is not the case with American, United, or Delta.

A Great Time To Purchase Economy Plus/Comfort/Extra

When it comes to purchasing the slightly better seats on American, United, or Delta, the pricing is different based on a variety of factors and you will know what the price is when you purchase/redeem your ticket. Higher elite members will get to select the seats as a perk of their status while lower tier elites will get them at a discount or be able to choose them at the time of check-in. For everyone else, you must pay whatever the price is to upgrade. You can do that at booking, check-in, or even on the plane (provided there is availability and depending on the airline).

Is It Worth It?

But, is it worth it to buy up? On a recent flight from Munich to Washington, DC aboard a United Airlines flight, they were advertising the opportunity to buy up to Economy Plus for the cost of $160 per person for that flight. That is certainly not cheap, especially if you are planning on purchasing for a roundtrip ticket – it would come to an extra $320 for that particular seat on top of your ticket price!

On a flight last year on an international Delta flight, I actually passed on buying up to Delta’s Economy Comfort even though as a Gold Medallion I only had to pay 50% of the rate. Obviously, everyone else may handle that situation differently but I really did not feel like paying that price for a Europe-JFK flight.

So, When Is A Great Time To Purchase It?

To me, one of the chief benefits of having such an economy seat is the fact that you are in a less-crowded section of the plane. Flight attendants police the upgraded economy section of the plane quite tightly, making sure that anyone sitting in such a seat as either paid or received the seat from being an elite member. Several times throughout the boarding process and during take-off, the announcements are made that passengers cannot move from the regular economy cabin to the Economy Plus part of the cabin unless they hold a ticket for an Economy Plus seat. That means that, even if the rest of economy is full, the “premium” economy section may be more empty.

Economy Comfort

United’s Economy Comfort 

That is what I believe is a great time to purchase such a seat. To me, it makes the most sense to purchase such an upgrade on the plane if there is a good deal of seat availability in the “premium” economy seating of the airplane. The reason for that is that you have a much better chance of roomy seating when the back of the plane is full and the Economy Comfort/Plus section is quite empty. In fact, on some of my flights, each passenger in Economy Comfort could basically have 4 seats to themselves while the rest of the plane is crowded. To buy up in a situation like that would allow you to have at least two seats to yourself or, an entire middle row to yourself!

That is the situation I had in my recent trip. I already had the seat next to me empty but chose after take-off to move across the aisle to take advantage of an entire row that was empty. Taking my blanket and using pillows, I had a very nice bed all to myself. It was certainly not a lie-flat business class bed but was comfortable enough to provide me with several hours of sleep in a reclined position.

I realize that there may be many travelers that feel that paying the fee for the United Economy Plus seats is worth if on the international itineraries, but the times that I have flown in Economy Plus (courtesy of my airline status), I have not found it to be anywhere near full. To me, that would suggest that there are many flyers on my flights that do not find it to be a good deal.

How about you? Would you consider paying $160 for an empty bench on an international flight a good deal?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • While I generally agree with your remarks, I do find that with domestic flights going out at capacity, UA and AA (and I’m sure DL) infill their E+ with passengers who have not paid the supplement since it’s too expensive to fly out with empty seats in any cabin. For anyone without status on these airlines, and thus having access to these seats for free, it is best not to pre-select a seat or do OLCI. Checking in at the airport is quite likely to get you a set in the E+ area gratis. (I base this on seeing seat maps at OLCI time that show lots of empty centre seats in this section, but by departure every seat is filled and, without wanting to appear elitist, those occupying those seats are neither elite fliers nor the type that would pay a supplement for those seats.) This is less likely to occur on oversea flights where you’re correct to note that FAs keep an eagle eye out for interlopers.

  • I think the idea you are trying to convey is relevant, but the structure of your article is not that good. Constructive Criticism.
    You are trying to say is that you may get 2 or 3 seats for yourself, if economy plus is empty, by paying the upgrade fee, which can be done once you already boarded.

    • Since I am the one that wrote it, I may be reading more into the bold sections than the reader would. 🙂 I thought that I made that point clear with the bold parts referencing that the best time was if you were on board and there were many seats available.

    • Right, if you see any seats in Economy Plus available, then they would be for sale. The FAs will announce it or you can ask and then you pay with credit card. If you want to be assured of getting more than one seat, the best thing is to wait until boarding is complete and then go up to the row you want and ask the FA to process the charge. That way you are already there and most people are not going to switch to a seat next to someone else.

      • Nice information. Thanks. I am 6′ 2″ and need all the room I can get. I purchased Economy Plus for a flight from WA Dulles to Munich with the hope that the seat and legroom will be noticeably expanded. I did this previously on SAS and definitely the seat was bigger and I believe the food was better. Hope United is the same.

  • Economy Plus areas aren’t really policed by the flight attendance. I have seen and suspected people of moving up without being noticed. I think a lot of people wont move because they would see it as stealing. I have never seen someone pay and upgrade on the plane but maybe that isn’t a feature for the companies I fly regularly.

    Once the flight takes off, I don’t think flight attendance could care less about economy plus, it’s more about first class people. I always hear messages about first class and never about economy plus. They really just want all economy people to use the toilet in the back and not at the front of the plane.

    I do end up buying economy plus often now for the extra leg room. I think your article points one benefit, fewer people near you but there are more reasons why I buy into it.
    It can also benefit people who have chronic illnesses, injuries or disabilities. It gives you extra space to stretch out a leg or arm, easier to get to the bathroom even if someone is in your row.

    Basically economy plus is what planes should give to all of their customers, actual personal space.

    Delta is surprisingly cheap for their upgrade for flights from Canada to the USA. United is pretty expensive but there’s a trick to it.

    I do not recommend upgrading when you buy your plant ticket because they will charge you 120$. If you wait,the prices go down to 72-93$. If you wait to the very last day they will drop even lower into the 60$ range but you might get stuck with a center seat. It’s really just how picky you are to where you sit. You just have to continue to check regularly up until your flight to find a good deal. Just like if you were to buy a plane ticket except seat prices decline in price as your flight date nears.

    I honestly don’t think a lot of people realize how much better it can make your trip. If you can afford it, I’d say more people should try it especially those who need the extra room for medical reasons. Over the years I think a lot of people have caught on. I’m starting to see economy plus fill up these days. Anyway. Happy flying.