Quick Tips: Book premium economy seats for the price of a coach seat on selected widebody domestic routes | Bot To News

Although the Big Three carriers use single-aisle aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 on most domestic flights, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines fly two-aisle aircraft on some of their most popular domestic routes.

Airlines tend to fly longer-haul wide-body aircraft, so they generally have a better in-flight experience (think: seat-back TVs, electrical outlets, and larger overhead bins). Undoubtedly, the best part of these wide-body aircraft is the ability to reserve premium economy seats at no additional cost.

Here’s what you need to know about a “free” upgrade to a premium economy seat on your next flight.

How to find “free” premium economy seats

Premium Economy on an American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER. BENJI STAWSKI/THE POINTS GUY

Except in the few cases where the airline sells premium economy seats as a separate passenger cabin (mostly long-haul flights to Hawaii), you can book domestic premium economy seats as United Economy Plus, American Main Cabin Extra, or Delta Comfort+.

This means you can use your complimentary seats with extra legroom – a perk of elite status – to book premium economy seats. You can pay to select these seats if you don’t have elite status. Expect the same benefits and services you would get if you were traveling in a seat with extra legroom, but of course a premium Economy seat is better.

When booking a flight, check the type of aircraft operating the flight. Pull up the seat map if you see a wide-body aircraft like the Airbus A330, A350, Boeing 767, 777 or 787.


If you know what to look for, you will be able to tell if the seats are premium economy.

Seat map from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Dulles International Airport (IAD). UNITED.COM

First, the seating configuration will be different from the rest of the economy class cabin. On Boeing 777s like the one above, the normal premium economy seating configuration is 2-4-2 instead of the standard economy 3-4-3.

In addition, in the case of United’s Premium Plus cabin, the row numbers of the Premium Economy cabin (rows 20, 21 and 22) are significantly different from the rest of the Economy Plus cabin (rows 30-34, 40 and 41). On this aircraft, all blue seats, including those in premium economy, can be booked as Economy Plus. This means Premier Silver members are entitled to receive them for free on sign up; Premier Gold, Platinum, 1K and Global Service members can select these seats now for free — and United’s generous Economy Plus companion rules still apply.

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Related: How Much Is United Airlines Elite Status Worth?

The American one is a little more complicated. You can’t immediately tell from the row number that you’re in premium economy, so pay close attention to the seating arrangement on the seat map. Premium economy is in a 2-3-2 configuration on this aircraft, as opposed to the standard 3-3-3 configuration on the rest of the aircraft.

Map of seats from Miami International Airport (MIA) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). AA.COM

All orange seats, including those in Premium Economy Class, can be booked as Main Cabin Extra on this flight.

Delta Air Lines, which typically has larger premium economy cabins than United or American, labels some of its domestic premium economy seats as Comfort+. If your status entitles you to free Comfort+, you can get one of these seats for free.

Seat map from LAX to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW). DELTA.COM

If you are not satisfied with the premium economy seat available when you book your flight, or if all premium economy seats are taken, set a seat reminder on ExpertFlyer (owned by parent company TPG Red Ventures). You will receive an email alert if a seat becomes available. ExpertFlyer has helped me get out of middle premium economy seats many times.

Related: How to Use ExpertFlyer Alerts to Get a Better Seat

Premium economy seats compared to domestic first class

Premium Select on Delta Air Lines Airbus A330-900neo. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Now for the fun part.

Premium economy seats are significantly better than what you get with standard seats with extra legroom. The seat is roughly in line with what you’d get in a single-aisle domestic first class seat.

Let’s compare seat dimensions to United’s fleet. These metrics come from the United website.

Boeing 777-200 Economy Plus Boeing 777-200 Premium Economy Boeing 737-800 first class
Pitch 34 inches. 38 inches. 37 inches.
Diameter 17.05 inches. 18.5 inches. 20.5 inches.
Lie down 4 inches. 6 inches. 5 inches.

As you can see, while the width isn’t quite what you’d find on a Boeing 737 in first class, the pitch and pitch is greater than what you’d find in narrow-body first class.

So let’s get back to this case.


For $219, Premier Gold members and above can book a premium economy seat — roughly the equivalent of a first class seat that retails for more than $1,000. A first class seat of course offers a real meal, additional checked baggage, Premier Access and better services. Still, the two are roughly in line if you’re looking at just the seat.

United could change their equipment and maybe move you to a standard Economy Plus seat, but in my experience that only happens once in a blue moon.

Related: Why United’s Expanded Premium Plus Rollout Isn’t All Good News

Domestic routes with wide-body aircraft

Here are some domestic flights on which United and American and Delta typically use widebody service (at the time of writing). In our tests, you can book premium economy seats on these routes as seats with extra legroom. As you can see, these are on high traffic routes to, from or between hubs. These routes are subject to change.


  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Dulles International Airport (IAD), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), and Kahului Airport (OGG).
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to IAD, ORD, HNL and IAH.
  • Denver International Airport (DEN) to ORD and IAD.
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to IAH.

Note that United also operates several daily premium economy services from SFO and LAX to EWR, which United sells as a separate cabin.


  • Miami International Airport (MIA) to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Tampa International Airport (TPA), LAX and ORD.
  • DFW to Orlando International Airport (MCO), Cancun International Airport (CUN), ORD and LAX.
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to CUN and PHX.


  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to LAX, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
  • LAX to DTW.

Related: Perfectly Fine, But Nothing More: American Airlines Premium Economy Across the Atlantic

The bottom line

In addition to a separate cabin located closer to the front of the plane, premium economy seats tend to offer an in-flight entertainment system with remote control, a more generous seatback, a small footrest, and (my favorite) a tray table in the armrest, which is enough wide so you don’t have to play elbow war with your neighbor.

While your airline can always change the type of aircraft, booking premium economy for the price of a seat with extra legroom is one of the best-kept secrets of flying domestically. The next time you see a widebody on a flight you’re thinking of booking, remember that some seats with extra legroom might be much better than others.

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