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Airlines Offering New Levels of Service

Consider new stripped-down and souped-up options in a tiered approach to economy class.

Travelers don’t expect much from flying coach, except a bargain fare and a free snack. But now American Airlines, Delta and United are dividing economy class into tiers that may be more enticing than traditional coach.

On the low end of the spectrum, the basic economy class of United and Delta eliminates seat selection, early boarding and the ability to change your itinerary. United’s bare-bones service even restricts your carry-on to a small, personal item, such as a shoulder bag or backpack that fits under the seat. Still, Delta’s and United’s basic economy flights are better deals than similarly priced flights on Spirit and Frontier in terms of comfort and reliability, says airline research scientist Peter Belobaba at MIT.

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On the upper end, Amer­ican and Delta have gone plush with premium economy. Don’t confuse this level with existing upgrades, such as United Economy Plus, which usually include the first few rows of the economy-class section, with extra legroom and quicker access on and off the plane. Rather, premium economy offers a separate cabin on long-haul international routes that bridges the gap to business class, offering more room and comfier seats; amenity kits that include toiletries and other items; and finer food and drink.

Should you pay more (or less) for a revised version of economy? A basic economy ticket may seem like less of a bargain once you factor in the perks you’ll lose. Premium economy seats could cost you 10% to 85% more than traditional economy, according to SeatGuru.com. If you are not sure whether it’s worth paying up, use the site’s comparison charts and the airline’s website to decide whether a wider, reclining seat and, say, an eye mask and socks are worth the price.

 

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