Why Fly Premium Economy To Hawaii? Luxury At One-Third Cost of Business

This week, we’ll be doing our first review of true premium economy class travel to Hawaii. Two editors will be flying on United’s still relatively new “Premium Plus,” which came to fruition just before Covid. This new cabin is positioned directly between lie flat business/first class and their economy seats, including Economy plus extended legroom.

Delta Premium Select

Premium economy: the airlines’ revolutionary new product to Hawaii

Premium economy is the airline industry’s foray into an entirely new and fascinating class of service that’s already being offered by American, Delta and United Airlines on their long-haul, widebody flights to Hawaii (and elsewhere). You won’t find this yet on narrow-body flights, although that is also coming to the United Airbus A321 fleet.

In the new world of premium leisure Hawaii travel, this new airline class, which is not simply an extra legroom product by another name, is emerging as a transformational product due to a savvy combination of price, comfort, and other amenities.

Premium economy started with Eva Air decades ago.

That was in the early 1990’s. But it didn’t become popular in the US until quite recently. Even to this day, while your authors have flown both economy and business/first on all the airlines flying to and from Hawaii countless times, this will be the first time flying a true premium economy product, on a flight this week to Hawaii.

American Premium Economy

What distinguishes premium economy?

It starts with significant hard product differences, including a physically different seat than economy, which is wider, more comfortable, and features legroom beyond what’s offered other than in business/first class. So again, this is a new and separate cabin between the other two classes.


Why didn’t Hawaiian Airlines add premium economy to its Dreamliners?

Great question and one that we don’t know the answer to ourselves. The Hawaii leisure market is fast joining this premium economy revolution, while its bellwether carrier Hawaiian, opted out. On the other hand, strangely, Hawaiian doubled down on a more refined lie-flat business class Dreamliner product. The perfect opportunity existed for Hawaiian to also add premium economy to the new Dreamliner aircraft, which is due to arrive any day, with scheduled flights commencing in April 2024.

What would premium economy look like on Hawaiian Airlines?

By way of comparison, on the same 787 aircraft at United (pictured above), premium economy is comprised of three rows configured 2-3-2, with a partition separating the section from economy. The seats have a width of 19″ and a pitch is 38″. That makes the seats nearly 2 inches wider than economy/EconomyPlus. Seat pitch (distance between seats) is about seven inches more than economy and three inches more than EconomyPlus. We have a tape measure in hand to confirm those details this week.

Will Alaska overturn Hawaiian’s no premium economy plans?

We suggest that, ultimately, they will. With the acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines will come Alaska’s first experience with widebody planes. It’s hard to imagine such a forward-thinking airline like Alaska agreeing to take delivery of the twelve Dreamliners without including this game-changing product as part of those plans.

Premium economy class poised to grow massively across US airlines.

This product is considered a close-to-ideal solution for medium-range flights such as those to and from Hawaii. The allure of premium economy to Hawaii lies in its multiple unique offerings, including wider seats with leg rests, additional legroom, a two-across configuration for increased privacy, enhanced service including chef-inspired meals, amenity kits, priority security and boarding, checked bags included, and more.

Perfect for occasional travelers who don’t otherwise receive airline premium amenities.

If you’re a frequent flyer with any of the airlines that offer premium economy to Hawaii, you already receive at least some of the premium economy amenities at no charge. On United, for example, you may receive two free checked bags of up to 70 pounds, premium security and boarding, and free access to EconomyPlus, at no additional charge. But for those who don’t fly frequently and aren’t among the airline’s premium customers, these features come as expensive options. With premium economy, they are included.

American, Delta, and United already have over 400 planes featuring premium economy.

As a testament to the importance and acceptance of this new class of service, American, Delta, and United collectively outfitted more than 400 of their widebody planes with premium economy. Positioned between economy and business, its newfound popularity exemplifies the tempting comfort and value proposition offered by this entirely new class. While premium economy is seen predominantly on international flights, Hawaii and trans-continental flights are the airlines’ other focus areas.

The value proposition of premium economy to Hawaii.

On the flight that your editors will try premium economy this week, the fares went like this. Do keep in mind that this is the lead-up to Christmas week, so prices are very elevated by about double in all classes of service. Nonetheless, the relative cost compared to the other offerings, while variable, points to the approximate price positioning of the products.

  • Economy cost $890 per person.
  • Premium economy cost $1,213 per person.
  • Lie-flat business cost $3,394 per person.

Stand by for our review of premium economy to Hawaii this week.

We won’t mention the details of the route and date yet, but you’ll be reading about this in the next few days. We also have plans to try both American and Delta Air Lines’ versions of premium economy in the very near future and report back to you on those as well.

If you’ve already tried flying premium economy to Hawaii, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

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19 thoughts on “Why Fly Premium Economy To Hawaii? Luxury At One-Third Cost of Business”

  1. My wife and I are flying to Maui at the end of January and have booked United’s non stop from O’Hare. Premium Economy was not offered, will that change?

    1. Hi Dan.

      We just checked and it (Premium Plus) is available on all of those nonstops from ORD to OGG. They’re using the Dreamliner 787-10. If you’re not seeing it check with them.


  2. Due to the length of my longest flights ATL/DFW/IAW to HNL and vice versa I usually fly a PE ish product to HNL and Lie Flat on the return. I have yet to see any of the new really nice PE seats available in the periods I go home. It’s the same choices of AA 787’s / UA 772’s/ or Delta 767’s (VERY uncomfortable lie flats). Wonder why? I’m perfectly willing to spring for true PE if given the chance.

    Best Regards

  3. The public flying in an aluminum tube should have adequate leg and seat room. Cramming everyone in a tight space isn’t good. They make enough money. Also one checked bag should be at no charge.
    Southwest may not be that good but plenty of leg room plus 2 free checked bags!
    I have flown many long hauls on Southwest with plenty of leg room and good seats. Southwest would be my first choice followed by Alaska. The rest are over priced.

  4. We flew Hawaiian Airlines to Tahiti from Honolulu in premium economy. It was a cabin to itself. We enjoyed the perks and extra space. We live on Kauai.

    1. Hi Raj.

      That wasn’t premium economy. Hawaiian only offers extra legroom regular economy that they call Extra Comfort.



      1. …and imo Hawaiian’s “Extra Comfort” class is one of the bargains of international air travel. My family of 4 flew Syd-Hnl which is an overnight 10hr flight on the A330 departing Syd @ 9:30pm, so we weren’t interested in any upgraded menu (dinner at an airport lounge prior to departure), just the extra space to sleep. We all thought it was fantastic value for a modest extra cost over economy class (certainly couldn’t afford to fly 4 people Business Class return). Nearest thing available on other carriers is an exit row seat, but they are not without their problems. I’d gladly fly Extra Comfort class again and as a leisure (not business) destination, I think it’s a great fit.

  5. I beg to differ regarding Alaska’s premium economy ‘forward thinking’.
    My wife and I flew ‘premium economy’ on Alaska from SFO to Boston in September and were amazed at how narrow the seats were. We were 737 on a max aircraft. Not what we paid for or expected from Alaska so to say it was a disappointment on our six hour flights is an understatement. The leg room was fine but the seats were tight and neither of us are large people. Also no seat back screens are available and the trays for each seat are in the armrests.
    Pretty primitive and uncomfortable for the ‘premium’ upcharge of $110 per seat.
    We’re done flying Alaska and I would suggest any optimism regarding how they will absorb Hawaiians is unfounded.

    1. Hi Stevep.

      Alaska like Hawaiian doesn’t offer a premium economy separate cabin product at this time. What they have is premium class and that is not true premium economy. It is the same seat with extra legroom and a few other perks within the economy cabin.


    2. Alaska does not have Premium Economy seats. Sounds like you were either in a bulkhead row or an exit row. Those seats gave tray tables in the armrests which makes the seats narrower.

  6. The last time we flew to Hawai’i from Dallas to Honolulu was on American in premium economy. Definitely get more room which we enjoy. Seat reclines just a few more degrees than coach and the food is slightly better. Going back in February and we decided on premium economy again. Don’t see the need for first class, but premium economy is worth it.

  7. Thanks for doing this research and review of premium economy offerings to Hawaii. When I saw that Hawaiian Airlines had declined to install a premium economy seat on the new Dreamliner, and then even went to 333 seating that was simply a deal breaker for me. Either I find a different airline offering premium economy seating to Hawaii from Seattle, or the days of Hawaiian vacations are over.

    I look forward to your reviews.

  8. I’ve been flying on UA’s 777 Polaris planes to HNL since pre-pandemic when the 772s were pulled from the route for repair. UA didn’t sell the cabin as Premium Economy, but allowed elites to select a seat for free in that cabin at booking. It continues to fly one flight a day. That said the service is no different than economy. You just get a better seat and if you choose the first row a leg rest. It is also a quieter cabin than economy with less foot traffic.

  9. We’ve flown PE on AA to / from Hawaiʻi several times, as well as business class and true first class on AA 777-200 and 777-300. While PE is far and away better than a standard coach seat it, to say it is a luxury experience is a bit of a stretch. On AA anyway, the seat you get in PE is basically the same seat as a domestic narrow body first class seat, so it would be a far greater experience on a 6 hour flight from the west coast. Anything longer than that, and you’ll find us in lay flat business seats!

    Aloh, BOH!

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