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Are you looking for an upgraded experience when flying United Airlines but you're not ready to shell out for first class just yet? United premium economy service, which is called Premium Plus, may be the right fit. With larger seats in a semi-separate cabin, complimentary alcohol and two free checked bags, it’s available on select long-haul international flights and some transcontinental domestic routes.
Here’s what to expect with United Premium Plus and how to book it with MileagePlus miles.
What is premium economy on United and what does it offer? While your exact United Premium Plus economy experience may vary depending on your route (the class of service is currently available on select long-haul international, premium transcontinental and Hawaii routes), there are still a few things you can count on no matter what.
The United Premium Plus baggage allowance is two free checked bags, plus reserved overhead bin space for your carry-on. Regular economy seats don’t offer any free checked bags on domestic flights and only one checked bag on select international flights.
You can also get a free checked bag (or two) if you hold certain United Airlines credit cards.
Premium Plus passengers also get Premier Access, which offers dedicated airport check-in lines, exclusive security lanes at select airports, priority bag handling and priority boarding. Those flying in economy or Economy Plus do not get Premier Access benefits unless they have United elite status, Star Alliance Gold status, an eligible United credit card or have purchased the Premier Access add-on. Passengers flying in business class, first class or United Polaris also receive Premier Access.
» Learn more: United elite status: What you need to know
United’s Premium Plus seats are up to 19 inches wide and feature a 38-inch seat pitch, providing up to 7 more inches of legroom than most standard economy and Economy Plus seats. Seats also recline 6 inches, meaning you have more room to spread out and get comfy.
Since the seats are bigger, there are also less seats per row compared to economy. As seen in the image above of United’s Boeing 777-200, the Premium Plus cabin has eight seats per row while the economy cabin has 10 seats per row. Note that depending on the plane, the number of seats per row may differ, but there will still be less seats per row in Premium Plus vs. economy.
Premium Plus seats are closer to the front of the plane so you can get to your seat and off the plane faster, and each has an adjustable leg rest, footrest, power outlet and USB outlet.
» Learn more: United Airlines seat selection: What to know
With a Premium Plus ticket, you’ll also have access to discounted United Club passes when booking select long-haul international flights, so you can kick back and relax in style before, after or during a layover on long travel days.
Don’t worry about bringing your own technology for entertainment purposes: Seatback screens in Premium Plus are up to 13 inches (compared with the standard 9 inches). You’ll also get premium noise-reducing headphones and a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow on select long-haul international flights.
Food and beverages
Alcoholic beverages are free in Premium Plus. In regular economy, alcoholic drinks are only free on transatlantic flights, flights between the U.S. and some South American countries, and certain transpacific flights.
United’s Premium Plus food choices are also different from those provided to economy passengers. On select long-haul international flights, there are upgraded dining options. On premium transcontinental routes, passengers get a complimentary hot entree, fruit and dessert. Example menu items may include chicken katsu or portobello mushroom and caramelized onion ravioli.
» Learn more: United vs. American Airlines — which is best for you?
Make sure to choose “Premium economy” where you see the cabin class and, if you want to book an award ticket, choose “Book with miles.” Then, select “Find flights” to start the search.
When the flight options populate, look under the premium economy column to see if a Premium Plus seat is available. You may encounter a ticket with the label “Mixed cabin.”
Some flights that include connections may not offer Premium Plus seating on all flight segments. It’s a good idea to look more closely at the ticket to view the seat type offered with the premium economy ticket. Select “Details” for any flight you’d like to view, and you will see the available seat type listed for each flight segment.
After choosing your flight, you’ll be able to select your seat choice as you complete the booking process. However, you can also preview the seats available by selecting “Seats,” which is right next to “Details.”
United’s economy offering is divided into four ticket types: basic economy (the most restrictive), standard economy, Economy Plus and premium economy (Premium Plus). So then what is United’s Economy Plus, and what’s the difference between Economy Plus and Premium Plus?
Premium Plus is United’s premium economy fare and comes with the perks mentioned above, including Premier Access, upgraded food, free alcoholic drinks, discounted United Club lounge access, extra baggage allowance, roomier seats in a separate cabin and enhanced entertainment options.
Economy Plus, on the other hand, is an economy seat with more legroom that’s located near the front of the economy cabin or by the exit row. Economy Plus is an option that you can purchase during or after booking a standard economy ticket. You can also purchase an annual Economy Plus subscription. If you’re a United elite member, you can select an Economy Plus seat for free when you buy a standard economy fare.
» Learn more: How to choose a seat on a plane
Here’s how to get the most out of every Premium Plus award booking on United.
1. Book Premium Plus using United miles
Booking with miles is typically a great way to save money and get the best value out of points. In one search for flights from LAX to London, an economy ticket cost $2,288 for a refundable fare or 30,000 miles for a valuation of 7.6 cents per mile. A Premium Plus fare cost $2,714 or 56,600 miles for a valuation of 4.8 cents per mile.
Since NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents per mile, both of these tickets reflect a great use of miles. But ticket prices can vary greatly, so make sure to do the math before booking to see if you’re getting a good return on your mileage investment.
2. Book Premium Plus using Star Alliance partners
Since United is a member of Star Alliance, you may be able to find a good deal on award flights when booking a United Premium Plus ticket using partner airline miles. You can search for United award availability using Avianca LifeMiles, Air Canada Aeroplan or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
3. Take advantage of lounge pass discounts
If your flight includes multiple stops, the option to purchase a discounted lounge pass may come in handy to assuage the pain of long-haul international flights and extended layovers. You can purchase a pass during booking to guarantee access.
4. Travel off-peak to save miles
United doesn’t publish a set award chart. Instead, mileage requirements for award flights are based on a variety of factors, including demand. So booking during off-peak times and seasons may provide you with a better deal.
» Learn more: Which United credit card should you get?
Hovering somewhere between business class and regular economy is United Airlines Premium Plus. It offers roomier seats in a separate cabin, free alcohol, upgraded meals, free checked bags and discounted United Club lounge access, but it may come at a cost when booking with miles.
Additionally, flights that offer this class of service can be tricky to find. But if Premium Plus is available, it’s worth checking to see if you can score a good deal for long flights.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card