Semi-premium economy is the first step up from the knee-crunching crowding of today's regular economy product. As I reported in my earlier summary of economy seating, all or most flights -- domestic and international -- on American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and United offer cabin sections with several rows featuring extra legroom, as does KLM. Seats are just as narrow as regular economy seats, but you get up to five extra inches of legroom. Those semi-premium seats usually go "free" for travelers on expensive economy tickets and high-level frequent flyers. The price premium for folks with cheap tickets is typically less than $100 on a domestic flight and $200 on an intercontinental trip. Some lines lacking dedicated special semi-premium economy cabins sell the few extra-legroom exit- and bulkhead-row seats at a premium.
In business class, some 54 percent of the long-haul international flights provide horizontal lie-flat seats and another 34 percent provide flat seats at a slight angle from horizontal. Lie-flat horizontal is becoming the competitive standard, and airlines that don't have it yet are playing catch-up. Airlines with 100 percent lie-flat seats include British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. United has the most lie-flat seat flights, at 105 per day, followed by Delta at 62, British Airways at 46, and Virgin Atlantic and US Airways at 16. Some 26 daily flights from New York-Newark to London have lie-flat seats. Business-class fares typically run anywhere from five to 10 times the cost of the cheapest economy ticket, so business-class seats are not a good value proposition for most leisure travelers. But airlines often discount business class during slow business periods, with very long advance purchase requirements. Consolidators can sell business-class seats for big discounts, often approaching 50 percent. Also, some lines regularly auction off available business-class seats to travelers in economy at the time of departure. But for ordinary travelers, frequent flyer credit seems the best way to move up to business class, either by upgrading an economy ticket or getting a "free" award seat.
Delta and United offer international-standard business-class or first-class lie-flat seats on the highly competitive transcontinental routes from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and a few other routes from major hubs, with American and JetBlue joining the group soon.
A few long-haul international airlines still offer first class as well as business class. The very few seats offered have morphed into "suites" on most lines. And fares are astronomical. But it's there if you have the money -- or the expense account.
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(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)