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Is Delta Air Lines premium economy worth it between New York and London?

Jun 30, 2023

Delta Air Lines was fairly late to the premium economy game, only rolling out its Premium Select cabins back in October of 2017. These days, the Atlanta-based airline offers a premium economy experience on hundreds of weekly flights to international destinations as well as on select domestic routes.

In order to see what Delta Premium Select looks like these days, I booked a round-trip itinerary from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) on two different aircraft types – a Boeing 767-400 and an Airbus A330-900neo. Sadly, that newer Airbus was swapped for a much-older A330-300 a few days before the return. I was still able to fly Premium Select both ways, though.

Here's what my experience in Delta premium economy was like.

Round-trip cash fares in Delta premium economy are usually at least twice the cost of regular economy. Delta Air Lines business class (Delta One) is usually around double the price of premium economy.

Award availability tends to be plentiful between New York and London in all three cabins, but Delta SkyMiles redemption rates on transatlantic flights are exorbitant at the moment. On flights to and from London, in particular, you also must beware of high taxes and surcharges.

Here are the ranges of airfare and award redemptions in all three cabins on this route over the next year based on recent searches.

In my case, I paid cash since I found a decent fare of $2,002 for the following round-trip itinerary:

An American Express offer available with my Platinum Card® from American Express for a $150 statement credit on a purchase of over $600 on Delta made the deal even better.

With the statement credit factored in, the fare came down to $1,852. I earned a total of 10,356 Medallion Qualification Miles, 1,641 Medallion Qualification Dollars and 14,769 redeemable SkyMiles for the trip, which TPG values at $208.

I booked the ticket with my Platinum Card from American Express to earn 5 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on airline purchases booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

But you might also consider booking with one of Delta's cobranded credit cards. My Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, for instance, earns 3 SkyMiles per dollar on Delta purchases. In fact, most Delta credit cards earn 2-3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases. You might consider other travel rewards cards, too, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3 points on all travel purchases (and 5 points on airline tickets booked through the Chase travel portal).

Aside from the statement credit I could enjoy by using my Amex Platinum Card for this particular purchase, I also decided to use it since you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta's SkyMiles program at a 1:1 ratio, and its earning rate on this purchase was better than a Delta cobranded card.

Related: Why I'm keeping my Delta Reserve card even when I'm flying less

A ticket in Delta Air Lines Premium Select (whether booked with cash, Delta SkyMiles or via partners like Air France-KLM Flying Blue) includes free seat selection and two checked bags of up to 50 pounds in weight each.

Passengers can also use dedicated priority check-in lines along with Delta Medallion elite members, Flying Club Silver elite members, SkyTeam Elite members and Economy Delight passengers booked via Virgin Atlantic.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Delta Premium Select passengers can use the airline's Sky Priority counters at the newly revamped Terminal 4 Delta check-in area. Five agents were on duty, though four seemed to be dealing with parties with oversize luggage. Still, I only had to wait about five minutes in line before stepping up to the counter. Passengers could also use one of the 16 self-service kiosks.

Passengers flying in Premium Select, Delta One or domestic first class are allowed to use the priority security lanes along with Delta Diamond, Platinum or Gold Medallion members, which can speed you through security even if you don't have PreCheck or Clear.

I've been through this terminal many times and I've rarely seen long lines for priority services. However, anecdotally, you could wait as long as 45 minutes at the economy check-in counters.

Security only took about 10 minutes since I had access to Clear with TSA PreCheck lines.

Buying a Premium Select ticket will not, by itself, get you access to the Delta lounge, but I had access to the Delta Sky Club near Gate A38 because I hold both the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card and the Platinum Card from American Express, either of which would have allowed me entry as the cardholder thanks to my same-day ticket on a Delta-operated or -marketed flight.

The Sky Club was incredibly busy, as I've come to expect for the airline's flagship lounge at JFK. In fact, a friendly woman named Dannilyn was trying to get folks to choose the new grab-and-go offerings in lieu of the "full lounge experience." She was excited to see I was curious, and let me take photos of the new grab-and-go station just inside the main lounge doors.

There was a 20-minute wait for the lounge, and it was extremely crowded inside.

Still, the lounge workers both inside and outside the main lounge were doing all they could to make everyone feel welcome, including offering Champagne and asking after passengers.

The boarding gate was just about a 10-minute walk from the lounge, and was much calmer.

There was a short delay during boarding while we waited for the cleaning crew to finish tidying the plane, much to the frustration of the gate agent who had already asked passengers to line up. The delay lasted only about 10 minutes before she got the all-clear to board, starting with passengers needing extra time. Passengers in Premium Select get priority boarding just after Delta One passengers and Diamond Medallions.

There is a special priority check-in area at London Heathrow's Terminal 3 for Virgin Upper Class passengers and Delta Air Lines passengers traveling in Delta One and Premium Select, as well as anyone with Sky Priority access. This is what they call Zone A in the main T3 area.

You'll need to get your travel documents checked at a counter, and then you can proceed to one of several desks for agent check-in or baggage check. There are also several banks of kiosks with self-serve check-in. There were six agents working the desks for Delta One and Sky Priority customers. I only waited about one minute to get through the passport check before I was helped by an agent.

After my boarding pass was printed, I was able to take the nearby elevator to the fast-track security screening lane located one level up in the Upper Class Wing.

I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I could have used that separate Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing upstairs to check in since I have SkyTeam status as a Delta Platinum Medallion (passengers in Delta One and Diamond Medallions can also use this exclusive check-in area). The friendly agents in the Upper Class Wing let me take some photos before I headed to expedited security.

It took me about 20 minutes to get through security, but not because of lines. There were only two passengers in front of me, but I didn't pack well and both my bags had to get secondary screening thanks to various liquid containers I had with me.

Unfortunately, a Premium Select ticket won't allow access to any airport lounges at Heathrow. However, as a Delta Platinum Medallion, I was able to visit the Virgin Clubhouse, which is one of my favorite London lounges. Chicken tikka masala? Yes, please.

I managed to get a few snaps of my A330-300 at the gate before boarding.

Boarding was remarkably organized and efficient (and on time).

It's a long walk from the London lounges to most of the gates, but I find the separated gate areas at Heathrow to be efficient. As in New York, boarding began with those needing extra time, followed quickly by Delta One passengers, Diamond Medallions and passengers in Premium Select.

Although the experiences on both my flights were very similar, there were some differences due to the fact that I was on two different aircraft types. For my outbound flight from New York to London, I was aboard a Boeing 767-400.

The Premium Select cabin aboard Delta's 767-400 is separated from the Delta One cabin by a galley area with one lavatory. It sits just ahead of the Comfort+ and main cabin sections of the aircraft. There are 20 seats total, with three rows along each side of the cabin and four running down the middle, in a 2-2-2 layout.

I chose Seat 22F, which was the last window seat on the left side of the cabin. I measured it to be 18 1/2 inches wide between the armrests, not much bigger than an economy seat despite the fact there there is one fewer seat per row.

The window is misaligned in this particular row, so it's not the best place for good views.

The seats have a lot more legroom than in coach, however, with 38 inches of pitch compared to just 31-32 inches.

The seats are definitely a step up from economy, but not impressively so for long journeys. The limited recline, which is supposed to be as much as 7 inches, just doesn't go deep enough to allow for restful sleep. Still, I'll take the 7 inches over the 5 inches of recline in the airline's main cabin.

Each Premium Select seat comes with a retractable legrest and footrest, but they don't seem ergonomically aligned. That led to aching hips for me. The other option is to keep the footrest undeployed and angle your legs into the seat back in front of you.

You can adjust the legrest and footrest with buttons that sit at your waist in the seat. They were simple and easy to use.

Underseat storage is limited, especially when your seatmate puts stuff in the middle section, as mine did. It feels tight for a premium product.

The adjustable headrests have wings that offer additional support. They do help a bit, but I find it's not enough support to actually relax my head on. It's also not really possible to put a pillow against the windows of the plane since the distance between the seat and the wall is too far for the pillow to bridge.

There were two universal charging outlets between the seats in the preceding row, along with two USB ports. On the 767, there was another USB port under the inflight entertainment screen.

There was a small storage compartment built into the center space between the seats, along with a cup holder for a water bottle.

Small seatback pockets were fine to hold passports and magazines but not much else.

A bi-fold tray table slid out of the window-side armrest or the aisle-side armrest, depending on which seat you were in. They measured 17 by 10 inches when fully extended.

The A330-900neo I had booked for the return was swapped out at the last moment for a 19-year-old A330-300. That was a real disappointment since I would have liked to fly the newer plane.

Here's how the seats on the A330 are apportioned.

There are just 21 Premium Select seats total in three rows. I chose Seat 21B, an aisle seat in the second row, for the flight home and felt like I'd won the lottery when no one ended up sitting in the window seat next to me.

The coach cabin was in a 2-4-2 configuration, compared to rows of 2-3-2 in Premium Select. If you could grab one of the seats in the rows of two, it could be a more comfortable flight for you.

Unfortunately, the Premium Select seats on the Airbus are slightly narrower than on the 767-400. Delta has them measuring 18 1/2 inches, which is just a half-inch wider than economy seats on the same plane.

Like on the A330-300, the center console between the preceding seats had two universal power ports with two USB ports.

Unlike on the 767-400, though, there were no other USB ports beneath the entertainment screens.

On both airplane types, you'll need to go to the coach section for the restrooms. Premium Select passengers are not supposed to use the bathrooms in the Delta One cabin. In fact, on the A330, there is a galley between the business-class and premium economy cabins, and the flight attendants put up curtains and policed the area pretty well.

Bathrooms were kept clean during the flights, and I never had to wait in line to use the ones in coach.

The so-called soft products on both my flights were the same.

Delta Premium Select passengers receive fairly substantial amenity kits that favor sustainability over style.

Delta uses the Mexican apparel brand Someone Somewhere for the kits, which are responsibly sourced and signed by the individuals who make them.

Delta says the kits are helping create jobs for more than 250 people in Mexico. You can scan a QR code inside the bag to learn more about who makes them. The kits include earplugs, an eye mask, a Delta-branded wooden toothbrush, a Grown Alchemist lip balm and a tiny tube of Miradent toothpaste.

I loved the little Delta-branded ankle socks that also came in the kit. Personally, I preferred the old Tumi amenity kits, but Delta says the new ones are better for the environment – getting rid of single-use plastic like zippers and wrapping.

There was also a paper menu and a 60-by-40-inch blanket and a memory foam pillow at each seat in Premium Select. The pillows were nice but hard to squish down or shape.

The seats have 13.3-inch high-definition seatback monitors powered by Delta Studio in premium economy. I counted 533 movies, 78 TV series and 115 audio programs for more than 1,000 hours of entertainment possibilities. I watched "Amsterdam," "Megan" and "The Whale," which gives you an idea of the films on offer.

There were also Delta Studio-branded headsets at every seat. They aren't Bose quality, but I found they provided good sound quality and some noise-canceling capabilities.

Wi-Fi on both legs cost $28.50 plus tax. It worked great on the 767-400 but was less speedy (uploads of just 1.42Mbps) on the A330.

Delta Premium Select passengers receive menus distinct from those served in coach. There was no predeparture beverage service on either of my flights.

After takeoff on the flight from New York, passengers were handed a Grown Alchemist oshibori towel, though that service wasn't included on the return flight.

On my outbound flight from New York to London, passengers were offered a choice of flat or sparkling water and Mionetto prosecco in a plastic cup. About 20 minutes later, the flight attendants brought out white tablecloths, napkins with real flatware and Cooper's Gourmet small-batch cheese biscuits with white cheddar and chive.

Dinner was served about 10 minutes after this (flight attendants hustle on these short overnight flights) and was presented all on a single plate.

While we did get tablecloths and real cutlery, the food was served on a plastic tray and did not appear much elevated from coach fare. There wasn't even bread and butter, and only a choice of two entrees plus one dessert:

I chose the chicken, which was juicy but slightly greasy and overly sauced. The side of couscous with tomatoes was very bland.

About two hours before landing, flight attendants came through with an assortment of sweet and savory snacks, including Hershey's milk chocolate bars and Thinsters CookieThins chocolate chip cookies in an 80-calorie snack bag. Then, just over an hour before landing, the cabin lights came on and flight attendants served a simple breakfast of an egg and English muffin sandwich plus a choice of juice, tea or coffee.

Before landing, a flight attendant also passed out Tony's Chocolonely chocolates.

Overall, I was disappointed with the food and drinks on the flight to London. Fortunately, the return flight was much better.

Dinner was served about 40 minutes after takeoff. There were two main options plus a side, some crackers and dessert, all served on a single tray again.

The tikka masala and paratha bread were filling but unmemorable.

I got to try the mushroom pie, too, thanks to a friendly flight attendant named Carmen, and it was good. The crust was tasty and the peas inside were cooked perfectly. The mashed potatoes were pureed very well and tasted good with carrots and peas.

I asked a flight attendant about the differences in the catering and she insisted London catering is always better than what they serve out of New York.

About 2 1/2 hours before arrival, flight attendants handed out snacks from a basket, which included Savoursmiths truffle and rosemary potato crisps, Lily O'Brien's dark chocolate and Paterson's Scottish cream shortbread fingers.

One of the attendants also offered to brew me a fresh cup of coffee and was the only other truly friendly crew member I interacted with (aside from Carmen).

Unfortunately, the other flight attendants I interacted with seemed rushed and brusque, almost to the point of being surly.

An hour before landing in New York, flight attendants came through with a beverage service and began serving a late supper with the following entree choices:

The spring roll was delicious, with tender chicken in a surprisingly spicy sauce, and the wrap was fresh and soft. This was the best dish of all my meals on the trip.

A fellow passenger and I both noted that the premium economy meals seemed to be the same ones being served in coach, just with better presentation, which felt like a letdown, especially considering the upsell in airfare.

For a bigger seat and slightly elevated meals, Delta Premium Select is definitely a better cabin than economy. The seats are somewhat easier to sleep in than coach seats, but the lack of a full recline means sleep quality is, just like in regular economy, hard to achieve.

The lack of a dedicated crew for the Premium Select cabin meant indifferent service for the most part on both of my flights. The meals did not really feel elevated, and it wasn't easy to get refills or to ask questions. In fact, the food and beverage offerings in Delta Premium Select fell far short of premium economy meals I've enjoyed on other carriers, including Cathay Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui and American Airlines.

If you're able to book Delta Premium Select for only slightly more than economy — either in cash or miles — I would say it's worth it. But I do not think a price tag of $2,000 was worth the splurge over coach in this case.

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