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Who has the best premium economy seat and product – Virgin Atlantic or British Airways?

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Virgin Atlantic sent me a press release last week to promote winning the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award for ‘Best European Premium Economy Product 2018’.

For this and two other reasons, I thought it was worth taking a quick look at how Premium Economy compares between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

We will be publishing the results of our ‘which Premium Economy cabin would you prefer to fly’ competition in a few days, so I thought it would be good to see how hard facts match up with your perceptions.

It is also relevant because one of the features of the new Virgin Atlantic credit cards is the option to take a voucher for a free Premium (Virgin’s new name for Premium Economy) upgrade when you hit the spending target.  The voucher can upgrade 2 x one-way flights for a couple or a return flight for one person.

But is Virgin Premium any good?

Let’s face it.  Premium Economy is not a half-way house between Economy and a Business Class bed.  It is simply a higher quality Economy product.

This comparison between BA and Virgin is only for guidance, especially as the exact specification will vary by aircraft type.  In general, though, the Virgin Atlantic Premium product seems to have more going for it.  Neither product offers features such as lounge access but there are touches which set Virgin apart.

Here is a comparison of some key areas.  This is primarily taken from the Premium page of the Virgin Atlantic website and the World Traveller Plus page of the British Airways website.

Free seat selection at time of booking:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No (for non-Silver and Gold customers)

Seat width:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  21 inches
  • British Airways:  18.5 inches

Seat pitch (gap between consecutive seats backs):

  • Virgin Atlantic:  38 inches
  • British Airways:  38 inches

Dedicated check-in desk:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

Priority boarding:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  Yes at Heathrow via the new group system, No otherwise

Lounge access:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  No
  • British Airways:  No

Priority baggage handling:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

TV screen size:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  10.6 inch
  • British Airways:  10.6 inch

Food and drink:

  • Virgin Atlantic: All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy
  • British Airways:  One meal (dinner or breakfast) served on china with metal cutlery, mains are from the Club World menu

Power socket at seat:

Luggage allowance:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  2 x 23kg
  • British Airways:  2 x 23kg

Dedicated cabin crew:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

Frequent flyer miles earned on non-refundable PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  100% of miles flown
  • British Airways:  100% of miles flown

Frequent flyer miles earned on flexible PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  200% of miles flown
  • British Airways:  150% of miles flown

What is interesting is that, with the possible exception of the main course of your meal, Virgin Atlantic has a superior or equal Premium Economy product in all areas.  The most obvious difference is the extra seat width but there are many other small benefits, such as Priority Check-In, which add up.  Using your annual Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher for a Premium upgrade is not necessarily a bad result.

You can learn more about Premium on Virgin Atlantic here and World Traveller Plus on the British Airways website here.

HFP Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (July 2021)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points):

Virgin Rewards credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

The UK’s most generous free Visa or Mastercard at 0.75 points / £1 Read our full review

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review

You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points:

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (122)

  • JamesB says:

    Neither, it used to be NZ and now it is AF.

  • Tom says:

    I’d rather see Norwegian alongside these two…. their premium product is far superior on many of these dimensions and almost always cheaper too..

    • JamesB says:

      From what I’ve heard, I’d be happy to use Norwegian PE if they would give me a direct flight from EDI to Asia. My partner used AF PE a few times and only reported drawback is seat recline.

    • Rob says:

      More on this issue when we publish the survey results ….

    • RussellH says:

      I would imagine that many readers will have seen the big Sunsday Times article on Norwegian’s finances?

      A strong suggestion that Björn Kos himself is lending his own shares to short sellers, which hardly inspries faith in the long-rem existence of the airline, unless it suvives as part of IAG.

      • Rob says:

        Bjorn does seem to be remarkably friendly towards BA and other airlines who have approached him recently. Perhaps he knows the game is up.

  • Daniel Macdonald says:

    Please can the above be reviewed

  • Phil Gollings says:

    Just done the new BA premium economy seating to/from AUH (thought we could use miles to upgrade to club – as who in their right mind would choose BA over Etihad, Emirates or Qatar).

    The seat is basically the same as a normal economy seat, so uncomfortable. There used to be the bit of the seat that raised and supported your legs but this has disappeared.

    The lack of any staff and service was more noticeable.I know the return was a night flight and BA staff love their sleeps on night flights but this was ridiculous. No main meal or alcohol on the return flight and one drinks service. The refusal to answer the call bell is just bad manners.

    The food offering was no better than economy also, I dont know why they bothered,

    To keep our gold status we need 4 BA flights and we have earnt tier points & miles via Qatar so booked this with a nice hotel for a short break, so we got a decent deal but BA is now no better than Ryanair. And the only reason to book premium was to use miles to get to club, but now they have removed a lot of avios seats this will no longer happen unless you are very lucky.

    In short the product is no better than normal economy

    • Louise says:

      The best bit of BA Premium was the leg rest at the bottom of the seat!

    • Matt says:

      Hi Phil have you flown Ryanair recently? If you have then I can’t except how you can say BA is no better. If you haven’t then believe me I would always prioritise flying BA. There are lots of things I prefer about the BA product, but one huge benefit surely is that you get BA Gold for only flying 4 flights with them per year! That means BA is paying for all your lounge access, fast track, Avios etc. You must like BA for that reason alone?

      • John says:

        The oneworld airline you fly with pays for your lounge access and buys your Avios from BA.

        • Nick says:

          That is not true. The airline who issued the card pays when you use it. Obviously if you’re flying premium then that ‘trumps’ the card held.

      • the_real_a says:

        Ryanair/Easyjet/Wizz with a priority pass is really no different to BA these days. The priority for me is a plane that goes from somewhere convenient landing to somewhere else convenient. Sometimes the “middle of nowhere” airport is exactly where i need to be, especially when picking up a hire car.

      • @mkcol says:

        How on earth you get BA Gold with only 4 BA flights per year is beyond me. I can’t even see doing 2 x LHR-SYD returns in F would achieve that.
        Please share the secret.

        • Doug M says:

          By flying OW partners and crediting to BA. You just have to do the minimum 4 BA flights, which don’t have to be BA themselves.

        • @mkcol says:

          Seeing Doug M’s reply I totally understand, and I’ll have to guess that’s what the OP meant, but it’s not what they said.

    • Tilly says:

      Flew WTP last year. On the outbound had their new style seat but bulkhead so still got the leg rest. We found it very comfortable. On the return had the old style seat and again found it very comfy. Managed sleep on both legs. Have booked WTP again for outbound later this year as day flight but returning in CW as night flight back. I’m more than happy though in BA’s PE.

  • mark2 says:

    These comparisons always omit probably the most important factor: which of the airlines flies to where you want to go.

    • John says:

      Exactly, I don’t fly trans-Atlantic and I have not much use for VS miles, but Avios are a good deal for me to redeem RFS shorthauls. The comparisons I make are BA to CX/TG/MH/QF

  • Frenzie says:

    Actually Rob, you are wrong on the Food and Drink service.

    Food and drink:

    Virgin Atlantic: Both meals (ie.: dinner AND breakfast) served on china with metal cutlery, all courses upgraded.
    British Airways: One of the meals only (ie.: dinner OR breakfast) served on china with metal cutlery, mains are from the Club World menu.

    I have flown in Virgin PE many times so the above is correct.

    • Christisn says:

      Yes, the second BA WTP meal is served on plastic with plastic cutlery, which completely spoils the consistency of the experience. I’ve flown both this year and Virgin is without a doubt superior and more consistent.

      • Tom says:

        My BA WTP breakfast flying back from JFK last year was a Nutri Grain bar and a carton of orange juice.

    • Frenzie says:

      Yes. The smaller meal service on BA is also entirely from Economy not from Club.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks, will update. Never flown PE but don’t tell anyone ….

  • TripRep says:

    Used VS PE AMEX upgrade vouchers a few times to MCO, really rate the product.

    Also for many flights you are first off the plane (even before UC), handy for immigration queues. That is unless you’re on an old VS 747 & sat up in the bubble..

    • JamesB says:

      OT @TripRep, did you do the AirAsiaX business class flight to KL during the Bali volcano issues? If so, how was it in light of what you paid for a close in reservation? I’ve been contemplating them for promo fares from BKK or KL to Japan. It seems like a good option for a midhaul flight.

      • CV3V says:

        James – used Air Asia X business on Tokyo to KUL. It was ok but not great, would only do it again in similar circumstances and with a decent promo fare. It is an angled flat bed so not comfortable for sleeping. For a daytime flight i would just book one of the economy hot seats.

        Worked out ok for me as it was an overnight flight, so an extra day in Tokyo, no need for an extra hotel room, and also i needed the the extra baggage that came with it.

        • JamesB says:

          Thanks, same logic for me, I would most liKely depart BKK so the flight a bit shorter at around 6 hours. Downside is if you don’t sleep well then it makes for a lousy day in Tokyo or wherever, I was booked to Xian on AAX two years ago but trip was cancelled so have still to try. I was also about to try WTP for first time in July but two CW seats appeared so that will have to wait another day too.

    • mark says:

      got my first PE trip on saturday doing the same route. Back row P in the bubble. I’ve only flown CW/UC since discovering this hobby, so hope it is ok.

    • Melvin says:

      Hi @TripRep,

      I’m not trying to dispute your experience but it’s interesting that you’ve said you were delayed getting off due to sitting upstairs as this contradicts what @Dale says later on.

      I am travelling in a party of 12 next April to MCO and I am now conflicted whether to reserve upstairs or down?

  • Ian Booth says:

    I did both of two recent trips close together to PVG on VS and BA 789s. The Virgin service has the edge, and if I was paying that would be my choice. The availability of a Club-Europe style Club Kitchen snack area for PE on Virgin and not BA is why I’d opt for VS (that coming from a BAEC GGL)

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