Who has the best premium economy 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.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  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.)

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  1. I always thought that WTP boarded at the same time as the Bronze/Ruby members with BA, even before the new groups?

    The problem with premium economy in my opinion is that it just seems too expensive for what you get, usually being around double the cost of a regular economy ticket. The step up to business from premium is huge in both the actual seat and what you get on the ground (if you have no status)

    • That is my boarding experience, when flying in WTP we board with BA bronze.

    • Surely the only reason to go wt+ is to upgrade to CW using avios 😉

      • JamesB says:

        I’ve done this a few time exINV returning to EDI to minimise costs and get low net CW awards when considering avios earned. It is also possible to change dates for £150 plus £35 for UUA change. Not as good as a simpke reward ticket but better than a nonrefundable cheap business ticket if flexibility is important.

      • Tom Cook says:

        Agree with this as we only now book a cash PE ticket to bounce up to CW. At 20k avios per ticket it feels like a decent bargain, better still is CW to F of course!

  2. I think everyone is forgetting that the experience really depends on the crew. On my recent Virgin PE trip from HKG the crew were truly awful. They forgot welcome drink. Had to ask 4 times, then again forgot to do a drinks round with a meal. Also the food was served semi-cold… Equally I had almost the same bad experience in BA PE two months ago. I also had great flights with BA and Virgin.

  3. Virgin has separate toilets too for PE. I think I saw a dedicated toilet on BA once, but was used by economy passengers all the time.

  4. Intentionally Blank says:

    I know this probably goes without saying, but try to get front bulk head when flying PE with VS. Then you can use the little footstools in the overhead luggage compartments, which are far superior than the footrests. There’s also more space generally

  5. Might I add, certain routes (UK/USA to India) have a 3x23kg baggage allowance with Virgin PE

  6. Delbert says:

    Seeing as there’s a lot of catering talk then my wife and I took Thai AirAsia from DMK this morning and my wife consumed the chicken rice and I opted for my usual basil fried chicken on rice. Absolute lush and cheap as chips. BA could learn a lot from a fellow LCC.

    • the_real_a says:

      As i recall i paid about £1.20 for the chicken and rice on the same route 🙂

    • The food on Air Asia is both good and cheap, its part of my booking routine with them to always pre order some food. Much better eating on the flight and getting off content and then head off to hotel.

  7. Prins Polo says:

    “from a fellow LCC”

    +1 😉

  8. I am currently in Florida, having flown out on a TUI 787-9 in Premium Club.
    I know TUI have no business class and few routes. I also know they have no frequent flier scheme
    However if you want to go where they fly, I would choose them over VS and BA
    The hard product is new and very good ( I didn’t check but I don’t think they have the suspect RR engines)
    The seat pitch is also 38 inches, you can choose seat at time of booking, the screen size probably the same with a lesser choice of movies ( I watched 3 Billboards and Battle of the sexes, excellent and good respectively).
    Meals – mains were better than VS and BA but on plastic trays with metal cutlery. The second meal was a very good afternoon tea ( plastic / plastic) two sandwiches, Victoria sponge and a good scone with jam/ clotted cream
    Separate Check in, priority boarding, priority baggage – yes our bags did come off, first, off the plane first which for US immigration is a godsend, PLUS Lounge access and Fasttrack on the outbound ( Escape lounge at MAN T2 )
    Staff- exceptional, plentiful, numerous, not at all stuffy, humour very much in evidence on the pa announcements as well, and brilliant with the young children on board.
    Cost – I know there are no miles / tier points to be earned and it is outside school holidays but ,
    VS wanted £500 in economy, and an astronomical £900 in PE
    TUI was £320 no bag in economy, £520 in Premium Club with 1x23kg bag.
    The saving is so huge and the product so much better that miles and tier points become irrelevant( speaking as someone who holds both BA and VS cards, but has no worthwhile status in either.

    • the_real_a says:

      Similarly – I flew Thomas Cook Airlines to the US last year and was blown away by the product and friendly staff. If you live outside of London there are now many good options that are not virgin/ba.

    • Lesley says:

      I agree they are really friendly and the food is good (although a bit random – we were suddenly given mini cornetto ice creams at one point). The Captain gave out a lot more information as to what was happening as well which I liked. For the extra we paid (only £250 per person for the return flight) it was good value


      We were flying to and from Barbados and the return flight was delayed for 2 hours with no explanation – there were no Tui staff and no announcements as to what was going on.
      When we finally got on it turned out there was a problem with the PE toilet so only one was working – that then stopped working 15 mins into the flight
      On the way out the inflight entertainment was stopped 40 mins before landing so we could see Tui adverts so only managed to watch 2 and a half billboards!

    • ankomonkey says:

      +1. Made a similar trip at Easter and had pretty much the same experience. Pleasantly surprised as I rarely fly charter.

    • Flew with them once to Phuket – I’m just going to say this, the demographic was shocking. Rowdy. It was also relatively expensive at about £1250 return. I wouldn’t repeat the experience. I thought the hard product inferior to VS.. Lounge access is good – but if you have PP it amounts to the same thing.

      • Mr Dee says:

        TUI and Thomas Cook are often the choice for package holiday makers especially those looking for bargains outside of London especially, the only thing is that the flight times are often rubbish as in arriving back at 2am or leaving at 7am meaning your losing a lot of sleep time and convenience, I would rather leave at a reasonable time and pay more.

        They also seem very popular with Stag/Hen weekends which does mean that they are often some rowdy characters around, so when flying BA CE it is usually a lot more peaceful.

  9. Will the outcome of the ‘which Premium Economy cabin would you prefer to fly’ competition have a caveat that many would have picked to try something different from BA? It was why I picked mine.

  10. Definitas says:

    OT, I am unable to see all my current bookings in the BAEC home page (I can see the first 3 out of 7). I phoned BA who said it is an Apple browser (Safari) problem. I downloaded Chrome and get the same result (clicking on the view all my bookings link takes me to an unavailable page error message). Logging in to wife’s account produces the same problem. Is anyone else having issues?

    • Roberto says:

      Yes , its been an issue for three weeks or so..


      One shortcut to your other bookings without using the ‘Find My Booking’ tab on the home page, is to click ‘Manage My Booking” for the first booking on your list and then click ‘My Other Bookings’ next to the Booking Reference at the top left hand side of the page. Not ideal, but it will save a little time.

  11. Faithy says:

    OT. With changes to Avios, Is there any point having Iberia points?

    • Roberto says:

      Booking with Iberia?

      They have many lower cost avios fare such as MAD to MIA plus their business seats is very good. Arguably better than BA and for less money ( positing flights excepted ) makes the red headed step child a very good option up against a clunky old 777 with a screen the size of your mobile phone.

      Oh and their wine list is excellent.

      • Cate ⛱️ says:

        ….and they have printed menus. To some of us these little things still count ????

  12. I actually prefer BA over VS. I find the recline on VS is pants.

  13. @andrewseftel says:

    I think that the 787/A380 WTP product is decent enough, especially for a day flight, and I’m happy to pay a premium of about £10/flight-hour over economy. This is often achievable if you can get a dual-inventory fare, or on a return leg. Being able to upgrade is a big plus as well. I’d still pick Virgin all things being equal, but it’ll come down to whose flying what routes, and I think I’d also push a Silver or higher with no status on VS towards BA when you throw in fast track and lounge access.

  14. I am probably in the minority where I actually prefer PE to CW on BA. Aside from similar food, I have a very strong dislike of the CW hard product. I just find the seat too awkward. Even if they were the same price, I’d sooner sit in PE than CW when travelling with someone.

  15. VA PE also has a pantry.

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