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. “Who has the best premium economy product”. This use of English grates. Airlines provide services not products.

    • I was more disturbed by the use of “best” when comparing only two products… err, services. ????

      • Catalan says:

        Correct. The word ‘better’ is used when comparing two products/services etc

    • Peter K says:

      I disagree from the point of view that, while they are service providing companies, you are using their product. You therefore want to know which had the best product and service overall.

    • ‘Product’ is the word used in the industry to be honest.

      • Tim M says:

        You aggravate an injury.

        Industry: “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.”

        The travel business may misuse English in this way but that does not make their parlance acceptable in wider society.

        • Genghis says:

          Or industry: “a particular form or branch of economic or commercial activity”?

        • Tim M says:

          Airliner manufacturers produce. Airlines serve.

          “To fly. To serve.” [BA]

  2. Michael C says:

    Pretty sure my BA screen BKK-LHR was smaller than 10 inch..I was quite shocked.
    Did have a footrest, though.

    • Christian says:

      Yes, I also had a very small, very old screen on my PE flight from and to Mumbai. Definitely not anywhere close to the Virgin one.

    • Agree the BA 777s are really outdated

      • I was on the 747 back from Johannesburg last week and the PE was shocking, the plane must have been older than me and the screen was about 6inches and blury, lucky it was a night flight so slept for the most of it but was shocked at the poor quality of PE.
        Having said that Virgins PE is much nicer (in my opinion) with a real quality feel to it.

    • JamesB says:

      The 772 on the BKK rotation are dirty old junk. Aircraft used on KUL and HKG are better.

  3. I rate the Virgin PE as very good, especially on the 747 fleet where you can sit upstairs – a very spacious cabin with good seats and service, and first on and off the plane.
    Only issue now is the downgrading of the credit card – where I used to be able to earn 2 x PE upgrade vouchers with the Black card, it’s now only one.

    • ankomonkey says:

      Agree that the reduction to 1 return/2 one-way PE vouchers is a big loss. As a family of 4, the 2 vouchers/4 flights was useful. The benefit on the new cards is now worthless to me.

    • Melvin says:

      Hi @Dale,

      I’m not trying to dispute your experience but it’s interesting that you’ve said you were first on & off when sitting upstairs as this contradicts what @Triprep says above.

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

      • The times I have flown 747 with Virgin – even the Economy passengers upstairs disembark before the plebs downstairs, perhaps not before Upper.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Can you use the Virgin Money VS PE upgrade voucher with a cash ticket or mile redemption only?

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

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

  10. 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.

  11. Prins Polo says:

    “from a fellow LCC”

    +1 😉

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