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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. Does anyone else find the BA website to be incredibly slow? It feels like it has too much animation and even on my powerful work PC it is slow!

    • Lady London says:

      I keep getting redirected to British Airways’s %&£ppy beta site and unwanted localised links whenever I access the BA site now. The beta site keeps hanging, takes ages to load unwanted things and is generally pants. I have no idea why British Airways is loading their screens with so much unwanted stuff.

  2. lev441 says:

    Big fan of the virgin PE – i’d happily use it on daytime flights, overnight i admit it’s not as comfortable as the upperclass bed.

    The ‘wonderwall’ on the dreamliner & a330 was a fun touch also – much better selection of things than BA’s Club kitchen in CW. Does BA have a wonderwall equivalent?

  3. Delbert says:

    We travelled CW from LHR to BKK on Saturday afternoon. I ate lunch and needed some more sustenance so headed for the galley. Was just browsing and the FA approached me with more than a little OTT attitude with ‘can I help you, Sir’. What help could I possibly need with looking in the fridge? Seriously, go away. I took a sandwich and a pasta and returned to my seat. His attitude continued for the entire flight. Get a grip.

    • Cate ⛱️ says:

      Alternatively you could have followed the requested passenger procedure by staying in your seat and calling for a FA who would have bought you something.

      • Genghis says:

        I’m sure the CW menu makes it clear that the Club Kitchen is help yourself

      • Delbert says:

        Really? Another attitude problem here? The guy didn’t like my face from the off. Some sort of inferiority complex which is quite prevalent on BA. Though, the female FAs were excellent. Definitely not something we experience with EVA or Thai. Anyway, the galley fridge is help yourself.

        • Mr Dee says:

          Agree there seems to be some staff who have the inferiority complex but i don’t believe its likely not just you but several people per flight they decide to pester.

      • Delbert says:

        Looking forward with interest to your reply, Cate.

        • Cate ⛱️ says:

          If you feel strongly about this then you should put a complaint in to the airline.

    • JamesB says:

      Being a bit OTT myself I usually ask a FA to get me something from the Club Kitchen, saying I don’t want to get in their way. They usually bring me loads which I stick in the storage drawer. I rarely bother them for the rest of the flight so hopefully I’m forgiven.

  4. dean stannard says:

    Virgin removed the dedicated crew members in W on the 787 when crews were “blended” in 2016 and crew numbers were taken down from 12 to 10 on this aircraft type

  5. Slightly OT, but Virgin PE related so this was good timing. With the upgrade vouchers, do you pay the taxes for economy or premium economy with the redemption. I’m hoping it’s the former rather than the latter, but I expect to be disappointed!

  6. Charlie says:

    O/T – The IHG points break is live – there is no published list yet but I have made bookings at those that were released on the preview list.

  7. FlightDoctor says:

    Flying PE used to be the family “default” for long haul holidays. Whilst clearly not a patch on business the extra space makes a huge difference vs. regular economy and makes a flight tolerable (but less so for night flights). Also, as a BA FF the extra tier points have been helpful for keeping my Gold status.
    However, thanks to HFP, over the last 2 years we have flown business class with both BA and AA by securing excellent value ex-EU fares.
    Sadly the chaos of a house move earlier this year meant I left it too late to find a good cash deal (and there were also no Avios options available for our preferred destinations in premium seats over school holidays).
    So, we’ve bitten the bullet, paid cash and are flying outbound to the US later this year on the new AA premium economy product on a 777-300 and back in BA WTP on an A380. To compensate for the flight “downgrade” we have “upgraded” our hotel at the other end!!
    Does anyone have experience of the AA product? How does it compare with BA and VS?

  8. Graham Walsh says:

    I’ve flown a fair bit on VS PE and enjoy it. Last year I (and my 2 young boys) got upgraded on a new BA 787 to TLV to WTP at check in. Nice but not as good as VS IMO. I think the entertainment choice was better on BA but I preferred the food and rest of the experience that Virgin brings (nicer crew etc too).

  9. Graham Walsh says:

    Reviewed: Virgin’s three-tier economy class – gimmick or game-changer? – The Telegraph

  10. Another benefit I find flying with Virgin is the Gogo inflight wifi. Basic messaging pass for the entire flight is approx £2.50 but every time I’ve used it, I’ve also received full browsing functionality.
    Also, Delta give you basic messaging for free:

  11. Yvonne Newnham says:

    Flew Virgin PE last summer and was not impressed. Pre-ordered vegetarian food and they gave us the vegan options (which were yuk) but we could not have the veggie option on the menu which was much nicer as you have to pre-order because otherwise they cannot guarantee that you get the non- meat! I would not have thought it beyond the wit of man to put aside a couple of veggie meals for those who had pre-ordered!

  12. Steve says:

    BA premium economy is group 3, which seems to give priority boarding downroute as well

  13. Richard says:

    I have flown Virgin PE and BA WTP quite a few times and much prefer Virgin PE. Free seat selection, dedicated check in, priority boarding and especially the better seat width all make it superior. The food on Virgin isn’t quite as good but I am not particularly bothered about that. Last flight on BA WTP was from Santiago to LHR on a 787 and it was not very comfortable and I am now avoiding flying BA altogether except for Club Europe flights but only if I can get a good deal.

  14. You should also mention Virgin’s unreasonable cabin baggage allowance. While BA allows 23kg 56x45x25cm, Virgin allows only 10kg 56x36x23cm (26.4% smaller by volume). This means that even a Rynair-compliant 56x40x20cm bag isn’t allowed on Virgin. After factoring in the cost and inconvenience of having to buy special Virgin-compliant cabin baggage and further limiting the contents to a pathetic 10kg, BA seems more attractive.

  15. Tony says:

    Great, informative comparison. I flew BA PE for the first time in many many years in January. Not that impressed – seemed to be rubbing shoulders with the chap next to me and 10 rows of PE on the A380 hardly made it an exclusive cabin.

    More worryingly however was the pretty poor food, especially the presentation. Can’t imagine what VS is like if it’s worse than BA!

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