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

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

Ever since EVA Air introduced it in 1991, premium economy has proved hugely successful. The CEO of Emirates has recently spoken publicly of his regret at not introducing it sooner, following the launch earlier this year.

As well as proving popular with corporate clients who want to restrict access to Business Class, it has also worked well with the leisure market. The more cynical, of course, will argue that booking Premium Economy in 2021 is simply getting you the same seat that an Economy ticket would have got you in 1980, before the days of 10-across seating.

British Airways World Traveller Plus

Virgin Atlantic has traditionally had a superior Premium Economy offering, but British Airways has been investing in the cabin in recent years. Has the gap narrowed? Let’s take a look.

Who has the best Premium Economy seat?

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, following recent improvements by British Airways, both airlines now offer comparable premium economy products although Virgin Atlantic retains a slight edge.

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. Where cabins differ across the fleet we have tried to use the figures from the latest generation aircraft  – the A350.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seat

Free seat selection at time of booking:

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

Seat width:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  18.5 – 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:  13.3 inch on the A350
  • British Airways:  12 inch on the A350

Food and drink:

  • Virgin Atlantic: All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy
  • British Airways:  All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy

Power socket at seat and wi-fi:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)
  • British Airways:  Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)

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

Can you upgrade your ticket to Business Class with points?

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes, but Virgin also allows Economy tickets to be upgraded to Business Class (requires a reward seat to be available in Upper Class)
  • British Airways: Yes – World Traveller Plus tickets can be upgraded to Business Class, but standard Economy / World Traveller tickets cannot (requires a reward seat to be available in Club World / Club Suite)

Whilst it used to be true that Virgin Atlantic Premium used to be significantly better than World Traveller Plus, in recent years British Airways has been closing the gap. In early 2019 it revealed a new, dedicated meal offering for premium economy served on china, and has also introduced new amenity kits, blankets and pillows which are genuinely good.

Virgin Atlantic has also rolled out new amenity kits in the form of its sustainable ‘Goody Bags’ although the design of these is, frankly, a little plain. Premium on Virgin Atlantic still benefits from priority check-in which British Airways does not offer.

For a closer look, Rhys reviewed British Airways premium economy (World Traveller Plus) on an A380 in late 2019. We hope to run a similar review with Virgin Atlantic in the future.

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


How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (November 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

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points:

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee 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 (97)

  • Farid says:

    So, better seat width, service on the ground, miles earning, dedicated service on air only gives Virgin a slight edge in otherwise what is comparable? Really?
    Perhaps what Virgin offers in PE standard across airlines is at the top, while what BA offers is comparable to the least good products offered by other airlines..
    Do Headforpoints feel imdebted to BA for Rob being part of “The Club”? You scratch my back, I scratch yours? Just asking, no judgement made

    • Paul says:

      I did think the same that the article read Virgin was WAY better!

    • Andrew says:

      Totally agree – Virgin are light years ahead for this product category, so it’s very strange that the review doesn’t conclude the same.

    • Journeying John says:

      Another in agreement, what’s more VS actually clean and maintain their cabins and load enough catering to be able to deliver on the marketing.
      As others have said the discontinuity between the article and headline/conclusion and that they didn’t touch on issues above perhaps shows HfPs commercial dependencies or unconscious bias.

      • Rob says:

        I bet you haven’t flown PE on a Virgin A350, given covid, which is what this article is comparing. It is tighter than other aircraft.

        Random moans about catering loads and cleaning have no part in any sort of objective analysis.

      • Rob says:

        Percentage of 2021 revenue to this site, year to date:
        BA – 3.2%
        VS – 1.75%

        It’s a rounding error.

    • Rob says:

      Since we last published this article (it is a revised version of a 2018 piece, hence the shift in tone) BA has made efforts to improve WTP and we reflect that and the gap with Virgin is smaller.

      The Virgin A350 PE seat is also tighter than the space on other fleets – if you’ve not flown PE on a Virgin A350 then you are not making the same comparison that this article is making.

      • Alex Sm says:

        But the article is not just only about the comparison of the tightness of the pitch! You claim it’s about the overall PE product/experience, but all these “VS yes, BA no” components of this experience, eg dedicated check-in desks, make a huge difference and still keep the gap wide enough.

        PS also when you compare two things, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “who has a BETTER product” rather than “the BEST”?

      • Journeying John says:

        So the tighter seat is the same as the most generous on BA from your numbers and given the frequency of kit and catering failures with BA (Eg 2/3rds of South Asian flights in past 5years) it’s not random. Errors happen but when it’s that frequent something is systemically wrong. Hopefully Mr Doyle will eventually reverse the plummet of recent years but there’s a very, very long way to go. Even Jet/AirIndia offered a superior service to BA on those routes…

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Agreed. The bias was VERY apparent in this article. Bit disappointing.

      • Rhys says:

        No bias. It’s identical to an article I wrote two years ago, except BA have made a number of changes to Premium Economy (such as catering), so they have closed the gap.

        I’m hoping to try out Virgin Premium at some point so watch this space.

    • Distichon says:

      Neither holds a candle to JAL premium economy though, or do they? Wasn’t that the airline that even gave you lounge access with premium? Hope I didn’t get my Airlines confused here…

    • AndyL says:

      You also have to take into account the pricing, most times I go to book BA is cheaper.

  • Dubious says:

    This is a nice, clear and easy to comprehend comparison. Thank you 🙂

    May I also suggest mentioning whether the seats have other features, e.g. leg rests, and how big is the overall cabin?

    I suspect that having dedicated crew will make quite a bit of difference to the overall experience.

    Would be nice if you are able to compare with Cathay Pacific in the future. Pre-COVID-19 all three airlines competed on the LON-HKG route. I have flown the CX PE a few times and always found it survivable even as I had fear before some flights. Even on the very long IAD-HKG overnight flight!

    • Richie says:

      I find PE seats with calf rests are more comfortable.

      • Dubious says:

        Ah that might be what it was on CX then. I do remember struggling with my bag as the bit under the legs couldn’t move out with the bag in the way, but that once that was dealt with it was definitely a lot more comfortable than my bmi PE Experiences.

  • Paul says:

    From what I recall, Virgin PE also has its own toilet/s?
    This means a lot of value to me.

    • Degsy says:

      +1. Although I look it more that BA PE doesn’t have its own toilets, which is really poor. It means you have to walk all the way through economy or ‘sneak’ into Club to go.
      I think Rob’s right insofar that generally PE is just Economy plus. Certainly that’s true for BA. For Virgin though, PE is a definite bridge between the two classes. No comparison IMO.

  • Dave says:

    This article needs redrafting, as it is wildly inconsistent between the summary and the detail.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    In outstation airports with a limited number of check-in desks…..

    BA you share with economy.
    VA you share with Upper Class.

    VA also has its own crew who step it up a notch; with BA you’re just the front bit of economy to the crew.

    This tells you all you need to know about the mindset of the two products.

    An east coast daytime VA flight in PE travelling as a pair is perfectly acceptable and on my own dime I can’t justify the price multiplier to UC. Bar the clubhouse there’s really not much difference to how I’d spend the flight – i.e. reading something with enough space to be comfortable.
    Flights involving sleep are of course a completely different ballgame.

  • Chris says:

    Independent accurate detailed analysis. Seemingly less so on the summary.

  • Tom says:

    Virgin Atlantic will tell you all day long that they were first airline in the world to introduce Premium (‘mid-class’ as it was branded at the time).

    Agree with the other comments that Virgin win hands down in this space and the gap isn’t as close as the article makes out.

  • L says:

    Even if you assume by just cost alone (and that person doesn’t have status), if BA and VS has an identical PE price to the same destination then VS automatically wins on price alone because BA will charge to pick a seat.

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